#077: Operation Pineapple Express – Founder LTC (R) Scott Mann

Thursday September 29, 2022

A year ago the United States withdrew from Afghanistan officially ending the 20 year Global War on Terror. We may never find agreement on whether we failed or succeeded in Afghanistan. 

For this episode, Fran Racioppi returned to the place where the Global War on Terror began on the blue sky day of September 11th, 2001 in lower Manhattan. He asked retired LTC Scott Mann to join him on a balcony overlooking the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial for a conversation on the withdrawal from Afghanistan and his new book, Operation Pineapple Express. 

 Operation Pineapple Express pulled hundreds to freedom through a hole in a gate in the final days on the ground in Afghanistan. 

Read the full episode transcription here and learn more on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Watch the full video version of Fran’s conversation with Scott overlooking the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial on YouTube. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. 

Learn more about Scott at and Get a copy and read Operation Pineapple Express where ever you get your favorite books. And follow Scott on social media @rooftop_leadership.

Listen to the podcast here


About Scott Mann

TJP 77 | Operation Pineapple ExpressI am a Green Beret, entrepreneur, speaker, and author who combines 23 years of Army experience with a successful business and personal life framework to build elite leaders skills and make a deep impact on the world.

“Amateur Hour” for leaders is over.

My goal is to build a tribe of leaders from government, corporate sector, and households that step up and lead our children to a better and braver future.

This is what I am building in my tribe. I am drawing from my Green Beret life experience and full body of work to train and produce the most relevant leaders of the 21st century.

We’re a small, but powerful tribe.

Check out and see if you have what it takes to join our tribe of leaders.


Operation Pineapple Express – Founder LTC (R) Scott Mann

In 2021, the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, officially ending the twenty-year Global War on Terror. In many ways, it seemed that America ended the war as quickly and chaotically as we entered it when our nation was violently attacked on September 11th, 2001. We spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan. We lost 2,465 of our nation’s bravest and finest service members. I lost some of my best friends. Thousands more were wounded and forever changed physically, mentally, and emotionally.

We lost thirteen in the final days when we were told our mission was complete, yet we were far from done. Historians, pundits, and every American will debate for decades the events that unfolded throughout the summer of 2021. We may never find agreement on whether we failed or succeeded in Afghanistan, but what’s fact is that we left people behind in Afghanistan. We left thousands who stood by our side, fought for their country, and knew nothing except in Afghanistan full of American hope for freedom and democracy.

Some of these allies earned and wore the exact same Special Forces tag in Green Beret that I did. For this episode, I returned to the place where the global war on terror began on the blue sky day of September 11th, 2001 in Lower Manhattan. I asked retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann to join me on a balcony overlooking the freedom tower in the 9/11 Memorial for a conversation on the withdrawal from Afghanistan and his new book, Operation Pineapple Express.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

Scott answered the call last July and August when confusion and chaos descended upon the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Scott did exactly what every long-serving Green Beret does when faced with an insurmountable task. He pumped his network. He got everyone he knew involved. He found answers and solutions when others saw obstacles and worked tirelessly to free the oppressed. He mastered the chaos and lived the motto of the Green Berets, “De oppresso liber.”

Scott and I cover the story of Operation Pineapple Express, the US government’s decision to leave Afghanistan, the lessons learned, and where we go from here. We also discuss leading from the front in America’s place as the shining city on a hill. Scott is an example of Special Forces leadership. He’s an author, playwright, entrepreneur, and warrior who’s battled his own scars along his path to creating impact. Operation Pineapple Express pulled hundreds to freedom through a hole in the gate in the final days on the ground in Afghanistan, but thousands of our strongest allies still remain, and America’s work is not done.

My America leaves no one behind. My America leaves from the front, always and no matter the challenge. Subscribe to us and follow @JedburghPodcast on all social media and check out our website at Learn more about Scott Mann at and Get a copy and read Operation Pineapple Express wherever you get your favorite books, and follow Scott on social media @RooftopLeadership.

Scott, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me on, Fran. It’s cool to be here.

It’s your book tour. It’s coming out. I’m super honored that you came all the way up from Tampa and brought the heat, so I appreciate that.

You’re welcome.

The book will launch. The book is Operation Pineapple Express. I spent the last couple of days reading it. Over a few years plus now, you’ve been instrumental in this fight against Afghanistan. When you and I spoke and talked about having you on telling this story, there was only one place that I felt we needed to have this conversation. That was down here at ground zero. I’m getting chills just talking about it and introducing it here. People who are reading this won’t be able to see you, so they have to go to YouTube, see it on Instagram, and everything we put on. We have the World Trade Center behind us, the Freedom Tower.

