Author, Get it On!(2011)
Former US Army Ranger Staff Seargeant (1991-1995)
75th Ranger Regiment
Part of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia
Received Bronze Star for Valor, Device and Combat Infantryman Badge, awarded Master Parachute wings with over 400 jumps, and British and Belgian parachute wings
Graduated, University of Florida (Advertising)
Keni Thomas: Leading the Way
The 700 Club
BLACK HAWK DOWN
Keni’s father was an Army Ranger. After Keni went to college at the University of Florida , he enlisted in the Army in 1991 and successfully completed Army Ranger School. (Rangers are a highly trained, highly motivated infantry unit who specialize in raids and dangerous missions behind enemy lines). One day while he was writing to his mom from a military base in Somalia, the call to gear up for a mission rang out and changed his life forever. “We knew it was a dangerous part of town. We knew a daylight raid was an increased risk….what we didn’t know is by the time it was all done, nineteen of us would never make it back,” says Keni. They were on the hunt for Muhammed Farrah Aideed. He and his clan of Habr Gidir militia were attacking the United Nations (UN) food shipments. Somalia, a country whose existence was threatened by civil war, was a haven for terrorists and warlords. In the 1990s, the UN was supplying humanitarian aid because of the civil war and starving Somalian people. Aideed and his troops confiscated these relief efforts and in 1992, President George Bush decided to step in through Operation Restore Hope, one of his last acts in the White House. After twenty-two Pakistani UN peackeepers were gunned down by Aideed, American troops were assigned to guard food shipments by the new Clinton administration. A top secret, joint military special operations package consisting of Army Special Forces, Delta operators Rangers, Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment, Navy SEALs and Air Force commandos was formed, called Task Force Ranger (TFR). The mission: to find and capture Aideed.
It was supposed to have been a day off for the men of TFR. They had been in Somalia for almost three months running missions night and day. The squad got the call to “Get it On,” or gear up for a mission. This mission wasn’t supposed to take more than an hour. It was a daylight raid into the heart of Mogadishu near a town called the Bakara Market where military were known to gather and small arms known to be stockpiled. According to their intel, Aideed’s top people were meeting in a building across from the Olympic Hotel. The mission was initially a success: the building was raided and a dozen of Aideed’s men were captured. Then one of the helicopters, in an over-watch flight pattern, was hit by a rocket propeller grenade. The aircraft lost altitude and crashed. Gunfire was coming from everywhere. The Somalian crowd that gathered to see the smoking helicopter started beating the four surviving Americans with sticks and rocks. Soon another chopper went down. TFR on the ground made their way toward the crash. The convoy trying to get the prisoners back to the airbase ran into roadblocks and ambushes. After eighteen hours of what is said to be the worst urban combat since World War II, the mission went down in history as Black Hawk Down. Seventy-eight were wounded and nineteen killed. “As I have grown in my faith over the years, I have come to realize it was not the body armor that saved me,” says Keni. “It was God’s armor and the extraordinary men He placed on my left and right. When you walk away from something others did not, you will spend the rest of your life thanking those people who stood by you that day.”
LEADERSHIP STARTS WITH YOU
Keni says leadership starts with you. The men around Keni that day were privates. “The only people they were in charge of was themselves,” he says. “The example of leadership they displayed saved lives.” Keni encourages everyone where they are. “Never sell yourself short and think you are just and ordinary individual,” he says. Lead by example. Use your gifts. One day in 2004 after he was out of the military, Keni’s music career was not working out. “I was looking for a purpose,” he says. Then his Ranger friend, Jeff Struecker, the squad leader who led his men back out into the fight in Black Hawk Down and later became a military chaplain, called Keni on the phone. Keni was thinking about going back into the Army. Jeff said, “You and I both know that we can train someone to be a Ranger, but we can’t train anyone to do what you can do. You’re the voice for us. You can do more with one song that I can do with one sermon.” Three months later, Keni got his first record deal.
Today Keni shares his message of leadership, courage and faith to audiences around the country, from the Grand Ole Opry stage to military audiences overseas. He is the spokesperson for Special Operations Warrior Foundation and the “Hero Fund.” He is engaged. Keni will perform Hold the Line.
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