Former Army Ranger speaks at SMDC/ARSTRAT ball
June 8, 2011
Colorado Springs, Colo.-- Battle of Mogadishu veteran and country singer Keni Thomas spoke at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command annual ball, sponsored by the Army Space Professional Association, stressing how strong leadership and good teamwork helped him make it through the battle. The 1993 battle in Somalia’s capital city was portrayed in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."
"I know whatever it is that you do, it's amazingly important ... the stories I tell about being deployed are meant to inspire you and make you understand," Thomas said at the May 26 event. "“I hope you walk out of here tonight and realize, 'I am important,' and I hope you that you realize that. You're a piece of the puzzle."
The former Army Ranger recounted his experience as a sergeant during the battle, emphasizing that he relied on his team and leadership skills for survival. Eighteen Soldiers died in the firefight, and one was captured.
"You're as good as your weakest link ... You will only be as good as you train yourself to be. You will only be as good as you prepare yourself to be. That's why we have these sayings: train as you fight, fight as you train. You have to set your standards high. There's always an opportunity to better oneself as a leader. There's always a chance to better."
Thomas recounted the events that led up to the battle depicted in "Black Hawk Down" and how proper planning and training saved lives that day.
One Soldier was injured at the beginning of the mission when he fell out of a hovering helicopter.
"Young Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell 65-70 feet. Had it not been for that medic, Todd Blackburn wouldn't be alive today. Had someone not put a plan in place, that medic wouldn't have been there. The training was there. Fight as you train, train as you fight."
The mission was to go into a building and capture several wanted individuals. Within 30 minutes, their mission was complete, and the captured individuals were taken away.
In another part of the city, however, a MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed after getting hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
"The rest of us are waiting to go home," Thomas said. "The mission is done. We are already congratulating ourselves on a job well done. And just like that [snapping his fingers] it all changed. The mission was done. The mission was a success. And then the first helicopter got shot down. But it was okay; we had a plan in place for the highly unlikely event that one of our birds went down."
The helicopter had gone down five blocks from where Thomas and his squad were awaiting their evacuation. After their team leader was wounded, Thomas was put in command of the team.
"You just think survive. Survive. Don't let that happen to you. Everything's screaming 'you gotta get away.' That's when character comes into play. The good leaders step up, and that's when you provide that direction and motivation. Character is built on countless hours of realistic training."
Thomas serves as the national spokesman for the Hero Fund and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides scholarships to children of special operations personnel killed during combat or training. Thomas writes songs and performs with his band, Cornbread.