Retired U.S. Army Col. Danny McKnight, a convoy commander during the two-day battle in Somalia on which the book and movie “Black Hawk Down” was based, spoke Wednesday at a ceremony to charter the Eastwood Christian School corps of cadets into the Alabama Defense Force Cadet Corps.
Drawing on his almost 30 years of Army experience and on his memories from those two days more than a decade ago when 19 Americans lost their lives on the streets of Mogadishu, McKnight spoke about heroism, sacrifice and the need for more participation in and support of organizations like the State Defense Cadet Corps.
“You are the future of America,” the Columbus native said. “You’re going to be called to lead and that means stepping up.”
The 44 newly minted State Defense Force cadets will one day be summoned in emergencies when Alabama National Guard is on active duty.
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The State Defense Force is equal in standing to the National Guard, however it’s an unpaid, voluntary, militia.
“Obviously they’re willing to sacrifice their time,” McKnight said. “They’re not going to be going and sitting around playing with the Xbox or the computer. If they’re going to be in a program associated with being a cadet to be in the Alabama Defense Force, that’s a sacrifice right there. It’s saying I want to do something to make a difference and I think to do that at this age is great.”
McKnight was asked to speak at the chartering ceremony because of his reputation as a leader whose heroism was chronicled in the 1999 best-seller by Mark Bowden, “Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,” and the popular 2001 movie directed by Ridley Scott.
On Oct, 3, 1993, a U.S. Army Ranger strike force infiltrated the city of Mogadishu in an attempt to capture top lieutenants serving Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid.
The mission, dubbed Operation Gothic Serpent, went awry and a 15-hour battle ensued during which time two Black Hawk Helicopters were shot down.
Nineteen Americans and an estimated 1,000 Somalis were killed in close-quarters firefights as Somali militia swarmed the Rangers and the Delta Force.
McKnight lost six of his Rangers that day.
Eastwood Christian School is at 2176 Lee Road 183, 2 miles off of U.S. 280. To learn more about McKnight, visit www.danny mcknight.com.