WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Legendary soldier Norm Hooten fought in one of this country’s most iconic military battles, known to many as "Back Hawk Down." Now, he's engaged in a war to defeat opioid abuse among veterans.
On the morning of Oct. 3, 1993, Delta Force operator Norm Hooten was leading the assault force on a mission to capture members of a Somali warlord’s command. "It ended up being a lot more than we thought it was going to be, Hooten said."
His mission was a success, but just as his men were preparing to leave, an American Blackhawk helicopter was hit - the infamous "Black Hawk Down" moment.
Hooten and his team would spend the next 18 hours fighting their way to the crash site and securing the dead.
"Not only were we rushing to get there, Hooten said, every other hostile militiaman in that city was doing the same thing."
More than half of Hooten’s squadron was wounded in the fight and 18 Americans were killed that day.
"We were going to go in and recover every person that went in if it took us forever to do so,” he said.
One of his teammates survived that battle, but lost another one 20 years later. A battle to opioid addiction.
It was a death that changed Hooten’s life.
"It was a different feeling losing a dear friend to a drug overdose than one in combat. Both are tragic but one is a little more acceptable than the other as far as I’m concerned,” Hooten said.
It was a call to duty. At 55, Norm Hooten received his doctorate of pharmacy and he works today as a clinical pharmacist at the Orlando, Veterans Affairs Office , trying to save addicted veterans.
"I used to think of it as a choice, but it’s really not a choice. It’s truly a disease."
Opioid abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined. And some 70,000 veterans today suffer from opioid-use disorders.
Brandon Ketchum was one of them. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
"He was the kind of person everyone looked up to, said Kristine Nichols."
Kristine Nichols was his partner for three years. She said by his third tour, he was taking opioids.
"He started using opioids for his physical pain and he continued to use them and abuse them for his mental and emotional pain, Nichols said."
His struggle came to a tragic end in 2016 when he took his own life at the age of 33.
"I miss Brandon every day and I think about him every day," she said.
Veterans groups say about 20 service people kill themselves every day and it’s often rooted in addiction issues.
Norm Hooten stands as a warrior in the fight to reduce that number, and, like 25 years ago when he was racing across Mogadishu to save lives, he is now in a race to save as many veteran’s lives as he can.
"Obviously, I’m not going to save all of them but if I can save one or two of them, then it’s worth everything I’ve done up to this point," Hooten said. "Hopefully, I’ll be able to save more than that, but one would be enough."
If you are a veteran or a service member in crisis, there are resources to help. Please call the Veterans Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.