Beyond “Black Hawk Down”
On October 3, 1993, 123 elite American Rangers and Delta Force soldiers were inserted onto the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. What should have been a routine mission to capture two top lieutenants of a local warlord became a mission gone bad. By the following day, 19 Americans and over a thousand Somalian civilians and militia had lost their lives.
Operation Restore Hope began early in 1993 when a United Nations humanitarian mission sought to relieve the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Somalians. When warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid and his corrupt regime persisted in stealing the Red Cross food shipments, the peace effort turned into an armed conflict.
U.S. Army 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), also known as Night Stalkers, provided helicopter support for the U.S. forces. Jeff Niklaus was the pilot-in-command of a Black Hawk helicopter in this mission, depicted in the book and 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down”. He was airborne for 18 hours that fateful day.
Jeff comes from a lengthy military heritage—he has had a family member in every major war and conflict since the Continental Army fought in the Revolutionary War. His father served with the Air Force in Viet Nam, his uncle served in the Korean War, his brother retired as an Army Sergeant Major, and his cousin commanded the USS Louisiana, a Trident nuclear sub.
Jeff joined the Army in 1985 to fly helicopters and in 1990 was selected to the Army’s 160th SOAR, which led to flying the MH-60 Black Hawk in Somalia. Following Somalia, Jeff deployed on various rotations with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). During his Army career, he served as an Instructor Pilot, Instrument Flight Examiner, and Standardization Officer.
The realization of his dreams and goals did little to bring fulfillment to his life. Though he became a Christian at 19, Jeff recounts a journey that moved God to the sidelines of his adult life. His success-driven life was ruled by compromised convictions, fear of failure and fear of rejection by his peers. His lifestyle, both during and after the military, left him morally and financially bankrupt. In 2006, his heart turned back to Christ.
Today Jeff uses his journey since Somalia to tell the story of God’s restoration of his life. Just as critical as his Standard Operations Procedures were for military missions, the Scriptures have become the guide for his life. Joy, peace and purpose have replaced the misery of living independent of God.
Churches, youth groups, outreach organizations and men’s ministries began asking Jeff to speak. He took the step of getting some coaching to increase the effectiveness of his ministry. He carefully wrote out his testimony and recorded his messages for further critique. He knew he needed to do more than tell a compelling story; the Gospel had to be central and clear.
Every mission Jeff flew ended with a debriefing—what went wrong, what went right. In like manner when Jeff tells his story, it is a debriefing—what went wrong, what went right. His story is a challenge to men to carefully consider the course of their lives.
Jeff’s academic studies include an Associates Degree in Forestry along with Bachelor degrees in Business Management from Regents College of New York and Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Jeff and his wife Carrie live in Kentucky where he is a helicopter pilot for Air Evac Lifeteam, a provider of air ambulance services in 15 states.