Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
A local veteran is being honored May 8 by the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award Foundation.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by Islamic terrorists when four separate planes were hijacked injuring and killing thousands.
In the wake of the attacks, U.S. Armed Forces began to plan a response, launching the Global War on Terrorism. One of the first teams deployed to northern Afghanistan as part of the war effort was a 12-man team of U.S. Army Special Forces Green Berets, known as Operational Detachment Alpha595.
Because of the efforts of ODA-595, its team leader, Mark Nutsch, has been named the 2020 recipient of the Truman Foundation’s Philip Pistilli Silver Veteran’s Medal.
While in Afghanistan, then-Capt. Nutsch and ODA-595, along with nearly 5,000 Afghan allies, led unconventional warfare operations on horseback for 23 days.
“It was a very challenging time in American history. No one was for sure what was going on, kind of like now,” Nutsch said. “There was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns about what exactly we’d face.
“We were sent in on the ground to try and get some answers about the Taliban in Al-Qaida and work with allies, potential allies that had been identified that were already in resistance actively fighting against the Taliban in Al-Qaida,” he said.
In a little more than three weeks, ODA-595 captured Mazar-e Sharif and liberated six northern Afghanistan provinces, Nutsch said. The mission is now deemed one of the most successful in modern history, driving the fall of the Taliban regime.
“We were obviously impressed with the courage and leadership that (Nutsch) displayed,” said Karl Zobrist, Truman Foundation president. “It is always great to find a local hero.”
Nutsch is a Kansas native having grown up in the Flint Hills near Manhattan, Kan. He attended Kansas State University and commissioned into the Army through the KSU ROTC program. He spent 12 years on active duty and three years in the Army Reserve until separating as a major in 2017. He attended the former Combined Arms and Services Staff School in the summer of 1999. He has lived in the Leavenworth area since 2006 and has served as a guest speaker at several Command and General Staff College and School of Advanced Military Studies events.
Nutsch is actively involved in several veteran and Special Forces support organizations in the Kansas City area and travels frequently to speak about ODA-595’s experience in Afghanistan.
“I enjoy speaking to some of the veterans’ groups, sharing this story,” Nutsch said. “We’ve been encouraged to talk about it, but it also sheds light on all these other incredible veterans’ stories and their experiences. That’s part of the reason why I do it. I realize if we don’t help each other, if we don’t speak up on our own behalf, then you get lost in the noise.”
One of the events Nutsch spoke at recently was an annual fundraiser for the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, which played a key role in his receiving of the award.
“I was just really impressed with his speaking ability and the adventure that he experienced in Afghanistan,” said Jerry Reese, Truman Foundation nominating committee chair, who attended the event. “He’s got quite a combat history and is quite distinguished, so I brought his name before the board. …We unanimously chose Nutsch for the award this year. …We were really honored that he accepted.”
Nutsch said he was the one who was honored.
“I was really surprised about being selected for the award and just consider it an honor for our whole team to be recognized in yet another way,” Nutsch said.
The efforts of ODA-595 have been portrayed in several mediums including numerous articles; the books “12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton and “Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior Who Led U.S. Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime” by Brian Glyn Williams; the Emmyaward-winning documentary “Legion of Brothers;” and the 2018 film “12 Strong,” in which Nutsch is portrayed by actor Chris Hemsworth.
“They got the core aspects of that mission,” Nutsch said. “There is a whole lot more to it that is not portrayed.”
Nutsch said he and other members of the ODA-595 are currently working on their own book about the team and the mission in Afghanistan.
“We’re trying to have that out in the next year before the 20-year anniversary,” Nutsch said.
“I feel fortunate that our mission and experience has received a lot of publicity that has put us out there in the forefront.”
The Philip Pistilli Silver Veteran’s Medal, named after a former president of the foundation, was first established as a way to recognize veterans of the Vietnam War. Since its inception, more than 50 veterans representing multiple wars have received the award in recognition for their service.
Because of the COVID19 pandemic, the annual luncheon where the award would have been presented has been canceled. Along with Nutsch being named the Silver Veteran’s Medal recipient, retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy has been named the recipient of the 2020 Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award. Seven college students have also been awarded academic scholarships.
The official announcements of the awards and scholarships will be posted May 8 on the official foundation website, www.trumanaward.org.