By Staff Sgt. Joe Armas, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. PAO October 11, 2011
CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan -- Whether it was enduring a 500-foot combat jump onto the small island of Grenada, patrolling the jungles of Vietnam, or navigating the streets of battle-ravaged Mogadishu, Danny McKnight, Keni Thomas, Max Mullen, and Charlie Manis have experiences that few others can account for.
The Ranger Tour, comprised of these four former Army Rangers, touched down in northern Afghanistan to visit Soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Oct. 4-5.
The tour was the first of American 300's Warrior Tours that highlights profiles in extreme courage and it gave the Rangers a chance to visit Afghanistan to see firsthand what Soldiers of this current generation are experiencing.
"One of the greatest privileges I could ever have is to visit these Soldiers over here to tell them thanks for everything that they do for us back in the U.S.," said McKnight.
McKnight was a convoy commander the day of Oct. 3, 1993 in Somalia during the battle of Mogadishu. His character was portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down".
Thomas was involved as well in that battle, fast-roping from a UH-60 Black Hawk into the streets of Mogadishu. Since then, he has become a county-music artist and often goes overseas to sing for and interact with the troops.
This occasion was no different for Thomas, who varied his musical set with a song that rendered a somber tone and then followed that up with one of his more lively singles, "Another Mexico Song" that brought laughter and a plethora of applause from the 1st ACB troopers.
Thomas touched on his interaction with the troops afterwards.
"It never fails," said Thomas. "The conversations I have with Soldiers in combat zones always are the same. Within three to five minutes, they start talking about their fellow brothers in arms over here…It's never about them."
Thomas added, "As someone who used to wear the uniform, I understand how much this means to the Soldiers to have someone come over here and talk to them."
Thomas, along with the rest of the Rangers, has a busy schedule back in the states, and that was a fact that did not go unnoticed by the Soldiers who they visited.
"The fact that they recognize what we are doing over here… that they would stop their busy lives to come and show their appreciation…it means a lot to me," said Spc. Janice Gonzales, a signal support systems specialist, assigned to Company C, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, originally from San Antonio.
The dates of the tour coincided with the anniversary of the battle of Mogadishu.
As he tried to contain his emotions, McKnight talked about the importance of spending the anniversary with Soldiers for the first time.
"Eighteen years ago, I was fighting in the streets of Mogadishu, and to be able to spend this anniversary with Soldiers here in Afghanistan…it's really special for me."
Throughout the tour, as they interacted with Soldiers, McKnight, Mullen and Thomas often referenced their fellow comrades who made the 'ultimate sacrifice' during their tenures in the Army.
Thomas added, "I've lost friends in combat and I owe it to them to tell their stories."
An event held at one of the 1st ACB hangars was staged as town-hall where the Rangers sat at a table in front of the audience and talked about their experiences. That set-up quickly disbanded though, as the rangers relished the opportunity to have close interaction with the Soldiers.
Gonzales added, "It was really cool to hear firsthand about their experiences and see how they have grown from them," she said.
Finally, McKnight talked about how impressed he was with the Soldiers he encountered during his visit, and said he would pass that message to everyone back in the U.S.
"When I return home, I'll be able to tell everyone about the professional demeanor and hard work ethic of the Soldiers I had the privilege to spend time with," said McKnight.