We’re looking down at the reflecting pools. This place, for so many of us and especially you, is where so much of our lives changed. We’re going to talk about Operation Pineapple Express. We’re going to talk about the impact you’ve made in Afghanistan, not just in the last few years but over many years. It starts here at ground zero on September 11th, 2001, when you lost your Ranger buddy in those towers. What does that mean?

Cliff Patterson was killed in the Pentagon. It’s the same day, same attack. Every time I come here, it doesn’t matter if I’m just driving by, I have to stop. I have to walk over to those reflecting pools and stand at the horse soldier. It’s so fresh. Even though it’s been many years, for all of us that fought in the War on Terror, it changed our lives and our family’s lives. I have three boys. My son, Cody, was three years old when those towers fell. Now, he’s an Infantry Lieutenant. That, to me, summarizes what all of us gave. Some gave much more during the longest war in our history. It was the right place to be for this.

Where were you on September 11th?TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

I was in the 1st Battalion. I was a Captain in the 7th group, a pretty senior captain at the time. I was a Commander of the Headquarters Support Company for the 1st Battalion. We were on our way to Fort Pickett. We had just done a live fire with my guys and were going to recognize like SF guys do, all of the wonderful people at Fort Pickett who had made that happen. We were ten miles outside of Fayetteville. We were listening to talk radio.

I had my first sergeant and weapon sergeant with me and Donnie and Eddie when we heard over talk radio that there had been an attack on the World Trade Center. We heard the play-by-play of the second plane hitting. Donny, a career SF NCO, without even being prompted, turned around in the median of I-95. We started making a B line back for the 7th group. We watched the rest of it play on the television in our orderly room, all of us knowing that our lives had changed forever.

[bctt tweet=”The withdrawal of US Forces from Afghanistan enabled the Taliban to overthrow the country almost bloodlessly.” username=”talentwargroup”]

You spent 18 years in the Special Forces and 23 years in the Army. You went to Ecuador, Columbia, Peru, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Talk about Afghanistan in terms of the evolution of that mission. You have numerous deployments there, and I want to talk about VSO. Standing up for the Afghan Special Operations Forces was a critical component of how we conducted the Afghan mission. You were a central part of it.

If you look at the evolution of our time in Afghanistan over many years, particularly with capacity building, you look at the Special Force’s role, the broader Special Ops role, it started by working by, with, and through indigenous clans and tribes, the Northern Alliance, the Pashtun Tribe, the South, and the East. It was old-school UW Jedburgh stuff. Around ‘04, which was my first deployment to the country, that was when the Afghan National Army, which they called kandaks or battalions of the ANA, stood up.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“It started by working by, with and through true indigenous clans and tribes.”

It’s interesting that the ANA were Green Berets. They’re representative of the first group of soldiers who trained them and put them on the assembly line. What a lot of people don’t know is that US Army Special Forces dissolved or absolved themselves of that mission fairly early in the process and went to the National Guard. When I got there, the first Afghan National Army kandaks were rolling off the assembly line. In Southern Afghanistan, we had two. Being a 7th group guy, we felt it was time for the host nation army to come into play and move beyond the militia approach.

My first tour of duty was mission commander for several operations that put the ANA 205th Corps into combat at company and battalion maneuver levels. That was a spoily deployment. It was rough. Our big mission was Operation Namdong in Uruzgan Province, like the first contact with the enemy, we had 2 to 3 Green Berets per company. The SF guys were magnificent, and the ANA is less so. Most of them broke and ran at the first crack of a round. Over time, they got better. We built that Army in our own image. We tried to build a Western-style Army, and we should never have done that.

We tend to do that in a lot of places.

As a result of that, it showed up in June of 2021. I’m sure we’ll get to that. We built an Army that required special platforms that required special equipment optics and ISR or Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance, which was very contractor heavy. The Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are less than mediocre, even at their height, but the Special Operations Forces started to emerge in ‘08 when the Commandos first started to come into play, and then shortly behind them are Afghan Special Forces in 2010, the KKA, and the NMRG, the National Mine Reduction Group, which has amazing tactical capabilities.

Frankly, they carried the bulk of the load in keeping the Taliban and ISIS on their heels starting in 2014 when President Obama had the Afghans take the lead. That’s my evolutions there with three rotations where I got to see a lot of change over time in that country. I have to say that the Afghan Special Operations community was good. They certainly retained the ability to keep doing what they were doing with minimal advisory oversight. It’s a real shame that we left that force abandoned because they could have held the line.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“I think it’s a real shame that we left that force abandoned because I think they could have held the line.”

