Long before becoming a Westport firefighter seven years ago, Pete Nichio learned to never take anything for granted. When he was 19, Nichio served two-and-a-half months in Somalia as a Marine. Months after he left, the incident known as Black Hawk Down happened.
"They're the unit that relieved us," said Nichio, now 37. "I can't even explain how sick to my stomach I was. There were even times when news helicopters would take pictures of what was happening on the ground, and there were things, places I recognized."
Nichio joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1992 at 19. A year later, he was deployed to Somalia as part of the United Nations mission to help feed the Somali people.
According to Nichio, three different warlords were trying to run Somalia at the time. One way they attempted to gain power was to steal food.
"When UN flights would land with cargo, the warlords and their factions would attack the planes for the cargo," he said. "They would use food, because there was no economy, as a way to control and get more people to fight on their side. We were there to make sure everyone got the food."
Additionally, his unit ran combat patrols in the city of Kismayu, looking for and taking weapons out of people's hands, including "10-year-old kids who would fire at us."
During his four years of service with 2nd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment , Nichio went through three major deployments: Somalia was the first, and hardest, he said. He was also deployed to Cuba in 1994 and to Japan in 1995.
Although he can't say for sure why he picked the Marines, Nichio said he's proud to have served. In fact, he continues to serve in the Connecticut National Guard .
"It straightened me out. I gained confidence, poise and I learned how to think on my feet," Nichio said. "When you're 19 in a foreign country getting shot at, you grow up really quick."
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