Former Wilkes County resident Steve Slane recently released a war memoir that recalls how, in late 1992, he was among the first American soldiers to face the militant Islamist group, Al-Qaeda, on the streets of Mogadishu in the East African country of Somalia.
In his self-published, firsthand combat account, “Behind the Gun: Poncho’s Last Walk,” Slane said it’s his “time to tell the world what really happened in Somalia” during Operation Gothic Serpent.
Slane said the book, written under the nom de plume “Bravo Charles,” answers the most important question about the fighting in Mogadishu, which was popularized by the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.” The battle involved efforts by the U.S.-led Unified Task Force to capture Somali faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid in 1993.
“America woke up one day to find American bodies being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, and most of America had no idea why, and the government didn’t really provide a complete answer,” he said. “My book provides a missing link, one with a very important twist—Al-Qaeda and (jihadist militant group) al-Shabaab.”
A native of Orange, Calif., Slane transferred to Wilkes Central High School for his senior year in 1988 and excelled on the gridiron, landing a scholarship to play football at Elon University. At the urging of the Appalachian State football staff, he transferred to Boone in 1990.
In the midst of the Persian Gulf War, Slane enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1991. He graduated from basic and infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., in March 1992, earning the nickname “Big Country” because he was 6’3” and weighed 230 pounds.
Slane was a member of the 87th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division and was deployed to Somalia in December 1992, at the start of the post-Gulf War “Operation Restore Hope.” He was a machine gunner during combat missions there that lasted until the climactic battle of Mogadishu on Oct. 3-4, 1993.
The book’s narrative follows Slane and his fellow ground troops as they move across southern Somalia and encounter warlords, al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda, and engage in an escalating war that reminded many of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam. “These incidents were largely hidden from the public,” noted Slane.
Slane wrote about the soldiers who rescued Delta Force commandos and Army Rangers during the Battle of Mogadishu. In the book, said Slane, “You’ll meet the heroes who spilled their blood on the altar of freedom to recover the remains of our fallen as they braved unparalleled enemy fire in the deadliest city in the world—Mogadishu.”
He said the book, which took five years to write, is “the story that America deserved, but never got.”
After being honorably discharged from the Army in 1997, Slane settled in Ellensburg, Wash., overcame post-traumatic stress syndrome and graduated with a degree in microbiology from Central Washington University in 1999.
Slane later moved to St. Louis, Mo., where in 2017 he founded a nonprofit organization, Infidel Inc., which strives to “help veterans help themselves” and works to lower the rate of war veteran suicide. The group aims to “build a retreat … to help our warriors find peace after returning from war.”
Infidel Inc. has raised over $200,000 for veteran causes since 2017. Proceeds from the sale of Slane’s book—which is available at Amazon.com— benefit the organization.
Slane still has family in Wilkes. His aunt and former guardian, Nanci Slane, lives in North Wilkesboro. He sold and signed copies of his memoir at the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival on Oct. 5.