DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio - Stephen Schnell had many proud moments as a Green Beret. Another will come Friday night.
That’s when he and other veterans of the U.S. Army Special Forces gather at the Regal Deerfield for the opening of “12 Strong,” the highly anticipated war movie starring Chris Hemsworth.
It’s based on the true story of 12 Green Berets sent on a special mission to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan in the first weeks after the 9/11 attacks.
Schnell says fighting alongside Afghan militia against a common enemy was exactly the kind of mission the U.S. Army Special Forces was trained and created for.
“It’s an unconventional warfare mission. It’s helping a resistance element overthrow a government in a denied area, and it’s as pure as any unconventional warfare mission that U.S. Army S.F. has ever conducted,” said Schnell, who was just entering the Green Berets at the time.
Schnell spent 21 years in the Army - 12 in Special Forces in Iraq, Africa and Europe.
Schnell was humbled to meet the Green Beret played by Hemsworth. In 2016, Major Mark Nutsch spoke about the mission he led at the local Green Beret Foundation gala.
Nutsch's team fought on horseback against a greater, well-equipped force, but the Green Berets picked up more and more help as they went along.
“With our growing militia force that initially numbered 300, within weeks, as word spread, these Afghan minutemen gathered around their leaders and we raised a militia equivalent of 2,500 horse-mounted cavalry,” Nutsch said in his address here.
Schnell called that "incredible."
"With less than 500 guys and a similar number of other agencies' personnel on the ground, they were able to take down the entire country before Christmas - from Oct. 17 to Dec. 9. They thought it would take months, maybe years," said Schnell.
"No other force in the U.S. military arsenal that can do that. It makes me extremely proud."
Schell said he identified wth Nutsch in a way.
“He’s a very interesting guy," Schell said. "He’s a Midwestern kid. One of the reasons that he actually ended up on the mission is because he’s a horseman."
In the movie, based on the 2009 book Horse Soldiers, Hemsworth’s team is dropped into the rugged mountains of northern Afghanistan and left to convince an Afghan general to join forces with them.
They develop an uneasy bond, but one that grows stronger with each victory.
Nutsch’s real team, code-named Task Force Dagger, liberated Mazar-e Sharif, an al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold, in a few weeks with the aid of U.S. bombers. It was the first city retaken by the U.S.-Afghan alliance.
The movie also shows the personal hardships of the soldiers and their wives and children. Randy Homoelle with the local Green Beret Foundation says he hopes moviegoers see the regular guy in all these heroes and the sacrifices they and their families made.
“One of the challenges we have is that when you look at Hollywood that makes a film like this, we think we see it all. The reality is we really don’t know what they’ve gone through. We don’t know the training … and the stress that it put on their family, not knowing exactly where they were, when they were coming home,” said Homoelle.
“Even though this movie is going to give me a really good indication of what this battle was all about, there’s a lot more people that were impacted by the Green Berets’ sacrifices."
Schnell seconded that.
"A lot of them made extreme sacrifices in doing it. I can’t speak for them, but I’m sure none of them would turn it down if they were given the chance again.
"Anybody from my community (Green Berets) that sees it recognizes that you have to take some liberties to make a palatable story for the general populous. It’s a movie. It’s designed to make money, and if it does it in a respectful way that pays tribute to the U.S. Army Special Forces, then great. I’m very excited to see it.
"The last time we had a movie like this would’ve been in 1968 when 'The Green Berets' came out with John Wayne."
Schnell and Homoelle are deeply committed to helping wounded Green Berets. They have a fundraiser coming up in April with B&B Riverboats: Riverboating for Berets - A Bourbon Excursion.