Sometimes you start to hum a tune. The tune makes you sing. The singing makes you play. The playing makes you write. The writing makes you smile. The more you smile the more you sing and the more songs you find.
... and then there's a new album!
Today is Sunday the 4th of Oct. 16 years ago the 4th of October fell on a Monday. I remember it as if it were yesterday. At about the same time you were coming home from church today, I was stepping off a Blackhawk helicopter as we landed back at base after 18 hours of hell.
So many were wounded. Too many were dead. And those of us who were fortunate to make it back in one piece would forever carry the scars of that battle. We had gone in the day before as a highly trained, highly motivated fighting force. We came out the next morning on the 4th as combat veterans.
All in all Task Force Ranger would loose 18 men. Our ranger company lost 6. The delta squadron lost 6. The night stalkers lost 6 in the crashes. A sobering lesson of the team concept. All players are of equal importance because every element is dependent on the other. Of the 150 or so of us in TFR, 78 were wounded. Somali casualties were listed well over a thousand.
I should also point out that the 10th mountain division of the QRF also lost a man. They are seldom mentioned when it comes to the story of Blackhawk Down. But they should know everyone of us were thankful they came. We could not have gotten our wounded comrades back with out their help.
For those of us who make it out something like that where others did not, you will spend the rest of your life followed by a strange sense of guilt. We all asked the question, “Why me?” “Why God did You let me walk away when men who were three times the soldier that I was did not? Men who deserved to live. Men who should have lived. Men who had families, children and wives. Why was I one of the chosen ones? Why me? What am I supposed to do with this?
You can do one of two things with the guilt. You can get angry and let the unfairness of it all bury you. Or you can choose to let it motivate you. See it for what it is. Its more than an opportunity or some devine “second chance”. See it as a responsibility, a duty, and a commitment to those who got you out of there, to carry on and live a happy life filled with purpose, direction and motivation.
Years later, even after the noise of slamming doors no longer made me duck for cover, and the mere site of Old Glory no longer made me cry, I was still feeling the effects of combat. I was still fighting the battle of Mogadishu only now I was years away safely at home in the middle of a good life. Guilt would continue to haunt me. Sure I followed my dreams of music. The intestinal fortitude instilled in me as a ranger would not allow otherwise. Outwardly, Keni was a positive, motivated, dreamer out there doing what he loved to do. Good for him. Way to go Keni!
But down inside I could never fully commit to ejoying the life I had. In fact, I could never fully commit to anything. Why, it just didn’t seem “hard” enough. Somewhere deep inside, I felt I shouldn’t really be allowed to be happy. It should be enough that I was here when others were not. It affected everything. My sense of self worth, my relationships. The moment I felt the good life closing in, that voice of guilt inside me began to whisper.
"You know, you’re not allowed to be happy. Think about Casey’s wife. Think about Pilla’s parents. How do you think they feel”
And so the enemy with in me would covertly sabotage whatever good God had sent my way. I became a master of disguise, camouflaging my emotions. On the outside I appeared passionate and full of fire declaring “I love my Life. I love you!” Because that’s what I knew I was supposed to be. In reality, I was shutting down my feelings because somewhere between the streets of Mogadishu, the hospitals of recovering friends, and the tombstones at Arlington, I convinced myself I didn’t deserve to be here.
It takes one to know one and it was a vitenam veteran, a friend of my father, who wrote to me after yet another painful break-up that I had somehow managed to manufacture. And without talking to me or knowing me all that well he pinpointed the problem with the accuracy of a laser guided missle.
“You know Keni, you are allowed to be happy”, he said. “In fact, you owe it to those guys who got you out of there”
Yeah Yeah tell me something I didn’t know.
But it was this next line I remember most of all that planted the seed of change in my restless and guilt-ridden heart.
If any one of your friends could come back from the dead and talk to you today, do you really think they would tell you that you were supposed to feel guilty?
I’m not saying the change was an immediate metamorphose, as if God himself had spoken the words and then SHAZAM I was struck by a bolt of lightning. But the seed was planted and I knew that combat veteran of vietnam was right. I’d grown accustomed to the numbness and comfortable with in the walls I had erected around my heart. It is exactly those walls we build to protect us that ultimately will imprison us. This guilt I drug around with me like a ball and chain was self-imposed. I had the key all along. God had indeed spoken to me. It was time to start breaking free of Somalia and begin running out of that city for good.
