Survivor of Battle of Mogadishu speaks at 336th

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Emerald Ralston
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Keni Thomas, country singer and former Army Ranger, visited the 336th Training Squadron Feb. 27 to talk about his experiences in Somalia and to highlight the importance of leadership, and each person's place as part of the bigger puzzle. 

As they completed the mission in the city of Mogadishu, Somalia, and awaited the arrival of their helicopter back to the base, Army Ranger, Sergeant Thomas, and his men felt as though things had gone smoothly, the mission was over and it was smooth sailing from there. 

Until the local militia shot down the Black Hawk helicopters that were on the way to pick up the men. 

Chaos ensued and the men who thought their duty was done stepped up to fight off the local militia and save the lives of whatever men they could through the wreckage.
78 out of 130 men were killed or wounded that day. 

Thomas and his crew were of the few lucky ones who made it out unscathed - at least physically. 

"Some things, some experiences, will never leave you," Thomas said. "You'll have stories. If you don't get out and tell the stories, who is going to?" 

As he walked in the room where he was scheduled to give his speech, most wouldn't think this was an ex-Army Ranger who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu. His long hair and the guitar slung across his back didn't exactly scream 'soldier' to the audience.
Thomas, who is now a country recording artist, travels with United Service Organization tours through the desert and goes all over the country telling his story. 

Thomas' story started on a day off, as he was writing a letter home to his mother. His team got the notification to drop what they were doing and gear up. Within ten minutes his team was lined up and getting told the details of what they were doing. 

They had been in Somalia for three months and it was starting to take its toll on morale. The mission was supposed to be accomplished quickly - in, out, and back home quickly. This presented itself as a challenge to Thomas, trying to keep morale up, keep them focused and remind them they had a responsibility there. 

So the day they got the call, it was a welcome assignment. The men went in on helicopters and made it to the objective location, got in, got out with the mission accomplished in less than 30 minutes and waited for their chopper back to safety. 

"The mission was done," Thomas said. "That's when the helo went down. It is not supposed to happen, but there it was, and the 18 hour fight that took place after that will never leave me. All the memories come back when you have a chance to breathe and you experience a very strange sense of guilt when you make it back when others didn't. But that's where the choice comes in, you can let it make you angry, or you can let it motivate you." 

From the moment the helicopters were shot down, it became a rescue mission, Thomas explained. The helicopters crashed about five blocks away from where the mission took place, and while they were racing to the crash site Thomas' platoon leader was hit - leaving Thomas in charge. 

"I didn't want that responsibility because that meant something bad had happened to my platoon leader," he said. "But I took the position and the fighting went on all night. Cooks, mechanics, everyone, put on body armor and took wounded to safety. It is the people to your left and your right that get you through those situations. There were many extraordinary tasks accomplished by ordinary people that day." 

They held their ground and made it out after hours of fighting, holding off the enemy and trying to save lives and secure the wounded. 

Thomas explained that he became a leader by necessity in the heat of battle, without a moment to think about it or an option to say no. 

"Most of the world doesn't know what it's like to be counted on," he said. "That is a special quality military members have. Most civilians don't understand, it's not their job to understand, but they do appreciate it." 

He then played one of his songs called "Not Me," about the struggles of being appointed a responsibility that an individual isn't necessarily prepared to take on. 

Thomas ended by saying he has been everywhere, met people from all walks of life and no matter what, no matter what side, they appreciate what they have because of the leaders, the team members and the ones who break through and do something extraordinary to defend them.