Black Hawk Down veteran to speak at One Senior Place

Colonel speaks on courage

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  • | 1:52 p.m. September 1, 2016
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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Retired Army Colonel Danny R. McKnight, veteran of the First Battle of Mogadishu, draws from his combat experiences to help educate and motivate others.

On Oct. 3, 1993, approximately 400 U.S. Army forces, consisting primary of elite Ranger and Delta Force members, mobilized into Mogadishu (the capital of Somalia) in an attempt to seize two top lieutenants of renegade warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. The mission quickly devolved from a well-planned kidnapping to an all-out fight for survival, leaving 18 U.S. soldiers dead and 80 wounded, as well as between 1,500 and 3,000 Somalis dead or wounded. The First Battle of Mogadishu, more commonly referred to as Black Hawk Down, remains a sober reminder of what can happen when two well-armed, opposing forces engage in modern urban warfare.

Col. Danny R. McKnight, U.S. Army (Ret.), served in the battle as an army ranger battalion commander. The mission, intended to last no more than an hour, turned into an overnight standoff when Somalia militia and armed civilian fighters shot down two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. U.S. forces lost the initiative, and McKnight and his men were tasked with helping secure and recover the crews of both helicopters as thousands of hostile combatants bore down on them. Seventeen hours of fierce fighting ensued, making it one of the longest, most bloody battles for U.S. troops since the Vietnam War. On the morning of Oct. 4, a combined United Nations task force finally arrived and rescued the trapped soldiers.

“The initial plan was solid, and we actually captured 21 people, including three top targets, but things happen quickly in combat that can change a mission’s focus,” said Col. McKnight, who was shot twice during the battle. “We had already secured the first Black Hawk crash site when the second one went down. At that point we knew we were done capturing people and needed to focus on saving our men.”

McKnight was part of the U.S. ground assault force (which included nine Humvees) being shot at from everywhere – streets, windows, rooftops and alleyways – while attempting to transport the dead and wounded out of the city. The casualties started to grow, but McKnight, a seasoned combat veteran, remained calm.

“The situation was completely unforgiving, as we were dealing with both well-trained militia and civilians with military-grade weapons, but my job was to get my men home safely, so I was totally focused on the task at hand,” McKnight said. “We were engaged with at least 3,000 hostiles; this is when your elite training kicks in.”

The heart-pounding battle, retold in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down,” cannot be adequately described because the reality of combat is much worse than anyone can attempt to replicate. When asked if the movie exaggerates or embellishes any of the fighting, McKnight admits the opposite is true – the movie, which he believes is well made, is only able to portray about 70 percent of the actual combat ferocity and emotional turmoil he and his men experienced.

“The reality of it was much worse,” he says. “You simply can't describe the intensity of it.”

McKnight, now a motivational speaker, uses his combat experiences to form the basis of his message on commitment, leadership and achieving mission success. His incredible story is a visceral portrait of war and testament to the strength of the human spirit during the worst possible circumstances. For McKnight, stressing the importance of duty, loyalty, respect, honor, integrity, personal courage and selfless service motivates him to speak. Far from being withdrawn about his experiences in Mogadishu, McKnight remains eager to share his story in order to motivate others.

“In the toughest situations, the way you handle things means everything,” he said. “During that battle, I was determined to lead by example because if I hadn’t, we could easily have been lost in the chaos and carnage around us. Many more of my men would have been killed, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

For McKnight, soldiering is all about the commitment you have to the person standing next to you, and he believes making the hard-but-right decisions, instead of the easy-but-wrong ones, speaks to a person’s courage in the face of adversity. Lessons learned from combat apply to civilian life as well, which is why he finds satisfaction in recounting his life experiences.

“If you haven’t experienced combat, it’s difficult to understand the strength of a soldier’s bond,” said McKnight, who visits every one of his men’s gravesites every five years. “I’m still very close with some of the men who fought that day, and I know they trusted me to do the right thing. We share a trust and bond nobody can ever take away from us.”

McKnight will be the keynote speaker at the Every Day is Veterans Day event hosted by One Senior Place Greater Orlando and co-sponsored by VITAS Healthcare and Honor Flight Central Florida on Friday, Sept. 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free and open to the public, Every Day is Veterans Day will also feature representatives from numerous veterans and military organizations, a color guard, music, refreshments, door prizes, and important information for veterans. While an RSVP is not required, attendees are encouraged to call 407-949-6733 so organizers can fully accommodate the expected large turnout.

One Senior Place is a comprehensive, one-stop resource with access to information, advice, care and services for seniors. Not only are a variety of businesses available in one location, but they also offer educational seminars and fun events on a regular basis, and their Senior Resource Library is available to help you find what you are looking for.


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