VETERANS VOICES (WMBB) — Billy Howell Junior had been in the military for more than 15 years when the 9/11 terrorist attack happened.
“When the towers fell, everybody that is my age knows, we surely know where we were on that day,” Howell said.
Emotions ran high all over the country after this attack.
“A lot of people like to sugar coat stuff, me, I had anger,” Howell said. “I was wanting to do something.”
The U.S. Department of Defense responded by sending troops to fight the Taliban, who were sheltering Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, the people responsible for the attack.
Howell was part of the first two Army Special Forces teams deployed to Afghanistan.
“This is what you almost can’t wait for something like that to happen because that is what we are there for,” Howell said.
The team made contact with the local Afghans resistance which was already fighting the Taliban. The under-equipped resistance fighters used old rifles and rode horses across the mountainous North Afghanistan region.
Howell and his fellow Green Berets worked with the resistance, leading to the name, the ‘horse soldiers.’
“We just wanted to respond,” Howell said. “To be among the first guys that responded, it was like, holy smokes this is really happening.”
The twelve-member team was not expected to survive this mission, known as ‘Task Force Dagger.’
On November 10th, 2001, the horse soldiers helped to liberate the city of Mazar-e-Sharif from the Taliban, which marked a huge victory.
Weeks later, the Taliban surrendered in other areas of Afghanistan and the Green Berets helped achieved their victory in just two short months.
Their exploits were made into the 2018 movie ‘12 Strong.’
Several of them have gone into business together, making and selling ‘Horse Soldier’ bourbon through American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The mold that shapes the bourbon bottles commemorates the lives lost on 9/11. It’s forged from steel salvaged from the World Trade Center.
“I’ve had the luxury and opportunity to go to Normandy, France with these guys and experienced the 75th anniversary of D-Day, so it has been a blessing,” said American Distillery Worker Merrick Mirabella. “I mean, I consider them family.”
These brave men are honored at the American’s Response Monument at Ground Zero in New York City. The statue of a special forces soldier on horseback recognizes their heroic, successful mission of defending our country during one of its darkest times.
“We’re great Americans,” Howell said. “We love America more than anything.”