Resolution to honor New Jersey ‘Black Hawk Down’ heroes passes assembly

The resolution dedicates Oct. 3 as Sergeant Dominick Pilla and Corporal Jamie Smith Day.

Assemblyman Ryan Peters’ resolution designating a day to memorialize two New Jersey born heroes who died in the line of duty in Somalia, cleared the Assembly on Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk for final approval.

The resolution dedicates Oct. 3 as Sergeant Dominick Pilla and Corporal Jamie Smith Day, recognizing the sacrifices of young soldiers lost in the military mission depicted in the Hollywood film “Black Hawk Down.”

“I’m thrilled this resolution has passed both houses and am very hopeful that two local heroes will soon be given the honor they deserve,” said Peters.

Pilla of Vineland and Smith of Long Valley died in the line of duty on Oct. 3, 1993, during Operation Restore Hope, a raid by Army Rangers to capture the warlord Mohammed Aidid in Mogadishu, Somalia. The mission included efforts to recover and extract fellow Rangers from a downed Black Hawk helicopter when the convoy was ambushed.

“The men and women fighting for us in foreign lands are often nameless to the public. When they make the ultimate sacrifice, they deserve to be known,” said Peters, who served multiple tours overseas as a Navy SEAL.

“Every October 3, let’s remember the names of two New Jersey heroes and celebrate their courageous lives,” Peters continued.

The assemblyman drafted the resolution after learning about a Vineland teacher’s efforts to have a new school named after her brother. Jennifer Pilla, Dominick’s sister, has been fighting to memorialize his heroics and sacrifice.

Although Vineland Public Schools initially denied the attempt to name a school that opened this year after Dominick, they reopened the process to consider it after she organized a local group of veterans and neighbors to support her cause. Peters has spoken to the group on occasion to encourage them in this endeavor.

During the events in 1993, Smith was a member of a force deployed to Somalia to contain warlords. While Smith and other members from his team launched a raid, a Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade and went down. Smith was killed when he and three members of his team made their way to the crash site to establish a defense perimeter.

Pilla was tasked to extract Rangers from the downed helicopter when his convoy was ambushed and he was killed.

Smith and Pilla were posthumously awarded Bronze Stars with valor and Purple Hearts.