Leading up to the release of Warner Brothers movie, 12 strong, the real men behind the story have been traveling the country to share the version of the story behind the movie.
Retired Lt. Gen. John F.
Mulholland Jr., Retired Maj. Mark Nutsch and Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert “Bob” Pennington, visited Fayetteville, last Saturday.
Mulholland suggested in an interview prior to the Fayetteville premier of 12 Strong that there are three important facets of the history surrounding September 11, 2001.
The first is the story of those in the plane and the stories of Americans’ helping in the targeted buildings, the second story is the story of our first responders who knew they might not make it out alive but went in anyway.
“Then there is the third story. I think that’s the story of Task Force Dagger and what America did in response to those attacks, and this is America’s really first opportunity to understand that part of the story. That when you attack America we will come for you and we will demand and get justice…” said Mulholland.
‘You’re going to war aren’t you?‘
Nutsch was home with his wife who was six-months pregnant and their two boys, ages 3 and 4, watching TV as the first plane found its target on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“When the second plane hit, (I) recognized this is a coordinated attack,” said Nutsch.
Pennington was with Operational Detachment Alpha 595 finishing a training mission. He and the team heard reports of the first plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center on the radio.
“We all looked at each other and Paul Evans, who was the team sergeant at the time, said ‘this is a terrorist attack’ it could be nothing else,” recalled Pennington.
Once home, Pennington’s wife already knew what this meant for her husband and his team.
“Michelle is sitting there, my wife, looking at me, and she knew right away. ‘You’re going to war aren’t you?” Pennington recalled.
False Starts
After a quick mobilization for the Green Berets chosen to be a part of TF Dagger, ODA 595 experienced three false starts. Despite the frustrations of their Families, they found use for the extra time.
The team began to read as much as they could find on the region, which was far less than ideal.
“It’s amazing we had to read as much civilian literature as we did because nothing was coming in,” said Pennington.
The team ran additional live-fire exercises in hopes of adapting to the change from desert terrain to the mountain terrain they were now headed towards.
“You have 12 Green Berets going ‘Woohoo! We’re going to the Super Bowl,” said Pennington.
Those deploying began to buy out supplies at the local sporting goods stores to better equip themselves for the deployment, as SF was underfunded and under-equipped at the time.
The changing mission
ODA 595 was originally tasked for personnel recovery, but it quickly became apparent the U.S. Air Force Pararescue, or PJs, who arrived two weeks prior, had it covered. Now missionless, Nutsch and Pennington described a team deep in the stages of preparation.
Then the team was handed a new mission.
“All they could really tell you was we are going in by helicopter on an MH-47 … and you’re going to link up with General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Our exact mission was to conduct unconventional warfare in support of General Abdul Rashid Dostum and to render the UWOA, it’s called the unconventional warfare operational area, unsafe for terrorist and Taliban activity,” explained Nutsch.
Their mission was not geographically defined. They were to go where Dostum needed them.
“In hindsight, it was payback, I think, for asking all those questions. Some canary’s got to get sent into the mine shaft to go figure them out, and we realized that was us, and we understood that,” said Nutsch
On the night of Oct. 19, 2001, Mulholland ma­de the call, and they conducted a simultaneous two team, ODA 595 and ODA 555, insertion to two different parts of Afghanistan.
“They didn’t expect us to survive, and you could tell that from being candid about it, the risks, the odds, the unknowns,” said Nutsch.
It was no easy task to send teams into this operational environment.
“Going into a known unknown is the norm for the mission set, the problem is none of that precursor work … had been done. It was a pick up game,” said Mulholland. “We are an unconventional warfare force. This is actually the first time since the SF was created, we actually got to conduct an lead and unconventional warfare campaign.”
But, the unknowns were of great concern to Mulholland.
“You just lie awake at night. What if this, what if that? I mean, we didn’t know anything about these warlords. I didn’t trust any of these guys, and now you’re going to send, literally, infidels amongst them,” explained Mulholland.
Horses, why did it have to be horses
There has been much discussion about the juxtaposition of the 19th century setting TF Dagger found in Northern Afghanistan and the modernity of their training and technology. ODA 595 and TF Dagger intelligence staff were unaware that Dostum’s troops were horse-mounted cavalry, and ODA 595 had to learn and adapt quickly.
Luckily, Nutsch was an experienced horseman, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Kansas. He was able to assist his team members in learning to be horsemen.
In hindsight, Mulholland would have liked to have been prepared to send his men 60 miles per day on horseback.
“I would have liked to have known there were going to be horses involved so we could have all planned a little bit, but that’s the nature of the beast,” he said.
In the two months after their arrival in Afghanistan, TF Dagger alongside the Afghan militia drove Al Qaeda out of their safe havens. This mission is considered to be the most successful in U.S. military history.