For the thousands of you who share the title of “combat veteran” I thank you for your service and sympathize with your loss. Do not let the guilt of your survival become your ghost. God brought you this far for a reason. Enjoy your life. Live it with a passion. Make a difference. And never miss an opportunity to tell the story of those around you on that day. You know the day. It will forever be engraved in your memory as if it were yesterday.
To the men of TFR, I thank you for bringing me home. I am forever indebted. Today is a good day to be us and a great day to be alive.
we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
As a soldier, you ignore those “voices of morality”. You learn to embrace the role of the warrior and its social outcast image. So you speak with comical rhetoric using tough guy one-liners to reinforce the triviality of death—“Kill something everyday no matter how small, just to stay proficient” or one of my favorites, “You can run, but you’ll only die tired.” They name themselves “devil dogs” and “nightstalkers.” “Hunter/killer teams” always sounded better to me than “reconnaissance.”
From day one of basic training, the soldier sings “Hooah, hooah!” and callous cadences about the honorable destruction of the enemy. Call him “the enemy” and he’s no longer human. Say it enough and you’ll begin to believe it. You have to desensitize yourself because if you don’t, your conscience will tear you apart and you’ll become combat ineffective. You will be incapable of doing whatever needs to be done at the time it needs doing.
So the warrior must hide the good boy that society expects of him and become the hard man the nation needs him to be—a highly trained, highly motivated, and highly effective killer of men. A hospital bed in Walter Reed is no place for the warrior. Staring down at what used to be a leg or an arm is no reality that any human wants to face. That’s why in their mind the only reality that makes any sense, is getting back to their unit.
I shook their hands. Took a picture. Left them with some music and did my best not to cry. I told them what I knew they would eventually learn on their own and hopefully come to accept. The body is an incredible machine and will heal in time. The heart and mind take a whole lot longer.
I told them with the hope of sounding optimistic, "Your calling now my friend, is no longer on the field of battle. God has other plans for you. You will have to make an impact on this earth without an M4 rifle in your hands. Make no mistake, you WILL make an impact. But It's entirely up to you to choose how you will do that. And if you need help, all you have to do is ask. You'll be surprised how quickly He will answer"
I left that hospital a little wiser in perspective and a whole lot more grateful for life.
For the rest of us walking around on both legs, playing guitar with both hands, and going to work without wearing body armor, I would ask that we remember to count our blessings in the face of our day to day trials.
There are going to be times when life will hit you hard with its own roadside bomb. And just like that everything will change. You too may find yourself asking, What is my purpose? What is my cause? How will I matter?
One way or another, you WILL make a difference. But what kind of difference will it be? How you choose to impact the world around you is entirely up to you to decide. Should you ever need help figuring it out, all you have to do is ask. You'll be surprised how quickly He will answer.
God bless the troops and families of our military for all they are asked to endure on our behalf. May God bless you in all you do. Stay strong. Stay motivated.
Keni Ish 6 8
here am I Lord, send me
I landed at Reagan Airport in DC and was met by a smiling USO rep in a big black car. She was taking me to Walter Reed medical center to visit some troops. During the ride up to Maryland, we talked about the weather and the usual pleasantries of light conversation. A half hour later i was standing in a hospital room talking with a kid who had lost both of his legs on a Baghdad highway less than 30 days ago. How quickly things can change.
Suddenly that morning's canceled flight, my bass player leaving for another tour and a girlfriend who was no longer a girlfriend seemed like problems that were ridiculously superficial. If you are in need of perspective, go visit a military hospital.
I visited from room to room trying to keep a good game face on. My job was really just to get them talking and to sit there and listen. Their stories are heartbreaking yet inspiring. Tragic yet somehow incredibly motivating.
"Show me a hero and I shall write you a tragedy"
Most recalled the day with indifferent detail. it seemed as if they were simply on autopilot recounting and trying to figure it all out as they talked through the events.
"I was in the gun-turret when the blast hit us. My driver got hit pretty bad. At first i couldn't really feel anything. After I pulled him out, I realized my legs were pretty much screwed..."
On and on they would go. From the moment they got hit to the moment they passed out. Some remember waking up in Germany where the first major surgeries are usually done. Some never came to until they were back here at Walter Reed missing limbs their body still denies are gone. Each person had their own tale to tell, but every story ended exactly the same.
