Keni Thomas Recounts Life Lessons in New Book, ‘Get It On!’
Keni Thomas was writing a letter to his mom on October 3, 1993, when he heard the words "get it on." The Army Ranger geared up, loaded into a Blackhawk helicopter and headed for Mogadishu, Somalia, where he would become one of the lucky servicemen to return from what would become known as Blackhawk Down, a battle that lasted two days, took 19 lives and wounded an additional 78 soldiers.
Based on that experience, Keni has written his first book, 'Get It On! What It Means to Lead the Way,' published by B&H Publishing Group. While the book recounts the battle from the soldier-turned-singer's point of view, it is also meant to be a book about leadership.
"Leadership is not about rank or position, which is the hardest thing to impress on kids and educators," Keni tells The Boot. "It has never been about rank in military journals. It is the example you set. The Wizard of Oz didn't give anything to the Cowardly Lion that he didn't already have."
The singer says he decided to pen the book because he was constantly being told he needed to write down the things he was telling people in his speeches. "I'd do music and raise money for charity. At the end of the presentation, people would ask me if I had the speech on DVD and I'd say,'Well no,' and they would say 'It's an amazing story, not just Blackhawk Down, but what you say about leadership. So I put a proposal together. It took a year to get approval to write it so I figured it wasn't going to happen. It was so far out of my hands on this one, it is in God's hands."
The Gainesville, Fla. native says each of us will be called upon at some point in our lives to be a leader. "I can't tell you where. I can't tell you when. But I can tell you with absolute certainty the call will come for you to get it on! And just like that, the course of your life will change forever."
Keni has a Bronze Star of Valor but he says he doesn't talk about it much these days. He prefers to share his message of leadership and hope, and how God brought him through the firefight on those two days nearly 20 years ago. The singer has made an impression on some of the nation's highest-ranking leaders with his message. Lt Col Oliver L. North, USMC (Retired) says of 'Get It On!,' "If you are a veteran, you need to read this book. Keni shows us that the principles of leadership we learned when we wore the uniform still apply to us all out here in the real world."
"It's very exciting, and a much bigger thing that I thought it would be," Keni says of the release of the book. "Writing it was not so difficult; you just have to make time to do it. I holed myself up and went away for about a month and got it done. But once I turned it in, the creative side is done and the business side begins."
One of the things Keni addresses in the first few chapters of the book is the guilt a person feels when they make it out of a situation -- such as a battle -- while their friends and fellow soldiers do not. He says a World War II vet put it in perspective for him. "He said 'Keni, just so you know, He didn't bring you this far to let you go, so just keep on walking.' He told me I really have to screw up hugely to change the course of the way it's going now, to make the momentum stop."
Keni says that ultimately, the most important thing he wants people to learn from his book is "to realize by the end of the story that they as an individual are the most important piece of the puzzle; you are the one piece that makes everything around you work. There are people on the left and right and they are counting on you, and it's up to you to deliver. You are important to them. At the end of the day they may never tell you, but they count on you and it's up to you to do the right thing."
Keni continues to do military tours for Armed Forces Entertainment and the USO. "These are the best shows we get to do all year," he notes. "We go out and do a big show in the evening, but during the day we go out into small remote places with maybe 15 guys there, and they stare at you like the circus came to town. So you play your music and shake hands and they tell you no one has come to see them in eight months. It's important to get out there to those places as well as the bigger bases of operation."
Keni was a very young man when he was thrust into the middle of Blackhawk Down. Today he says he can look back and see where all those experiences have led him.
"The beautiful thing about putting mileage on your lives is you can see the impact in more clarity, and you can see all those dots that you thought were kind of random were not random at all. You realize you could not have done that on your own. The thing is, when you get off the path, you find out pretty quick you will hit bottom."
Keni is taking part in the Black Hawk Down Middle East Tour presented by Armed Forces Entertainment through Oct. 7. Also on the tour are fellow warrior rangers including Danny McKnight, Charlie Manis and Howard "Mad Max" Mullen Jr. The group will meet with men and women of the military to share their stories, and Keni will entertain the crowds with his music.
'Get It On! What It Means to Lead the Way' is available now.