You were big on the Village Stability Operations, VSO. You were partnered with the Afghan Special Operations for a lot of this. These village stability operations were critical in Afghanistan and changed the fight against the Taliban and ISIS. Can you define what the village stability operations were and why they were so important?

Any of your Special Operations readers, Special Forces, and old-school Green Berets will recognize this term. We were doing remote area foreign internal defense. That’s what VSO was. It was modeled on the old CIDG program of Vietnam, where the 5th group, NCOs, and others worked with the Montagnards and other tribal factions, in the central highland specifically, before it was taken over by the general purpose force and then tried to mass produce, and it failed miserably.

In ‘07 and ‘08, I came back from my second rotation in Afghanistan. What I have to say is we attrited a lot of Taliban on that rotation. The Commandos were starting to come up, but what I saw was, and a lot of us saw, that there were more Taliban in the rural areas of Afghanistan than when we had started in ‘02. That concerned a lot of us. We felt like we were losing. If that was what was going on, there was a real problem here.

TJP 77 | Operation Pineapple Express

The Incredible Story of a Group of Americans Who Undertook One Last Mission and Honored a Promise in Afghanistan

We started moving with the help of people like Dr. Seth Jones and Dr. Arturo Muñoz, who had studied Afghanistan closely. Looking at the Zahir Shah era of Afghanistan from the ‘20s to the ‘70s, the Musahiban Dynasty, as it was known, basically was this. Afghanistan is primarily a status society. They’re tribal. They’re clan-based, but the urban areas are what they call contract societies. What you really needed was more of a relationship between the top-down central government and the outlying rural areas to stand on their own. They called it Arbaki or Chalweshtai. There was a huge multi-decade precedent for it.

We reached out to a lot of the CIDG veterans like Dave Phillips and others who understood this program. We wrote a methodology and put it in place of getting back to our roots. There was nothing super innovative or new about it. We called it village stability operations, but in reality, it was a remote area fit. Frankly, it’s what we should have been doing after OEF 1. We should have gone right into that instead of this big footprint, top-down, I’m from the government. How do you like me so far” stuff.

One of the keys to this is patience. You have to have a tremendous amount of patience. We saw this in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we implemented these plans and programs. We start doing it, and then we don’t even wait for it to become effective because we’re saying, “Why isn’t it effective yet? It was supposed to automatically start.” It’s like, “No, relationships take time.”

I go back to what I love about the title of this show. The Jedburghs understood that. They didn’t come out until the war was over. We said upfront because the 5th group guys from Vietnam were very adamant about this. They learned that when it was overlooked by the conventional force in the Vietnam War, this was going to be a multi-decade endeavor. This is going to be a long game. You need to make sure that the leadership’s on that. We were adamant about that, and we were given assurances way up the line that this was going to be the long game, that SF would continue to do a version of this mission. This mission entailed helping locals, primarily Pashtuns because they are tribal. Whereas Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras are less tribal.

Frankly, those ethnicities are more open to a contract-style government, a top-down, but the rural Pashtuns are more egalitarian. This Arbaki concept of defending their own communities is very open to it. The deal was we would move into these communities like a modern, magnificent seven, live their work by, with, and through, and help them stand up on their own. In 2010, we even had Afghan Special Forces teams coming to live with us and do the same work. You then had the Commandos in reserve as your MIKE force. It was an effective approach. It was so effective that Osama bin Laden put out a hit on Major Jim Gant for the impact he was having on the Pakistan border.

When you talk about the Afghan Special Forces, the Commandos, some of these guys, including one of the central individuals in Operation Pineapple Express, as the catalyst for it, these guys, some of them were trained in the Q Course and earned the same beret and tag that you and I wear.

What a lot of us had problems with when all this happened was that we felt like, “I understand that there’s been a declaration that we’re getting out of there. I don’t understand that our partner force is getting left behind. We have people that are part of our regiment who are in Afghanistan now. Are you even tracking them? Do you know where they are?” I have to tell you. We asked this question to the senior leadership at Special Warfare Center. My assessment was they weren’t tracking that.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“I don’t understand that our partner force is getting left behind.”

I have been fortunate in the last few years on this show that I talked to some very influential people, including Chris Miller, the Acting Secretary of Defense under Trump. He was on the 9/11 Episode last 2021. He talked about the outrage that he felt. He was one of the first. His claim to fame is that he may have been the last guy of the first who got to say they were the first.