"i just want to get back to my unit"
After all they had gone through. After all they had endured. After all they have sacrificed, all they wanted to do was to go back.
The bond you forge with your brothers in arms is stronger even than family. As part of that brotherhood, you find your purpose and your calling. In them you know who you are. To them you meant something. You were counted on. With them you were somebody who made a difference.
I know what he was thinking. Who would look after his buddies now? Who will look after me?
Our good friend Lily at Monmouth college teamed up with the USO to put on a benefit concert "Rawk Out for the Troops" at Mcguire Air Force Base, and FT Dix just outside of Philadelphia. 5 bands, free to the public. It was Easter weekend. Good news is Jesus was resurrected. Bad news is everyone in my band had to play in church because of it. I was gonna have to do this one solo.
Gotta tell you I wasn't really looking fwd to being in the north by myself on Easter. But I always try and go when Lily asks, because her heart is in the right place. So few college folks nowadays take the time to acknowledge the military much less organize a free show for them. So armed with my Epiphone guitar, I boarded a Southwest flight to philly and a few hours later was standing on a stage plugging in to play. For 8 people.
Apparently the group of soldiers that were supposed to come hadn"t yet been released in time to make it to the show. I kept telling Lily not to worry. "All you can do is the best you can do" to put on a quality event. The rest was out of her hands. "Rest assured",i said " Everyone that is supposed to be here, will be here". At least thats what I was trying to convince myself.
Kinda hard to get motivated for 8 people. I told myself, "Ok Lets just get through this. I'll sing my songs and tell my stories and hopefully someone will get something out of it." Well, that someone ended up being me. Turns out, I was the one who was supposed to be there. What i sang was not important. Who I met was.
Aoioa is 4 yrs-old. He has a mohawk and a plastic gibson guitar he slings across his body like a mini rawk star. He stood right there in front of the stage, in his rocker power stance, playing his heart out. I've been playing on stages all my life. I've never seen anything so pure at a show, ever. He didn't care that he'd never heard the bands before. He didn't care if their song was on a chart somewhere. He didn't care if Simon, Randy and Paula would have hated us all. You would have thought Bruce Springsteen himself was up there rawking the Jersey shore. This kid had come for the music. He was armed and dangerous and eager to play. You should have seen him jump around when one of the acts started playing Sweet Home Alabama. Obviously he knew that one well. I could tell by the arm-cartwheels he was throwing on his little virtual les paul.
After the show i shook all 8 hands and I asked Aoioa if i could get my picture made with him. This time I was the fan. He told me he liked my song Gunslinger. Which is great because kids don't lie when it comes to songs. You want to know your next hit? Ask a kid. I'm fortunate to have met Aoioa. Because just when i was starting to think i should have stayed in Nashville for Easter, along comes a 4 year old guitar hero who saves me. He reminded me what playing music is supposed to be all about. For the love of it.
So i say my goodnights and head back to the hotel room. Its late. I'd been going since 5 am. I was tired. The lady from the USO informs me she"ll be by to get me at 630am. What? My flight isn't until 12. Why so early? Well she explains, every sunday morning at Mcguire Air Force Base a plane lands with a load of folks coming back from iraq. And every sunday morning at McGuire AFB a group of volunteers from the USO and the local vietnam veterans association show up to welcome these troops home and make them breakfast.
I've been up early for plenty of easter morning services. But I've never gotten up to serve breakfast to 200 soldiers. I wasn't sure I really wanted to do that. i was thinking, Id rather sleep in a little and then maybe walk over to the church service at the chapel across from my room.But then i thought, its for troops. Maybe I can give some of those folks an encouraging word. So I told the USO lady I would be there to help and would see her at 630am. And once again, I had it backwards. For i learned it was me who would be the beneficiary.
Some were returning from a year's deployment. Some were coming back on leave. Some were on their way out of the military. All were glad to be on american soil. They were almost home. A couple of the folks came up to me and said they had seen us in concert over there during christmas. Man, that seemed forever ago. They were just now getting home. How about a strong dose of perspective with my breakfast? Little things excited them, things i take for granted like real milk and duncan donuts. It was good to see soldiers smiling. As they came through the line, they would tell us with the utmost sincerity "thank you so much for being here" which felt ridiculously backwards. One of the USO volunteers "Doc" got up to give his thank you speech. He could barely get through it because he got all choked up. He was so proud of these young men and women. In fact, Im getting choked up trying to write this. The emotions in that little building were huge for all parties involved. Pride, Gratitude, and patriotism were way stronger even than the coffee.
