12 Strong provides a unique take on how powerful U.S. Special Forces are.
While most Americans watched their televisions shocked at the events unfolding on September 11, 2001, members of the United State’s Military were preparing to do something about it.
“We looked at it as, ‘hey, send us, we’re ready to go. Let’s go in as soon as possible, let’s not wait around for something else to happen,’” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Pennington who was one of the key members of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Group Operational Detachment Alpha 595, better known now as the “Horse Soldiers.”
The film “12 Strong” tells the story of Capt. Mark Nutsch, Pennington and the other Green Berets of ODA-595 who, in October of 2001, went into battle and liberated more than 50 towns and cities in Afghanistan while destroying more than 200 enemy vehicles and killing or capturing more than 5,000 Taliban fighters.
“Send us, send me, send 595, we’re the team that’s ready to do this,” said Capt. Nutsch in regard to how he reacted to the events that unfolded on 9/11. “I personally prayed that we would get the mission in some role, didn’t know what that was going to be. I knew we had to figure out a lot of things, but again, I felt that because of our training and the experience of our team, we were the right one to go.”
Pennington added that for ODA-595, the mission to Afghanistan was what they had been preparing for.
“For us this is the World Series, this is the Super Bowl, this is the National Championship, this is the pinnacle of all missions that special forces can get,” he said.
Though the film’s focus is on Capt. Mitch Nelson (a cinematic alias for Nutsch, played by Chris Hemsworth), it is the relationship the Green Berets form with Northern Alliance general Abdul Rashid Dotsum (played by Iranian actor Navid Negahban) that turn what could have been another run-of-the-mill military flick and turn it into something more.
“He had just won the lottery,” Pennington said of the team’s initial contact with General Dotsum in Afghanistan. “He just got 12 men who were ready to go to combat and ready to win at all costs and he was proud of that. The first day when he showed up, he arrived with his horses and said, ‘are you guys ready to ride, are you ready to go?’”
The horses were another part of the film that set it apart from other modern-day warfare stories, particularly because horses have no role in modern day warfare.
“The U.S. Army had not ridden horses in combat since 1942 in the Philippines against the Japanese, so here we are learning how to ride horses in combat,” Nutsch said of his team. Having grown up in Kansas and ridden in rodeos, Nutsch was, in fact, the only accomplished horseman on the team. “Those first couple of days you’re giving [the unit] horseback riding lessons at the gallop, while you’re trying to mentor them along with these animals that want to bite you and kick you and throw you off.”
For Pennington, who at the time weighed a muscular 235 pounds, plus an additional 80 he was carrying in gear, the horseback experience was much different.
“I was not an expert,” he said. “I was crushing the poor horse and trying to maneuver around the battlefield. That was awful.”
The film provides thrilling moments as one would expect from a major motion picture with stellar performances from Hemsworth, Michael Shannon (whose character Hal Spencer is the cinematic portrayal of Pennington), Michael Peña and Trevante Rhodes.
Based on the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton, “12 Strong” opened nationwide on January 19th.
With their story reaching the big screen, Nutsch said he hopes other Special Forces groups receive similar treatment.
“There are incredible stories yet to be told,” he said. “We hope that this film will help shed some light on that and inspire people to read more and learn more about the real men and women and the real missions that happened in that historic period right after 9/11.”