12 Strong: The declassified true story of the horse soldiers

Written by: Dr. Reginald Ecarma, Faculty advisor 

Bravery is beautiful. Watching American warriors scale mountains to fight terrorists is something to behold. Post-9/11 war on terror gets this immigrant-turned-American heart pounding, rooting for the good guys.

Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, 12 Strong is a true story from recently declassified data. The cinematography was realistic, the acting bold though the lines at times were laden with testosterone inspired cliches. Still, the men acted with honor and the characters developed, showing their reason for leaving the comforts of their homes to fight an enemy in the wastelands of Afghanistan. The storyline was straight.

Taliban terrorists, along with al-Quaeda are harboring 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden in the desert of Northern Afghanistan. Mountainous terrain and language barrier are insufficient obstacles to keep a new captain and his 11 commandos from exacting revenge.

After the toppling of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, the 12 were the first American boots on the ground to be sent to Afghanistan, and they were covertly flown to Afghanistan as part of Operational Detachment Alpha 595.   

Chris Hemsworth, who previously played Thor, fit the role of Captain Mitch Nelson. Rather than Asgard’s god of thunder wielding a hammer, Hemsworth, as Nelson, wielded an M4. But not only an M4, he rode horseback while fighting the Taliban’s tanks, multiple rocket launchers and machines guns mounted on trucks.

As the tip of the American spear, the daring dozen deployed to face Afghan jihadists. Warned that they may not return due to death or torture, the commandos faced 50,000 battle hardened Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors. After their Apache helicopters flew over the mountains, they were dropped off deep into nearby Taliban tribal lands. They met factions of the Northern Alliance of 200 regular fighters who shared the same hatred against the Taliban. The only way to traverse the land was on horseback; Captain Nelson taught the others how to ride, even swimming with their horses regularly through a river. Surrounded by desert and rocky wastelands, Captain Nelson navigated through the linguistic maze of the Afghan warlords and villages while risking his life to provide accurate coordinates to direct American bombs.

Not knowing friend from foe, Nelson fired on frontal assaults. The dozen Green Beret operatives directed American bombers to their heavily armed targets. Captain Nelson called in air support, but felt the impact of the American bombs because of the close combat. Friendly fire nearly killed both sides, but the dirt covered men rose to fight another day. These American special forces shook the dust while disregarding their bleeding bodies, believing that they have to win this battle to prevent another 9/11.

Though lacking battlefield experience, the Captain made up for it with fresh eyes and Southern style stubbornness. Grit, grime and the daily grind (23 days of in country fighting) did not stop him from keeping his promise to his Kentucky family, “I am coming back, I promise.”

Despite tangible walls made of mud and intangible walls of cultural estrangement, Captain Nelson fought with battlefield innovation, while motivated by the pictures of the massacre in Manhattan.

After surviving the first outpost, aptly named Alamo, Nelson and his men rode horses through desert and mountain cliff sides to get close to the terrorist strongholds. During close combat, deceptive Islamists feigned surrender, only to get close to their would be American captors. They then detonated themselves, severely wounding the second in command of the American band of brothers.

Pugnacious in his desire to get through vulnerable valleys, exposed cliffs and crevices, the Captain risked his life by getting close to the Taliban to get exact coordinates for the bombers. Together with their allies, the Northern Alliance, they invaded and took over one village at a time toward Masar-e Sharif. The strategy: the first to take the city, whether Taliban/Al Quaida or Americans/Northern Alliance, control Northern Afghanistan, the region harboring the 9/11 conspirators.

From recently released classified files, 12 Strong shows characters of head and heart, at once deftly directing B-52 bombers against terrorist encampments while befriending Afghan boys with Tootsie Pops.

Fighting against all odds, persistent American special forces represent the best and brightest of the Red, White, and Blue.

This Filipino immigrant turned American citizen was reminded as to why American fighting men fought for justice, especially U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur who kept his WWII promise to Filipinos, “I shall return” and who said “I am a Filipino,” were committed to liberating people while bringing American justice.  

This Filipino immigrant remembered when American President Ronald Reagan ordered American jets in 1986 to fly over Manila, Philippines to show support for the fledgling resistance movement against the Philippines dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. And it was Marcos who drove my family out of our native land.

I landed in America as a boy, but I now stand as a Navy veteran, who is unashamed of showing his patriotism. And despite eight years of apologies of American exceptionalism by former U.S. President Barack Obama, and incessant attack on President Donald Trump’s America First motif, Captain Nelson in the 12 Strong highlights the exceptional bravery, the basic decency of Americans, the valor of the American soldier and why I am proud to be an American. In fact, 100 Nelson types led the taking back of Afghanistan away from the Taliban, handing it over to the Afghan people. As Captain Mitch Nelson promised to return to his American family echoing Gen. MacArthur’s promise to return to his beloved Philippines, let us remember the legacy of the USA–savior of the world (remember WWI, WWII, Cold War, and currently, the War on Terror), generous benefactor of our friends in the world stage, land of the free but truly the home of the brave–and strong.


For more facts, go to http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/12-strong/