As I boarded my plane out of Philladelphia the city where liberty began, I thought about how blessed I was on that Easter morning. I had come with less than a positive attitude. But a 4 yr old kid with a plastic guitar reminded me of what it is I love to do and thus why I do it. I may have missed church in Nashville. But I am grateful for the chance to have spent my easter service serving those heroes in serivce to our nation.
Maybe you want to show your gratitude to our military but you don't know how. Its easy really. Next time you see someone wearing the uniform at the ariport or downtown, just tell them "hey thanks for your service." That's all you have to say. You'll be surprised at what You get out of it. And if you have any guitar heros in your household, let em play. Someday when they're ready, get them a real guitar. We're gonna need their music one of these days.
Stay strong. Stay motivated. May God bless you all.
Keni ish 6 8
You ever felt your self being guided somewhere, and though you're not quite sure where, you know you're being steered? Certain events begin to line up. Road signs begin to point the way. And soon you realize you have veered off of what you once believed was the only way. Maybe you thought to yourself, "I know where I want to be. And I'm pretty sure I know the way to get there because this is the way everyone else goes"
Then one day, many years down the road, you take a good look around and realize you are no longer on the same highway you had originally set out upon. You are still heading in the right direction, but the road is now unfamiliar. You look across the valley and running parallel to you in the distance, is the highway that you were on and everyone else is still on. But for some reason, instead of heading back to where you came from, you just keep on motoring along smooth and steady. It's almost like you were on autopilot. "Man, you ask yourself, How did I get here?" So it seems, I have found myself traveling a course I did not for-see. Somehow I let my self be directed off the highway and onto the back way.
Now anyone who's ever driven in the country will know the speed limit can seem excruciatingly slow at times. So if you're in a hurry it's gonna make you anxious. But remember, smooth and steady wins the race. You may point out , " yeah but, what if you break down out there? What if you run out of gas? Those back roads can get pretty dark at night. What if.. what if...what if?" But I'm not really worried. I know I'm heading in the right direction because I always carry a compass. Might take me a little longer to get where I want to be, but I'll get there. Of this I am sure. And in the event I should run into some trouble, again I'm not too worried. I have a good friend riding along shotgun with me. And He's pretty much a bad ass. So today I'm feeling confident on this road less traveled.
Stay strong. Stay confident
Shreveport 2 LA is breaking records at GACTV!
Keni Thomas is the only independent artist currently on the Top 20 Video Countdown chart.
We're proud to say that Shreveport to LA has spent 3 weeks in the top 5 and 9 weeks in the top 20.
It's all because our fans are voting once a day, every day!
We have iNCREDiBLE FANS!
You can make your daily votes on gactv.com by clicking here: http://www.gactv.com/gac/pac_ctnt/text/0,,GAC_26058_47218,00.html
We’re got some exciting news to share! Keni Thomas’s new single, “Shreveport 2 LA,” from his upcoming album Gunslinger is perched in the Top 5 of Great American Country’s Top 20 Country Countdown Show!
GAC is in 54 million homes nationwide. The video has been on the chart for six consecutive weeks in the Top 20, and it’s all fan voted. It’s an incredible feat as Keni is the ONLY independent artist on the chart included with some of country’s biggest stars. Keni’s team is very proud of what has been accomplished and we need your help to climb the chart to #1! Just go to GACtv.com, ON TV, Top 20, Vote! Or click on this link http://www.gactv.com/gac/pac_ctnt/text/0,,GAC_26058_46507,0.html
You can vote once a day, every day. The new chart position is announced on Fridays.
As you know, Keni is featured on TTFR’s country compilation disc which was released last year. Keni is a former Army Ranger. He fought in the battle of Somalia and was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor for his efforts. Keni will be headed back to the Middle East this December to entertain the troops on the USO’s “Hope & Freedom” Holiday tour.
Thanks for your help! You are appreciated Myspace.com/kenithomas Www.kenithomas.com