I then had General McChrystal on. General McChrystal and I talked about Afghanistan at length, where he said whether or not he agrees with the President’s decision to have pulled the Band-Aid off. He believed that decision was courageous in the sense that he made the decision to do it. However, there was a lot that could have been changed in the execution of it.

I believe Stan McChrystal and I will agree to disagree on that one.

[bctt tweet=”It’s time to put to rest the nonsense narratives that the Afghans didn’t fight the Taliban. They are more willing to stand up, and some still are.” username=”talentwargroup”]

That’s okay. We tell all sides on this show. That’s what I love about it. Every good story starts with this first sentence that says, “No shit. There I was, minding my own business.”

In every Green Beret story, for sure.

You retired a few years ago. You started Rooftop Leadership to build high-performing teams and leaders. You started The Heroes Journey, working with transitioning veterans and addressing the struggles they face. You had a good life in Tampa. You’re with your wife Monty, who’s here. Kids are going off to college. You got the last one before you’re an empty nester. You then get a text from your Afghan brother-in-arms, Nezam. It’s June 2021. What does he say?

I’ll paraphrase it. It was, “Brother, everything is falling apart, and I don’t know what to do.” At that time, in the first couple of texts we got from him, he was in Sheberghan, which is close to his birthplace on the Northern border of Afghanistan. He was a contractor at this point. He couldn’t get out there at the power plant.

The Taliban were texting him. They were telling him they knew where he was. He ultimately got out there. By late June 2021, he had moved into Kabul and was hiding in his uncle’s house like Anne Frank. He was giving me a play-by-play. On signal, he was saying, “Kapisa Province has just fallen. Herat has fallen.” It was so foreboding to get these play-by-plays from him. The whole thing flips in a month, and he was two days off.

There were some critical things that were happening in general, like the Taliban seizing control of provinces. You have all sorts of officials in the US government who aren’t accepting it or aren’t acknowledging it. We’re moving forward with this shutdown. You get the contractors who get pulled out. You referenced the KKA. They’re gone. SOF is being targeted. President Biden’s staff is rumored to have been dismissing President Ghani’s request for support as a wishlist, as you point out in the book. The Taliban is using a method to gain control of these provinces that you referenced as pretty profound and something we might want to use in our playbook.

Any special operator, particularly those who worked by, with, and through indigenous populations would look at the way the Taliban took Kabul. You have to respect it. You have to shake your head and go, “Wow.” It’s their ability to move so rapidly and psyops the hell out of us. They were sending specific targeted texts to key leaders in such a way that it was overwhelming to them psychologically. They were melding into the population, laying their weapons down in droves. It was, for the most part, a bloodless overthrow of the country. Did we enable that? We absolutely did. We made policy decisions along the way that were not only uninformed but reckless. One of them you alluded to was the removal of the contract support from the very Army that we had built to rely on contractors.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

You explain that one to me. That makes no sense. If we’re going to ask them to hold the line unilaterally and keep the Taliban off the bay, they have to have precision fires. They have to have intelligent surveillance and recon. They have to have medevac. They have to be able to lift the Commando in and off these targets surgically, yet all the contractors are gone to keep those platforms running. The fix was in. We interviewed Mohib, the Minister of Defense. He said he knew that’s when it was over when the contractors were pulled.

Move forward in July. We make another decision to close Bagram Air Base. In addition to the contractors, there’s no air, medevac, field hospital, and ammo, but we’ve now established a choke point at Hamid Karzai International Airport. This will be reviewed for decades to come. I have no doubt about that. It is seen by many as “one of the largest strategic military blunders of all time.” You also cited a Pentagon report. I found this to be very interesting. I didn’t know it, and when I read it, I looked at my wife and was like, “I didn’t know this. You got to listen to this.” I read it, and it said that a “sponsored” government has never survived our withdrawal. The longest sponsored government that ever survived was 36 months.

The Pentagon commissioned that survey on the front end of this departure and shared that at the highest level.

All of these warning signs from history are on the wall. We have people on the ground telling us this. On August 15th, 2021, President Ghani leaves Afghanistan. In your assessment, what is going on in the minds of our leadership at this point?

I’ve tried to get my head around that. There are different levels and ways I suspect to think about it. I believe President Trump and President Biden both wanted out of Afghanistan completely. Both of them wanted out of there with no troops behind. I agree with General McKenzie and his assessment of that. He’s on the stump now, talking about his position on this.

