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12 STRONG: The “Horse Soldiers” helped liberate Afghanistan after 9/11, to be honored by FWB Chamber in special event

The Greater FWB Chamber of Commerce will honor the ODA 595 Horse Soldiers, more commonly known as the horse soldiers portrayed in the movie “12 Strong,” on Saturday, October 22, […]

The Greater FWB Chamber of Commerce will honor the ODA 595 Horse Soldiers, more commonly known as the horse soldiers portrayed in the movie “12 Strong,” on Saturday, October 22, 2022 at 5:30 pm at the Fort Walton Beach Fairgrounds.

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, a 12-man team of U.S. Army Green Berets (ODA 595) were inserted deep in northern Afghanistan as part of an unconventional mission known as Task Force Dagger, to aid local partisans in their unconventional war against the Taliban. 

  • Over a course of two months, the Green Berets advised Afghan commanders and directed a massive air campaign to rout the Taliban from power. It was the most successful unconventional warfare campaign in modern history.

The Americans were dubbed “The Horse Soldiers” by Western media reporting on their triumphs. The team’s exploits have been portrayed in the Hollywood movie 12 Strong and the Emmy-nominated documentary Legion of Brothers. A monument to their honor was erected at Ground Zero in New York City called America’s Response Monument.

Original Horse Soldiers (Photo by Maj. Melody Faulkenberry)

On Saturday, October 22, 2022, this event will mark the first time the horse soldiers have reunited since that historical event, and the public is invited to be a part of it. Here’s a breakdown of the festivities:

  • Thursday, October 20, 7-9 pm at Props in Niceville from 7-9 pm. Meet several of the Horse Soldiers and enjoy Horse Soldier Bourbon and ODA 595 Ale, a limited edition beer that Props canned specifically for these soldiers. 
  • Saturday, Oct 22, 2022 at 5:30 pm at the Fort Walton Beach Fairgrounds.  Experience a special program celebrating the service and accomplishments of the ODA 595 Horse Soldiers.

“We’re finding that people don’t know who the horse soldiers are,” says Ted Corcoran, president of the FWB Chamber of Commerce. 

Original Horse Soldiers (Photo by Maj. Melody Faulkenberry)

Despite knowledge of the mission being available to the public, it had remained largely unheard of until the book Horse Soldiers. People still walk by the 16-foot bronze statue of a Green Beret on horseback overlooking Ground Zero and are unaware of its significance.

  • The statue, called America’s Response Monument, honors not only ODA 595, but all the soldiers called upon in the early days after 9/11.

“Very few people know that just weeks after 9/11, these guys were in Afghanistan,” says Corcoran.   “These 12 guys were dropped into Afghanistan, a country we knew nothing about because it was a surprise attack, and there they are attempting to find Bin Laden and eradicate the Taliban.  It was quite an undertaking.”

What made the mission of ODA 595 so incredible was that it was done on horseback, not by tanks or trucks. Corcoran explains that only one of the men had actually ridden a horse before.  The men had to have horseback riding lessons immediately and start making their way through the terrain.

Original Horse Soldier Photos (U.S. Army Courtesy Photo)

According to the MilitaryTimes.com, on November 10, 2001, ODA 595 and militia allies liberated the city of Mazar-e-Sharif from the Taliban, marking a huge victory that paved the way for future success. Weeks later, the Taliban surrendered in other areas of Afghanistan.

The Horse Soldiers successfully achieved in weeks what was originally speculated to take months or even years. In assisting their Northern Alliance counterparts, ODA 595 helped to liberate villages, towns, and cities in six Northern Provinces; destroyed bunkers, vehicles, tanks, and artillery pieces; and killed or captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. 

  • The Horse Soldiers ultimately defeated the Taliban and pushed the surviving members of Al-Qaeda into the mountains of Pakistan.
Original Horse Soldier Photos (U.S. Army Courtesy Photo)

As for the FWB Chamber and the event, Corcoran says the FWB Chamber is no stranger to honoring our brave military heroes. Earlier this year, the Chambers held the final goblet ceremony honoring the Doolittle Raiders. Just like the goblets for the Raiders, the Horse Soldiers will have something similar. 

“Our Chamber of Commerce is creating 14 silver canteen cups, the Army equivalent of goblets, which will be issued at the banquet,” said Corcoran. 

The banquet is on Saturday, October 22nd, starting at 5:30 at the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds. Ten of the original 12 Strong will be in attendance and it will be the very first time they have been together since the war, and the very first time they have ever been feted by a community. 

Original Horse Soldier Photos (U.S. Army Courtesy Photo)

“It’s going to be a great banquet with a casual environment at the fairgrounds, with food, beer, wine, and Horse Soldier bourbon included in the admission price,” says Corcoran. “You’ll have the chance to buy a limited edition artwork created specifically for this event that will be signed by 10 of the horse soldiers, and all of them have never signed anything before.”

Presenters include:

  • The CIA agent who greeted them when they arrived in Afghanistan.
  • Glen Thomas, a friend who trained with them, will tell the story about what the mission was like.
  • Rich Cole, the son of Lt Col Dick Cole who was the Doolittle Raiders co-pilot, will talk about the connection and similarities between the Doolittle Raiders and ODA 595. He is also going to talk about the goblets.
Original Horse Soldier Photos (U.S. Army Courtesy Photo)

“When you think of Okaloosa Gas, you think about the energy, people, and service that you can rely on,” said Gordon King, CEO at Okaloosa Gas. “When I think about the ODA 595 Warriors, I think the same thing. The energy, service, and people we could rely on.”

As a sponsor of the ODA 595 event, King says it’s an honor to be a part of such a special event. 

“Okaloosa Gas has a long tradition of serving customers in the community, and I know these warriors have served their country well, and you can’t thank them enough for what they did,” he added. “This was a job that had a very small chance of them returning home from, and they committed to their service, to their country, and we appreciate them for what they did.”

Tickets are available fwbchamber.org.

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