by Staff Sgt. Joe Armas 1st Cav
CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan – The Ranger Tour, comprised of 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.
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.
Pictured: Keni Thomas, a country music artist who is a former Army Ranger who was part of the battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993, plays his single, "Another Mexico Song."
This was a chance for the Rangers to visit Afghanistan and see firsthand what soldiers of this current generation are experiencing.
McKnight was a convoy commander on Oct. 3, 1993, in Somalia during the battle of Mogadishu. He was portrayed by a character 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 afterward.
“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 deployed 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 a town hall, where the Rangers sat at a table in front of the audience and talked about their experiences. That setup 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 back to everyone 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.