When I interviewed all of the special operators from our community that I interviewed for the book, and it was dozens, to the man and the woman, almost every one of them said, “Where were the generals this time last 2021? Why didn’t someone just throw their stars on the table and say, ‘Not on my watch?’” Morally, it’s wrong to leave a partner force like this wholesale abandonment, but there was none of that. You’re starting to see some of these generals come out now, a year later, and say, “This is where I stood on. I said this in private to the President.”

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“Why didn’t someone just throw their stars on the table and say ‘not on my watch.”

I can’t pretend to know what President Biden and others were thinking. Although I think President Biden had made it pretty clear how he’s felt about the Afghan populace, dating back to his opinion, on the Vietnamese when he left there as a Senator. For our general officers, flag officers, and senior enlisted advisors, our community, a lot of them who are hurting over this, wonder where they were in terms of taking a stand on this, at least at some public space level, particularly the former admirals and generals that could have.

Let’s fast forward to August 2021. You’re speaking again with Nezam, and he sends you a quote. He says to you, “I’m not afraid to die, but I don’t want to die alone.” This becomes your why.

It really did. At that time, I didn’t want to get involved in the Afghanistan problem. I retired in 2013. I had a great run. I was 23 years in the Army. We left the VSO program. We left those villagers in a lurch. My play is even about this. To me, it was foreboding for what was coming. We left those villagers on their own. We walked away from them. That was enough to cause me to retire. I hung it up. I had been selected for a battalion command three times. I turned all three down because I didn’t want to be a part of this anymore.

I saw where this was going. I felt like it was a careerist move. I saw a step back. I had avoided the whole Afghanistan issue for ten years. I had focused on restoration, healing, storytelling, and looking at those aspects of my life to make sense of what I was doing. To get back involved in Afghanistan, I had no interest in that. I wasn’t exactly a top draft pick either. An old storyteller writing a play is not who I would call if I needed extraction. I had some experience in SF, but I’m not the guy. We got Delta sitting in the hangar. Maybe they’re the guys.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“Everything about my time in Afghanistan hinged on whether he lived or died.”

In fact, I got a call during all this from Kamala Harris’s special advisor, asking Pineapple to get their favorite Afghan out. I’m like, “Are you kidding me? What planet does this happen on when you have a squadron of the premier CT force on the planet and not letting them leave, and you’re calling a retired dude to work his signal app to get your Afghan?” It made no sense, but this was where we found ourselves. With Nezam, everything about my time in Afghanistan hinged on whether he lived or died at that point. That’s what it came down to. This young man has given so much to us who was shot through the face, defending Americans and went to our Q Course.

That’s an incredible part of the story, being shot through the cheek.

It was through the cheek, and he was back in the fight in two weeks. He said, “As long as an Afghan dentist doesn’t fix my mouth, I’ll go back to the fight.” The captain made sure of that, and he was back in the fight two weeks later. It all hinged on whether he lived or died for me at that point. I thought he was a dead man walking.

[bctt tweet=”Careerism has taken over politics, diplomacy, and the military’s senior leadership.” username=”talentwargroup”]

In this period of time, there’s now this run on the airport because everything’s been centralized. You talked about the conditions at the gates. This issue, as we were talking with the close of Bagram, now centralized everything into the airport because we had been operating out of there. For good reasons, in the whole years we were there, we channelized a lot of traffic through there so we could control it. All of which then became difficult operating environments for us to handle this extraction issue.

We also created a mess for our NATO allies. It’s a situation where we look at it through the lens so often of how the US had allies that they were trying to get out. What a lot of people have to remember is that the falling of these towers was the first time and only time in history that NATO Article 5 has been invoked. An attack on one is an attack on all. All of NATO descended on Afghanistan, and they stayed there. I have the number. Over 1,400 have been lost in NATO forces.

They bled for what happened in this city, in Washington DC, and in that Pennsylvania field. Here’s my theme as I wrote this book because my focus was I wanted to possibly tell stories in such a way that people would care a bit more about our Afghan partners and veterans and understand why Afghanistan matters so much. 1 or 2 questions that I asked as prevailing questions in the book were, “What does a promise mean to you? How far would you go to honor it?” When I look at how our leaders thought about the promise they made to their NATO partners after how they answered their promise to us, it’s egregious. How far would you go to honor it? Not far at all. It’s telling at a senior leadership level, along political, diplomatic, and military lines of where we sit as a society on our ability to honor a promise.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“What does a promise mean to you? And how far would you go to honor it.”

It’s the element of national power.

