In a scene from the film Black Hawk Down the soldiers are having a barbecue at the base, and while grabbing some salad a Delta operator is confronted by a Ranger about his "hot" weapon (safety off and presumably live ammunition). The operator flatly replies that his finger is his safety.

Now obviously this serves to show the unfamiliar audience that certain branches in the US Armed Forces (1st SFOD-D in this case) have certain liberties and privileges because of their special status.

While I believe that, as a Sergeant First Class (SFC), talking back to a Captain (CPT) might have been one of those liberties, it hardly seems plausible to me that running around with a "hot" weapon in such close quarters full of friendly soldiers was allowed even if you were a Delta operator.

I have handled firearms before, but have never been to a war zone obviously. Nevertheless this feels rather reckless and irresponsible to me.

So is this scene close to reality? Or were the privileges of the Delta operator exaggerated for dramatic purposes?

Someone gave his thoughts on the matter in another post here. But it does not really answer my question. I've tried to specify what I'm looking for.

3 Answers 3


I worked for the DoD on a project in Iraq and saw some interactions between Special Forces groups. Spent a lot of time with Rangers from Hunter AAF in Georgia. I think this scene employs a bit of artistic license to help set up story points later in the film.

To the heart of your question, I'd think a Delta Sergeant would pull him aside and have him flip the safety in private. They are arrogant, not stupid.

Captain Steele approaches Hoot and says:

Delta or no Delta, that's a hot weapon. You know better than that. Your safety should be on at all times on base.

And Hoot replies while wriggling his finger:

Well, this is my safety, sir.

Then turns and walks away.

Steele then says to Delta Sergeant Sanderson a couple of lines later:

You Delta boys are a bunch of undisciplined cowboys.

Can't see any other implied conclusion than Delta can do just about as they please. I'd think it's a bit of an exaggeration to play up the rivalry and tension between the Rangers and Delta operators. It acts as foreshadowing to set up some of the problems with miscommunication and lack of cooperation that occurred initially in the firefight in town that led to mission breakdown. Conversely, it also heightens the sacrifice Delta snipers Shughart and Gordon made giving up their lives to protect Nightstalker pilot Michael Durant. Delta might have serious chips on their shoulders, but they are all brothers when it matters.

Mark Bowden, the author of "Black Hawk Down," wrote this in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Steele watched with mounting distress as his formation broke down. He despised some of the Delta operators for their arrogance and their cocksure bravado. He respected their expertise and courage, but not their professionalism. They were disdainful of authority and discipline, and cavalier toward orders issued by anyone outside their tight, secret fraternity.

Now, an hour into the mission, the Rangers and Delta men were operating as separate units under competing commands. They even had different radio connections. Each Delta commando had a radio earpiece under his little plastic hockey-style helmet - Steele called them ``skateboard helmets'' - and a microphone that wrapped around to his mouth. The Delta men were in constant touch with one another, but not with the Rangers. The Rangers relied mostly on shouted orders. They hadn't perfected the elaborate hand signals the D-boys used when the noise of battle drowned out their radio talk.

Poor communications had come into play just minutes into the assault, when one side ended up literally shooting at the other. Howe and his Delta team had been on the roof of the target house, rounding up Somalian prisoners, when they fired at a Somali on a nearby rooftop. They were instantly peppered with return fire - not just from the Somali, but from a Ranger blocking position on the ground. A Ranger had evidently seen shooting from the roof and had fired away without checking it out.

Link to Inquirer story »

Here's the clip in question:

  • 5
    I really like that you took apart the scene and laid out the connection to and importance for later scenes in the movie. I have to be honest, I subconsciously got the baseline for the problems that arose later, but I never really made a deliberate connection between the scenes. Nice answer!
    – pat3d3r
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 16:05
  • Thanks. I really like the author Mark Bowden and this book and movie in particular. Complex themes portrayed with seeming simplicity. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 16:49
  • 1
    I think your analysis is fantastic. Obviously other Delta members would object to getting shot by a "cowboy" Delta member too. // Never in armed forces but went bird hunting a lot. Safety was never off until ready to shoot. Muzzle discipline says never to point weapon at someone (friendly at least...). Never had a shotgun with a round in chamber in car either. My Dad didn't want anyone shot "accidentally."
    – MaxW
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 23:09
  • 2
    Absolutely. Safety only comes off when you are ready to fire. I think Hoot was extremely tired and near starving from his excursion into Mogadishu. Bana did a great job, but I think he looked way too fresh here and that lost the significance of his physical and mental state. He was just totally unwilling to take a lecture from an officer he viewed as overly picky in the first place. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 23:23

As formerly military, I would say the operator in this case would be told to secure his weapon by anyone who noticed this slip. And the operator would in turn secure his weapon and feel like he screwed up. To me, this scene is highly unrealistic.


The weapon can only be put into safe when it's cocked. If he's slapped a fresh mag in but hasn't cocked it he can't put it on safe. It's explained in the book

  • 3
    In that case, can you add a quotation?
    – Joachim
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 10:33

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