12 Strong: Did the Movie Get It Right?

If you haven’t seen the movie “12 Strong” you should. It’s a great war movie based on real events of US soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11. A group of soldiers were sent on a mission to assist a rebel leader named Abdul Rashid Dostum. He had reached out to US officials confirming that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were behind the attacks of 9/11.

The movie pays tribute to the special forces soldiers who deployed shortly after America watched the Twin Towers fall. But most of us know that every Hollywood movie has its “Hollywood action.” It may be in the form of guns that never run out of bullets, or men performing superhuman tasks. But the movies are meant to be entertaining and that means scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat for two hours.

Scene from the movie 12 Strong.
The movie “12 Strong” tells the story of the 12 Horse Soldiers. [Photo: RTL-2]
In real life, those heroics come by way of long, hard days and nights. The 12 soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan met up with the rebel leader and assisted him in fighting. They rode horses through the desert and accomplished in a matter of weeks what others thought would take years. They are often referred to as the Horse Soldiers. I had the opportunity to meet Will Summers, one of the 12 Horse Soldiers, and hear him speak. He served as a Green Beret in Operational Detachment Alpha 595.

How accurate was the movie?

It’s probably not surprising that the movie is not very accurate when it comes to battle scenes. According to the 12 soldiers who were there, most of the movie was full of made-up drama. Every movie has a climax, and “12 Strong” has a great battle at the end. The special forces soldiers riding on horseback charge onto the battlefield, shooting and dodging bullets as they go.

They take out truck-mounted rocket launchers and other armored vehicles. Chris Hemsworth, who plays the role of Mitch Nelson (whose real name is Capt. Mark Nutsch) even dodges an RPG at one point. While the 12 horse soldiers did fight in a big battle, it did not happen as it appeared on the big screen. According to the book “Swords of Lightning” by Mark Nutsch, Bob Pennington, and Jim DeFelice, the movie is full of inaccuracies.

Book: Swords of Lightning.
The book “Swords of Lighting” tells the real story of the Horse Soldiers. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
The reason they went, the location, who they fought, and when are accurate. But other parts of the movie are made for entertainment. This doesn’t mean the movie is not good. It’s a great action movie with tons of bombs, guns, and fighting. If you think about it, how many people would watch movies without the Hollywood action?

Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer, stated he was not making a documentary, but wanted a film that honored the soldiers who fought. This is going to be the case in most movies based on a true story. Sometimes the people were real, sometimes the main actor represents a combination of heroics from several people.

What guns did they carry?

The movie wasn’t far off when it came to guns, but it wasn’t spot-on either. You can see the soldiers wearing vest carriers with some ammo and M4 rifles in their hands. But the movie focused on the actors and battle scenes, not how much stuff they really carried.

According to Summers, he carried his rifle, 20 magazines, a Beretta M9 with five magazines, and a grenade launcher. He also carried ammo for the launcher, his night vision gear, explosives, and a radio. That’s a lot of firepower and gear for one guy to carry. In the movie, the amount of gear they carry changes from time to time. It’s almost never accurate for the amount of stuff they packed around, however.

Will Summers, horse soldier.
Meeting Will Summers (middle) and speaking with him about his time in Afghanistan.

When they packed their gear for the mission, they took everything they thought they might need, and then some. The Greene Berets had just been issued new M4 rifles, but there had been rumors of issues. They heard some were having bolts crack in them, and even exploding rifles. They decided to take both the new M4s and the old ones.

Here is a list of the weapons they took with them when they deployed.

  • M79 standalone grenade launchers
  • M203 launcher (attaches to the M4)
  • M4 rifle (old version and new)
  • SPR (special purpose receiver), which is an AR variant adapted to take special ammunition.
  • Barrett .50 caliber rifle
  • M-24 Remington 700
  • SR-25 Semi auto .308 (Knit’s Armament medium sniper rifle)
  • Beretta M9 (9mm pistol)

What do they do now?

While all the 12 horse soldiers lived through the unbelievable mission, one of them was killed in action later. Bill Bennett was killed during a deployment in Iraq on September 12, 2003. Some of the others served various other tours before coming home and retiring from the military. But instead of going their separate ways, several of them got together and started a bourbon company called “Horse Soldier.”

A fitting name for the soldiers and the bourbon. Mark Nutsch serves as the CEO and Bob Pennington (Chief Warrant Officer) as vice president. They are currently working on opening a large facility Somerset, Kentucky, that will serve as a distillery, but also a place for veterans to visit. Will Summers travels the country telling his story of the 12 Horse Soldiers. They also made the glass bourbon bottle molds of metal from the fallen World Trade Center Towers so that every bottle of Horse Soldier bourbon will have touched it.

Will Summers, horse soldier.
Will Summers was one of the 12 Horse Soldiers depicted in the movie “12 Strong.” [Photo: Jason Mosher]
What is inspiring, but not surprising, is the eagerness those men had to go overseas and fight for their country. When the towers fell, they were listening on the radio as they raced back to their base (literally) to prepare for a mission they knew was coming. They wanted to make sure whoever attacked our country was stopped and never able to do it again.

It wasn’t for the fame or money. No one even knew they were fighting until the battle was over. But like most US soldiers, they were willing to fight on foreign soil against any foe. They were willing to die, and they never complained about it.

Final Thoughts

The movie may not be very accurate when it comes to the battle scenes. But the 12 special forces soldiers really did deploy to Afghanistan and ride on horseback with a rebel army to fight our enemies. Even with the Hollywood theatrics, I’m glad movies are made to recognize the sacrifices people have made throughout our history.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s worth watching. It’s okay if it’s not completely accurate because it makes our US soldiers look awesome. The book, “Swords of Lighting,” is worth reading if you want to hear the real story from the commander. Hearing one of them speak is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you should take if you have the chance. I’ve also heard Horse Soldier Bourbon is worth a sip (while being responsible, of course).

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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