Chris Hemsworth knows plenty about superheroes, and with Friday’s “12 Strong,” he learned about real ones as well.Spotlighting a Special Forces unit that went to Afghanistan soon after 9/11 to hunt and destroy al-Qaeda, “12 Strong” follows this dirty dozen led by Hemsworth’s “Capt. Mitch Nelson,” a pseudonym.The soldiers team with an Afghan tribal chief, Gen. Dostum (Navid Negahban, “Homeland”), and enter mountainous enemy territory on horseback.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff in the comic book world and fantasy, and that’s a lot of fun, but I desperately wanted to do something with more heart,” Hemsworth, 34, said at a London Hotel press conference.
“Then this script came along few years ago, and I couldn’t believe it was a true story. I knew a lot about this war, but not about this mission.“I was fascinated by the details and spoke with the real guys, who have such honesty and lack of ego or dramatization as they recount these events. It was an honor to be asked to play this character, but I felt the weight.”Author Doug Stanton, whose book is the basis for “12 Strong,” explained, “Special Forces soldiers are diplomats on the ground. People drop behind enemy lines to foment resistance. They are almost Jedi knights trying to do a mind meld.“So Chris’ relationship with Navid is important. This is America working best to affect social change. It’s an interesting, complex movie that way.”
Hemsworth noted, “The way these soldiers were able to adapt to this world and work with the local people and not against them, and the brotherhood among the soldiers and the Afghan people is something that was evident and inspiring.
“A big thing I took away from this experience — this from the real guys — was how important it was when they got there, for their survival, to tell the local people they weren’t there to occupy but fight against the same enemy.”
Similarly, when Hemsworth was filming in Albuquerque, “People who were Afghan refugees working on the movie in New Mexico came up to me and said, ‘It’s important to know we’re on the same side. I fought against the Taliban, and everybody here thinks I’m a terrorist.’
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there were three key stories that described the resolve of the American people, according to retired Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland.The first had to do with the victims of the attack themselves.The men and women aboard hijacked airliners who fought to save others and the many people working in New York and Washington who, amid the devastation of the attacks, put their own lives at risk to save others.The second story, Mulholland said, is of first responders who ran towards flames, knowing they may not return.The third story, he said, has largely gone untold.
But that’s changing, with the release of a new Warner Bros. movie, “12 Strong,” that depicts the actions of the first Special Forces soldiers to enter Afghanistan in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks.
Those soldiers were given a broad mission, to defeat the Taliban and render Afghanistan unsafe for terrorists.
“It’s the story of what came after the attacks,” Mulholland said Saturday, before “12 Strong” made its Fayetteville premiere ahead of a nationwide release on Jan. 19. “It’s Task Force Dagger and what Americans did in response.”
In 2001, Mulholland was a colonel who had recently taken command of the 5th Special Forces Group. Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, he would be helping plan the initial push into Afghanistan, a mission that would topple the Taliban in a few months and, in doing so, give new life and support to the nation’s Special Forces, who were ill-equipped and not fully supported before the start of the war in Afghanistan.
The biggest challenge in those early days, Mulholland said, was finding the right soldiers to deploy for the mission.
And it just so happened that some of those soldiers were among the last to learn of the attacks.
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bob Pennington, who is depicted by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon in “12 Strong,” said most of his Special Forces team, Operational Detachment-Alpha 595, were on an overnight training mission near Nashville, Tennessee when the planes hit the World Trade Center.The night before, the soldiers had used three zodiac boats to take another team of Special Forces soldiers to a designated position to attack a training target along the Cumberland River.The trip was several hours amid a thick fog.
“It was about as thick as pea soup,” Pennington, then a chief warrant officer 2, said.After almost colliding with a barge, the team decided to camp along the bank of the river and wait for morning.They were unaware of the attacks on Sept. 11, until they began to pack away their gear and heard the news on the radio.We all looked at each other… and said that’s a terrorist attack,” Pennington said. “It could be nothing else.”
As the team made a beeline for its home base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then-Capt. Mark Nutsch was still piecing together what had happened.
Nutsch, who is portrayed by the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth, in “12 Strong,” had recently been assigned away from ODA 595.He joined the battalion staff on Sept. 10, 2001, after having led the ODA for two years, including missions to Uzbekistan and Kuwait.On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was home with his wife – then six months pregnant – and their two boys, then ages 4 and 3.
At first, Nutsch wasn’t sure what he was watching on his television.
“A lot of questions when you saw the first plane hit,” he said, “but when the second plane hit, you recognized this was a coordinated attack of some nature.”Denver Twelve of America’s biggest heroes received a big honor Tuesday night. A movie portraying their classified mission in Afghanistan right after the 9/11 attacks is being released.”12 Strong” premiered in Denver on Tuesday night and the showing was full of military members, mostly veterans.The general public will be able to see the movie beginning next week.