At the veteran or the street level, you had this highly damaged population roll back into the fray, rock up, and do what needed to be done. Plus, our active duty components, both on the ground and virtual, showed us what leadership looked like, even though the senior leaders were completely clueless about what it meant to honor a promise. Thinking about the NATO impact and the impact on our Afghan partners, my concern is that we have a systemic history of abandonment that goes from the Vietnam Montagnards to the Syrian Kurds, to the Iraqi police and military, and now our Afghan partners. What country in their right mind would seriously partner with us if we had to go shoulder to shoulder? I don’t think very many.

On August 19th, 2021, you sent Nezam to the airport. You’ve started coordinating with people on the inside. This becomes now the proof of concept as he’s able to get through this gate. The gate is cut by a finish. It’s like a special envoy. This whole Operation Pineapple, talk about that part of it where getting him through that gate initially gave you the proof of concept.

By the way, it’s complete luck and comedy of errors as we moved him through. Honestly, I didn’t want to move him at that time. When I made the decision to get back involved again, I called a couple of buddies who were still on active duty and had fought with Nezam when we were doing VSO. I called Mike Waltz, and he got me connected to one of his staffers and a couple of other Washington insiders, and that was it.

We were still formulating the plan when Mike Penn came to me, who had commanded Nezam in combat. He said, “Scott, we got to send him now.” I was pissed. I said, “We don’t even have a plan. He’s going to get burned in broad daylight. He’s going to compromise the safe house. It’s a one-shot deal if we do that.” He said, “I know, but I have a feeling the Taliban are going to secure that base. If we don’t get him in there in front of that, he’s never going to get through.”

He had to be on the inside before they set up.

Mike’s gut was always anytime he came to me with something like that, I knew he was right. I didn’t like it. We rolled Nezam out hastily. We were able to get him in an indigenous cab that was pretty well concealed. The bottom line is a lot of that, Nezam needs to take credit for because he maneuvered himself brilliantly. What we were able to do was to be his eyes and ears and reach across the gate and get him a way in.

To your point, once we got him in and he said, “Pineapple,” and we got him pulled through, it was then that we opened the aperture up and that four-foot hole in the fence that UC Tanner had cut to help two Afghan women. Days earlier, we didn’t even meet UC until after. We didn’t even know him. To find out that he was the guy that had cut that fence and would move so many hundreds of people through, what speaks to me is the power of human connection and relationships in a time of crisis and how powerful that is.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“What it really speaks to me is the power of human connection and relationship in a time of crisis.”

Talk about the choices that some of our Afghan partners had to make. For a bit over a year, there was a group of senior Afghan officials who had been airlifted out because they were being persecuted in the early days. They had been taken immediately to the airport, and I’ve been speaking with them on and off for the in 2021 or so because they left without their families.

I remember looking at that until I read the book and saying like, “How could you leave your family?” It’s hard to question that because you’re not there, and you’re not going through what they’re going through. The book tells a bunch of these stories, a number of them about how several had to make the decision of, “Stay and die with my family or leave and hope that they stay alive.”

I’ll talk about three choices that stand out in the book that are indicative of the Afghan psyche and mindset. Hopefully, we’ll put to rest some of these BS narratives that the Afghans didn’t fight and weren’t willing to stand up for because a lot of them did and still are. One of them is the way the Afghan Commandos and Special Ops felt about service. We told Nezam to burn everything, “Take a picture of it first. Send it to us, and we’ll store it in the cloud. Burn the rest, so you don’t get compromised when you go through checkpoints.”

It’s standard tradecraft. He’s out there burning everything and looks at his SF tag that he got. He looks at his certificate, and he can’t do it, so he stuffs it in the bottom. It turns out neither was Bashir, Bazira, or Azizla. Every single one of these special operators went through these checkpoints with their mementos in their bags. They were not willing. They were willing to endure beatings, even death than leave those behind. That, to me, speaks volumes about the quality of these warriors.

Number two is Bashir going to the airport without his family. His wife had gone into labor the first day when they had gone through. The crowds were tens of thousands. UC Tanner called it The Raft of the Medusa after the painting in the Louvre, where a raft of castaways was cut away from a ship and resorted to cannibalism and violence. He said that’s what it reminded him of, mothers holding their babies up in the air with pink cheeks. They were purple because of all the tear gas that they were inhaling. They were trying to hold them above the clouds of tear gas. It’s to give you an idea of how terrible the crowds were.

That’s like biblical.

