Proof that the brotherhood doesn’t end when your enlistment does.

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Proof that the brotherhood doesn’t end when your enlistment does.

Kind of a cool story out of Fort Walton Beach today that is sad and yet encouraging at the same time:

Nearly a quarter-century ago the lives of two soldiers, Todd Blackburn and Danny McKnight, were intertwined in a bond that led both of them to the Okaloosa County Courthouse Annex Extension on Friday afternoon.

On Oct. 3, 1993, Blackburn, then an Army private, and McKnight, an Army lieutenant colonel, were in the Somalian city of Mogadishu in the thick of a battle pitting Somali militiamen and civilian fighters against vastly outnumbered American forces.

While fast-roping off a helicopter under fire from the Somalis, Blackburn was twisted away from the rope and fell 60 feet to the street below. McKnight ordered that Blackburn be evacuated. During the evacuation Sgt. Dominick Pilla, the driver of the Humvee set to take Blackburn away, was shot in the head and killed.

If you’ve ever seen Blackhawk Down, you know the scene.  You can even hear McKight on the radio:

Blackburnt, like many of our brothers and sisters has had problems since coming back, which is why they were meeting in a courthouse.  He was charged with battery, which was a result of intoxication, again, not unlike many we served alongside, but in Florida there are 30 specific Veterans Courts, and this one in particular is run by Okaloosa County Judge T. Patt Maney who is himself a wounded warrior.

There was an article recently about a similar program in Virginia or West Virginia that US News reported on:

To qualify for the program, their crime must in some way be attributable to their military service.

Judge Dimlich said the issue does not have to be combat-related for a veteran to be approved. For example, one veteran in the program was tasked with delivering the news to families that their loved one had died.

"You can look at a guy's service and what he's been through," said Brandon Steele, Raleigh County assistant prosecuting attorney. "We have to ask ourselves, 'Is this person ready to face the problem head on? Or are they looking for a free pass?' "

Anyway, back to Blackburn and McKnight, again, remember that Blackburn took a tumble out of a helicopter at a pretty significant height:

Physical recovery was also a challenge for Blackburn, whose return from battlefield injuries took two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“I tried to stay in touch with Todd because I knew he was still dealing with some things,” McKnight said. Once, after not being able to get Blackburn on the telephone for months, McKnight found Blackburn’s home in Milton and showed up at his doorstep.

“Todd was always going to be mine ... to help him be what he wants to be,” McKnight said.

That’s what the brotherhood is all about.  It’s fairly easy for us now with Facebook to stay in touch, and most the guys in my unit do.  But for a commander to take the extra step and show up to check on him is everything that is good about a commander.  

And so is this:

What it also meant for Blackburn was a chance to reunite with McKnight, “the man who saved my life,” he said. Maney had invited McKnight to speak at Friday’s “graduation ceremony” in Veterans Court specifically so McKnight could surprise Blackburn and present him with his graduation certificate. McKnight drove six hours from South Florida to speak.

I love everything about this article, because it is what is best about what we owe each other.  That a commander would drive 12 hours roundtrip to watch him graduate from a class to keep him out of prison is exactly what we want in our leaders, be they a Battalion Commander or a fire team leader. 

Good on Judge Maney, Good on Danny McKnight and our best wishes to Todd Blackburn as he continues to fight the good fight his country sent him to.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.