‘12 Strong’ story: First, they conquered the horses they rode, then the Taliban

January 6, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Mark Nutsch and Bob Pennington, Army Green Berets, were assigned to help Afghan fighters take back their nation from the Taliban during the weeks after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

One thing no one thought about, though, was how to get around the mountainous terrain of northern Afghanistan. The locals, it seems, rode horses.

Nutsch, who now lives in Tampa, grew up on a ranch, performed in rodeos and was an expert rider. Pennington, who rode once or twice in his life, not so much. 

Yet they and 10 other members of the 5th Special Forces Group’s Operational Detachment Alpha 595 survived painful saddles, bad-tempered horses, wary allies, harsh elements and an overwhelming enemy force to help defeat the Taliban in less than two months.

They earned fame as the Horse Soldiers, memorialized in a statue overlooking ground zero at Liberty Park in New York.

Now, 17 years later, their story — or a fictionalized piece of it — is told in 12 Strong, a major Hollywood movie opening in theaters Jan. 19. An invitation-only screening is scheduled in Tampa today and again Monday.

Nutsch is portrayed by Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, who gained film fame as a hammer-wielding Norse legend.

"I never imagined," Nutsch said, "that one day, Thor would play me in a movie."


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