UC said you could hear the babies when they would scream. They had been out in the crowd for so long that they couldn’t make a sound. All you would see were the faces of these little babies that couldn’t even make a sound, yet they were wailing and getting crushed underfoot. It was horrific. Bashir went back to his home that first day. His wife was starting to demonstrate labor pains. James with the hat said to him, “I can get you out of here. I can take care of your family, but I can’t take care of you. I can’t promise your safety. If they get you, they’re going to get them. I’ll get them to you. I promise.”

Bashir made the run. They talked him into it, and he went through it. His family was moved overland to a third country. I’m going to leave the country out. They’re still there. Bashir is a security guard at a Texas grocery store. That baby girl he’s never seen, his five other little kids, and his wife are still at a safe house in this third country because we can’t get them lifted out. We can’t get them out of there.


[bctt tweet=”Veterans face a lot of mental duress because of the Afghan War. If this moral injury is not addressed, it will become a national security threat.” username=”talentwargroup”]

The state department was working with us to some degree, but for the baby girl, we couldn’t get her a passport because she was born after the passport agency collapsed. We’re trying to get a passport through the Taliban. She can’t leave without it. They won’t let her leave without it, which is crazy to me, even though they’re approved to leave.

That family has been there for a year. Guess who’s paying for all of that. It’s Bashir and donors. The government is not paying for any of that. This guy went to our Q Course. He’s part of our regiment. This is just one of many. The final choice was Minister Hasina Safi, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, the most hunted woman in Afghanistan. She’s the one who stood up for women’s rights in that country.

The state department didn’t evacuate her. No government agencies evacuated her, even though they knew she was on the run. She ended up coming through the sewage canal and got pulled through that four-foot hole in the fence with her family by a first sergeant in the 82nd Airborne and a former ambassador who was her shepherd. She had to go through a sewage canal, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, to get out of that country. It’s a metaphor for what happened to women’s rights in that country when Kabul fell.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

I interviewed a guy by the name of Eric McNulty. He co-wrote a book called You’re It. It’s about crisis leadership. He teaches at the National Preparedness Leadership Institute at Harvard University. The concept of You’re It is that as leaders, we don’t always get to pick when it’s our time to lead in a crisis. Sometimes we’re in the right position. Sometimes we get a phone call that’s out of the blue. Sometimes we’re the last man standing. It doesn’t matter. When you’re it, you’ve got a choice to make.

What you do from that moment on is a test of your preparedness, your character, and how you’ve prepared to be in this leadership position. August 20th, 2021, you mentioned James with the hat. He calls you and says, “Scott, the cavalry is not coming. We need a leader, or it won’t work.” I read this quote and immediately thought of my conversation with Eric. I said, “You’re it. Scott was it.” What is going through your head? You mentioned that you didn’t want to get back into it, but now you’ve realized that there is no choice. You are the guy.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

Over my skis, I felt like I was woefully underqualified to do what was at stake. I felt like this was a massive governmental problem. I kept thinking, “Where are the senior leaders in Special Operations reaching out to these volunteer groups saying, ‘Give us your manifest so that we can get these guys to the ground or get them out of the country?’” There was none of that. I kept thinking, “Surely they’re coming.” At some point, when that call from James came, I remember walking outside and saying to myself, “Nobody’s coming. This is it.” My dad was a huge help to me at that moment. He saw that I was wavering on what to do. He said to me, “You’ll never ever get over this if you don’t do what you know you’re supposed to do right now.” He was right.

You said the Pineapple plan had a few ambiguities. It was tactical and could be executed with precision in a chaotic environment. This whole plan hinged on not only you and the other Special Operations people and volunteers for Operation Pineapple, but the two guys on the ground were an 82nd Airborne captain and first sergeant. You’ve mentioned numerous times, “Where were the generals? Where were the senior leaders? Where were the people?” On the ground there, you had probably close to 5 or 6 stars of folks for running around there in various capacities. These were the two guys who took a stand and did something about it. Why?

There was a diplomat named JP who did the same thing, who took a stand, a former Green Beret. They weren’t the only ones. There were others who did. I chronicled those guys in the story because I saw them the most. In talking to the other groups like Dunkirk, Moral Compass, and Team 11, they saw similar things. I have to believe that, at the end of the day, this was an immoral act. As special operators and combat soldiers fighting in Afghanistan or any other by, with, and through a place, even if you’re a conventional warrior, you know what partner abandonment looks like. They knew, and they couldn’t live with it. They just couldn’t stand for that.

