Inspiration for 'Black Hawk Down' speaks about leadership experiences

By Mark Payne
Staff writer

There wasn’t a red carpet. There wasn’t a blur of shuttering lights. There weren’t any Hollywood actors. It certainly wasn’t actor Tom Sizemore, who played Danny McKnight in “Black Hawk Down.”

Retired Col. Danny McKnight speaks Tuesday to Co. A 1/46th Inf. (Co. 6) at Waybur Theater. McKnight was in charge of prisoners in Mogadishu, Somalia, in what has now become known as "Black Hawk Down." Photo by Ryan Stone
It was retired Col. Danny McKnight himself, and he was at the Leader’s Training Course to deliver a message to the Cadets of Alpha Co. (Co. 6)

The message was leadership.

“I feel privileged to have led Soldiers,” he said.

McKnight brought his experience to Waybur Theater Tuesday, as part of LTC’s distinguished speakers series. He is famous for his role in Mogadishu, Somalia, when Delta Force and Army Rangers were sent to capture several wanted people. The mission took an unexpected turn, and 19 United States Soldiers sacrificed their lives. A book was written, “Black Hawk Down,” in 1999 and a movie with the same title followed in 2001.

McKnight told Cadets not only did he feel privileged, but he felt leading Soldiers was one of the most important things, along with serving the greatest country in the world.

He described leadership through seven values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

McKnight sees leading through respect to the Soldiers below him as one of the most important values.

“Respect down for them. Not up toward us, down to them. It’s the most important level of respect,” he said.

He said he would participate in drills with Soldiers, not just ordering them. He felt that to lead, he had to lead from the front.

His message resonated with the Cadets.

“It’s leading by example,” said Co. A 1/46th Inf. Cadet Joshua Anderson on what he took away from McKnight’s speech. “It’s leading the lower, but treating them as the higher. That’s the biggest thing that I have understood with this LTC experience, is that we have to treat everyone equally, we have to treat everyone with respect and therefore we will earn their respect.”

Anderson, from Boise State University, said he plans on taking some of what he learned back to the program.

“He said lead by example and respect will be earned, and so I hope to do that. I hope to not tell anyone to do something if I am not willing to do it myself,” Anderson said.

McKnight went on to tell Cadets it’s not easy being a leader, but simple. He told them not to worry about popularity and to be willing to make the hard, right decision. He spoke of the toughest decision he had to make leading up to his trip to Mogadishu.

A Soldier approached him asking when they were going to be back from Somalia, because his wedding was in a month. He told the Soldier he was going to have to miss his wedding. The toughest part of the decision was he had to tell him he couldn’t call home to tell his fiancé because the mission to Somalia was classified, and he couldn’t leak where they were going.

“Think about trying telling a young man he is going to miss his wedding date and telling him he can’t even phone home. That was one of the toughest things I ever did,” McKnight said. “It was tough because I respected him so much.”

The young man was able to make it home and get married.

McKnight went on to tell Cadets that leadership was being passed to them, and it’s now in their hands.

Alpha Co. Cadet Jason McClendon, from the University of Hawaii, took a lot from McKnight’s speech and will use what he has learned.

“Basically, the biggest thing I took from that is leading by example,” he said. “Don’t expect people to do things you wouldn’t do yourself, and make sacrifices that you wouldn’t do the same.”