SCH Editor at Large, Dr. Diane Howard had the distinct privilege to conduct a ’12 Strong’ behind the scenes interview with the real Special Ops leaders depicted in the powerful movie 12 Strong: Mark Nutsch portrayed by Chris Hemsworth and Bob Penningston performed by Michael Shannon.
These gracious men were humble and like most true heroes, did not view themselves as heroes but as part of a team, a band of brothers. Not only did they honor their American team but the Afghan soldiers and people with whom they bonded and have stayed connected to since their mission.
As the country was still reeling, these two heroes and the other 10 on their team of 12 who were part of the U.S. Army’s elite Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, left their homes and loved ones as they volunteered to take on a perilous classified mission in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.
These 12 Strong were selected to strike the first blow in America’s response to the terrorist attacks. They were not ordered to go. They volunteered to go and were chosen with the support of their commanding officers.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer says, “While the American public was still in shock, these men ventured into the unknown, into a situation fraught with danger, to try and settle the score and bring us a victory…. The operation was classified for a number of years—most people have never even heard of the story—but these men are true heroes.”
12 Strong director Nicolai Fuglsig says, “They were the tip of the spear, the first American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. When they arrived, they found themselves outnumbered 5,000 to 1 by the enemy and were constantly at risk of getting captured because of the huge bounty the Taliban had placed on their heads.”
The mission, codenamed Task Force Dagger, was as much diplomatic as it was military. Fuglsig explains, “This small Special Forces team was to link up with a local warlord named General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a leader in Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, in an effort to help him regain control of the region. It was the initial step in America’s fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda after 9/11.”
The Northern Alliance, a fragile coalition of Afghan military leaders, had itself become somewhat fractured in the years since its formation in 1996, but the one thing that united them was their mutual desire to rid their country of the ruthless, cruel Taliban.
Chris Hemsworth plays Captain Mitch Nelson (name change for Mark Nutsch), the leader of the Special Forces team, and says, “These Green Berets weren’t there as occupiers; they were there to assist the Afghan people who had been fighting for their freedom.
Without much prior intel, they had to come in and earn the trust of Dostum and his men or they could never have accomplished their mission. What I loved about this story was it was a chance to show Americans working side-by-side with the Afghan people to fight a common enemy.”
Bruckheimer calls the mission “unprecedented” because despite being among the best-trained soldiers in any branch of the military, the 12 Green Berets were unprepared for the unique challenge of working in northern Afghanistan’s treacherously steep, mountainous terrain with Afghan modes of transportation.
He says, “The only way through the mountain passes is on mules or horses, so they had to adapt…Only one of them was an expert rider, so the rest had to learn on the run.”
For the first time in 60 years, “Americans were heading into battle on horseback,” director Fuglsig observes. “But now they were riding into combat against missile launchers and T-72 tanks. The fact that every member of that Special Forces team made it home alive is nothing short of a miracle.”
Make sure to see the in-depth article about 12 Strong on Sonoma Christian Home!