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Keni Thomas ( - )  Category ( Singers ) [suggest a correction]

Keni ThomasCountry music has always had a close affinity with patriotism and the military, from World War II to Merle Haggard to Toby Keith. In Keni Thomas' case, however, the two worlds are fused in a unique way.

In just a few years of performing, the Gainesville, FLA native has checked off most of the list of requirements for country music sucess. He and his band Cornbread have opened for Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Wynona Judd, among others. He has sung in an onstage trio with Vince Gill and Emmy Lou Harris. His song "Alabama Home" was adopted as the official theme song of Talladega Raceway. Two other Thomas-written tunes made the Billboard country charts. And in October of 2009, he sang the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium before a World Series game.

Yet none of this, Thomas maintains, would have come about without his experience in combat. As a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, he found himself in the middle of the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in October of 1993, an event later immortalized in the book and movie "Blackhawk Down." Six members of his unit were killed, but he survived, only to fall prey to "survivor guilt."

"Years later," Thomas writes on his blog, "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. But down inside I could never fully commit to ejoying the life I had. In fact, I could never fully commit to anything.

"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."

At some point, however, Thomas embraced a deeper relationship with God -- another facet of his personality that now comes out in his music.

Thomas had actually started down the country music road before he was sent to Somalia, playing gigs around Columbus, GA, where he was stationed at Fort Benning. On his "day job," he was awarded Master Parachute wings at the conclusion of his airborne training.

After leaving active duty, Thomas first became a motivational speaker working with youth groups. Then he gradually eased back into music. His first CD, "Flags of Our Fathers," produced the hit single "Not Me." In his second, "Gunslinger," he moved beyond the military theme for a well-rounded selection of material. His second his was "Shreveport to LA."

Prior to his Army duty, Thomas studied journalism at the University of Florida. He still delivers inspirational speeches along with his music.

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