The Pryor Times


November 9, 2013

The liberation of Afghanistan on horseback

PRYOR, OK — De Oppresso Liber!

"To liberate the oppressed."

Special Forces motto

The noble horse has carried many American soldiers.

You might think mounted soldiers became a thing of the past after World War I. You'd be wrong.

Horse soldiers were important in freeing Afghanistan from the Taliban after 9/11.      

Two weeks after the terror attack, 12 Special Ops soldiers rode horseback and made cavalry charges from the mountains south to the towns below to liberate Afghanistan.

The commander of the mission was Mark Nutsch, who was interviewed at the Pryor Chamber of Commerce Forum Wednesday. Nutsch is a ranch-raised Kansan who attended Kansas State University and competed for two years on the rodeo team.

Finding his company would be horseback was fine with Nutsch, a seasoned rider. But the other 11 members of his company had never ridden.

From October to December, the mounted force grew to 2,500 soldiers horseback.

Operational Detachment Alpha 595 arrived in Afghanistan on helicopters in a severe sandstorm.

“They are the best pilots in the world,” Nutsch said.

Nutsch showed the map he was given, with red areas where cells of rebels were located. His company split into four groups of three to ride to those remote corners and bring the Afghans together.

“Our mission was to get to know these people and bring them together as a cohesive group,” Nutsch said.

“We had a four-hour ride to the first area with the other 11 learning to ride while fighting on half-broke horses with equipment that would break,” Nutsch said.

“There, we hooked up with a group of 300 men horseback in the central Afghan mountains where we helped organize the resistance force against the Taliban.”

Afghan saddles are rudimentary — a tree with a leather oval making a small cantle and swell. A rug is thrown over the saddle. Stirrups are held on one leather strap looped through the tree.

“There is no adjustment,” Nutsch said. The stirrups are as long as the available leather strap.

“And they broke all the time.”

The soldiers soon secured parachute cord and cargo net webbing to make stirrup leathers.

Nutsch asked his government to send saddles — but they never arrived.

America did send horse feed for the Afghan horses which Nutsch said “you might have wanted to see in better shape.”

“We were against tanks, artillery and heavier arms on horseback,” Nutsch said. “Our own force grew and grew. These guys were rallying around us.”

The horse soldiers fought more than 5,000 Taliban in a month. Air strikes were called in from carriers. The planes had to refuel twice in the air “just to get to us.” Bombers came from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

“We had over 1,100 sorties,” Nutsch said.

The “statistical support mechanism” was donkeys. Nutsch said older Afghans, with no GPS or technical equipment, moved all the supplies. Donkeys were also the ambulances.

Nutsch said the Afghans had never had the level of battlefield care supplied by the American forces and that helped build a rapport.

The horse soldiers worked their way out of the mountains in three weeks to liberate the first town. The Taliban government collapsed.

Nutsch has visited Afghanistan several times since the liberation. He said the main focus the people have is developing schools. Nutsch works with a veterans’ group whose focus is to keep schools open. The group has provided English textbooks.

He showed a picture of a monument erected to honor Mike Spann, a member of Nutsch’s outfit who was killed.

“We’re accepted as members of the families,” Nutsch said.

The horse soldiers have been honored with a larger-than-life memorial at Ground Zero in New York City. The statue is a mounted horse soldier cast in bronze. It was created by an Oklahoma City artist.

Nutsch will visit that memorial on Veterans’ Day when he travels to New York.

Nutsch, along with Salina native Ronny Sweger and Pryor resident Bill Kolb, have founded the Foundation For Exceptional Warriors. Its mission is to assist in the healing process of veterans and families of Special Operations Forces, those recognized for valorous actions and those wounded in combat, from any era.

FEW provides therapeutic recreational and sporting events at local and national levels to enhance mental and physical health. Many of the trips are hunting and fishing.

For more information visit WWW.EXCEPTIONALWARRIORS.ORG.

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