Editor's note: This article contains references to suicide. If you or a veteran you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please dial 988. Help is available 24 hours a day.
When Lt. Colonel and Green Beret Scott Mann retired in 2013, he knew Afghanistan’s fall was coming and he didn’t want to be anywhere near it. The universe had other plans.
Long before he earned his own long tab, the Arkansas native remembers meeting a Green Beret for the first time. “He came into the soda shop where I was, his name was Mark and the guy just embodied all of the daydreams I had had about being a soldier and getting out of that town,” Mann admitted. “He looked like a war hero and pressed uniform, blouse and jump boots.”
Hearing the tales of how Green Berets worked through Indigenous people by helping them stand up for themselves lit a fire. The young teenage Mann began researching everything he could get his hands on about the warriors. “I knew that I was going to be a team leader in special forces and I was going to spend the rest of my life doing it. It never changed for me” he added.
While attending Central Arkansas University he was part of ROTC. After commissioning he had to wait four years to apply to be screened. In 1996 at Fort Bragg, he made it and was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group.
“It was everything and beyond what I hoped it would be. In fact, even though the latter part of my career was filled with a lot of time away from my family, and a lot of chaos, and a lot of loss. A lot of my friends died and a lot were wounded but I wouldn't trade it for anything,” Mann said.
Though his SFG was assigned to Central and South America, the attacks of 9/11 would ensure he was deployed to Afghanistan, often.
“It was a meat grinder for the operators. The same was true for the Rangers, Delta, and their families. The families pushed it down and the operators pushed it down because the worst thing that could happen is you're not deployable and you don't go back over with your guys,” Mann shared. “Everybody did what they had to do to stay in the fight. At the time it seemed like the right thing to do. Looking back on it, I guess it was but the profound impact that it had over time, we're still feeling it.”
When Mann retired, it wasn’t as easy as he imagined despite leaving on his own terms. The loss of identity and survivors' guilt were eating him from the inside out. “I found myself standing in a closet holding a 45 pistol. Had my son not come home when he did I wouldn’t be here,” he admitted.
Seeking mentors and support, Mann pulled himself out and went on to write a bestselling book, Game Changers, Going Local to Defeat Violent Extremists and began speaking often about lessons learned about his time as a Green Beret.
In 2019, he wrote and directed an award-winning play about leaving Afghanistan. Last Out is the shared lived experience of post 9/11 combat veterans everywhere. Mann had no idea it would foreshadow the actual withdrawal in August of 2021 and the devastating impacts it would have.
“I had worked really hard to put Afghanistan behind me. The play was selected to become an Amazon film and things were good. Then I started getting messages from Nezam,” he said.
The Afghan Special Forces operator who’d made it through the legendary Green Beret “Q” Course at Fort Bragg was being hunted down by Taliban and the clock was ticking to get him out safely. The grueling 96-hour fight for his life was supposed to be a one and done. But more and more operators began to reach out to Mann and his team, code-named Taskforce Pineapple.
They’d launch an extraordinary operation which would save the lives of countless Afghan partners, keeping promises made. He wrote a book in August of 2022 about the harrowing days of the mission, Operation Pineapple Express. The gripping story brings readers behind the curtain of it all.
Mann was candid in stating he hated writing the book and reliving everything, but he felt called to. “I did it for the veterans and families who deserve to have their stories told and feelings validated,” he said.
He also said that although the 20-year war may have ended, it left rippling devastation in its wake. As he looks to the future, Mann’s commitment to being a voice hasn’t wavered since entering back into the arena. He had a poignant message for the military community wondering where to go from here.
“If we're waiting for someone to fix what we see around us – nobody's coming,” he stated. “It’s up to us.”
To learn more about Scott Mann and his work, click here.