The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point. It aims to explore the combat experience, with each episode featuring a guest who tells a detailed and personal story, describing the events and exploring topics like decision-making under stress and what it feels like to be in combat.
A Horse Soldier Reflects
In late 2001, Scott Neil was a US Army Special Forces soldier whose team was among the first US forces in Afghanistan—the legendary Horse Soldiers who led some of the opening operations in the war there, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. While theirs is a well-known story, Scott’s military service extends well beyond that experience. In this episode, he reflects on a twenty-five-year career that included time in a foxhole in Panama as a young private, the remarkable work of the Horse Soldiers, and a number of deployments in the years that followed, during all of which he grew as a soldier and a leader.
The Decision-Making Crucible of Combat
In 2005, Major General Pat Roberson was the ground force commander for a combined special forces task force in Iraq given the task of melding a battalion of Iraqi forces and a battalion of Kurdish commandos into the newly formed Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Brigade. One night, the ISOF Brigade and Roberson’s Green Berets conducted an air assault into Salman Pak for a nighttime raid against insurgent forces. As the task force encountered several tactical problems, Roberson found himself facing a difficult decision that weighed the lives of his task force versus the lives of the local populace.
Ambush in a Restive Valley
In this episode, host Tim Heck is joined by Lt. Col. Blake Schwartz. In 2009, Schwartz was a Special Forces team leader deployed in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. Enemy fighters in the Langar valley, a restive area astride a vital road network, were a particular target for Schwartz’s soldiers. Schwartz attempted three times to enter the valley with his forces. On his final attempt, while countering a Taliban ambush, he authorized the firing of a Hellfire missile from an orbiting MQ-1 Predator. The impact had unintended consequences for the mission and for Schwartz.
Battle for the Mosque
On April 10, 2003, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (A/1/5) was tasked with searching a mosque in Baghdad for Saddam Hussein. The previous night and into that morning, A/1/5 had fought a running gunfight to capture a presidential palace where Marines were wounded and the company gunnery sergeant was killed. Despite the losses the company had suffered, A/1/5 was sent back out into the streets of Baghdad. Upon arrival at the mosque, 2nd Lieutenant Nick Horton 's platoon came under attack. With a simple and direct command, Horton’s Marines seized a foothold in the mosque, routing the occupants, and seizing a significant haul of prisoners. These actions culminated a long day of combat that saw Horton awarded the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry. Listen as he tells the story.
In 2008, Major Corey Faison was a scout platoon leader at Combat Outpost Lowell in Afghanistan's Nuristan province. The area was a hotbed of Taliban activity and the company at the COP found itself frequently under attack. Faison’s platoon planned to conduct an ambush aimed at killing or capturing a high-value target transiting the area. But while climbing the rugged, mountainous terrain en route to the designated ambush site, Faison and his soldiers found themselves being ambushed instead.
Drone Strike in Kunar
This episode of The Spear features a story from US Air Force Major Joe Ritter. An RPA pilot, his story takes place both at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where he and his sensor operator, Dylan, were located, and in Afghanistan's Kunar province, where thhey were flying an MQ-9 Reaper during an intelligence collection mission. When an unusual event catches his eye, Joe realizes his MQ-9 Reaper may have found something other than what they were looking for.
Brilliant case studies
What an amazing record of the reality of modern warfare. Fascinating and heartfelt. A great reminder of what it costs to have your country represented in the truest sense, no matter your nation. Thank you to those who share their stories. If only we had these records for all wars from all sides over thousands of years.
Love the podcast and hearing about the modern war stories!