They had a mission to do, like John and Jesse will tell you that their primary responsibility was NEO security. They told us that. What John told me after the interviews were, “I felt like we could do more. I felt like we had autonomy. We were within the commander’s intent.” Jesse. I asked him, the First Sergeant, and he said, “My dad always taught me that there’s somebody worse off than you. I lost him way too young. I’ve always tried to make him proud. This was a chance to do that.” I thought, “Where do we find people like that?” All of Charlie Company was that way. A lot of the Marines were that way. All I can say is I believe that they saw it for what it was and were not willing to deal with that at face value. They felt like they needed to do more.

Have you given those guys medals as their commander? What happened to them?

I don’t think they got anything. I have to say I have to give it to Chris Donahue. He’s the only general that went on the record with me, seriously. I asked all of them, and not one went on the record with me. Some refused to talk to me. I said, “I’m talking to a lot of your former guys. They’re asking where you are. We would love to hear from you,” crickets. Donahue went on the record with me in his office. He was very candid and honest. He then gave me permission to talk to Jesse and John openly and let them be on. I thought that was pretty damn cool. I have to throw it out to him for that.

Honestly, those guys did not get recognition in my assessment from the chain of command, and they should have for what they did both in terms of the hundreds of people that they pulled through that four-foot hole in the fence, processed, and moved out of there. They saved I don’t know how many lives, including the Minister of Women’s Affairs. It’s also their response to the explosion. I know there were a lot of others who did so as well, but I don’t think those guys were properly recognized for what they did.

Let’s talk about August 26th at 5:38 Kabul time, masses of passengers, as you call them on Pineapple Express, chaos at Abbey Gate, reports of an impending attack, and the ISIS case focus on potentially trying to disrupt this withdrawal. We call it exposure risk. We’ve been there for so long. At some point, starting to get burned. Thirteen US Service members were killed. Hundreds of Afghans were killed and many more wounded. These thirteen were the last to die in Afghanistan. What do you feel? That was sick.

It’s hard to put it into words even now. When that bomb went off, I knew that there were going to be deaths. There was so much exposure. On the one hand, I feel like they were so overtly exposed. On the other hand, when I did the interviews and talked to people, so many of them were going to pull people to the very end. They were just going to do that. They were not going to stop.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“They were gonna pull people in until the very end.”

We’ve been talking to the Afghan Commandos and the NMRG, who went out to try to find the young girls we were trying to connect with. We lost NMRG. That’s how they operated. They were going to find those girls. I choose to believe that those thirteen who fell and the wounded from that day showed us the level of sacrifice and contribution that so many of our warriors gave in Afghanistan. I don’t believe it was for nothing. I don’t believe that’s a nihilist view. I don’t subscribe to that. I look at the number of Afghans, 8 million, who went to school.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of these young men and women who lived under relative freedom for many years. I don’t think they’re done. I think they’re coming. They’ll do it on terms this time. I choose to believe that. I believe that a lot of great contributions to this country will come from the Afghan Commandos, the interpreters, and their children who made it here. Those Marines, Navy Corpsman, Ryan Knauss, all of them who held the line until the very end and pulled people through, their legacy will live in these Afghans, our allies that made it here because of their courage. The country will be better for it. I believe that.

Let’s talk about what it all means. You laid out in the epilogue of the book a number of lessons that we can take away. The first one is the people involved had different perspectives. After the withdrawal was complete, you were invited by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, to the Pentagon.

You said, “According to him, the Pentagon had not failed but instead snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. To claim victory belies the purpose of the airlift in the first place. The thousands left behind who continue to face that violence every day simply do not support any claims to success.” You also note that no US government official has accepted what was to be, including the President, the Secretary of the State, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan. They all dismissed the claims that the Afghan Army would collapse quickly. You’ve called it political theater. Why was this their perspective?

This is where I feel careerism has taken over. It’s taken over the political, diplomatic, and military senior leadership realm. The preservation of one’s career over the realities on the ground over what was an immoral act, the wholesale abandonment of a twelve-year partner force. To call it the greatest airlift in American history, when less than 1% of the people were even special immigration visa holders or Afghan special operators, it’s a false narrative.

I heard it parroted so much when I would go to DC by leaders who I’m like, “You know that I served under you for decades. You know that, yet it was coming across to me like so much of a party line.” I’m telling you, so many in our community now are devastated by the silence of our senior leaders. We have a lot of work to do if we’re going to regain the trust of our NCOs and officers. The retention and recruiting problems you see now, and the fact that the United States’ opinion of the military is dropping from 70% to 56%, 11% of those points after Afghanistan, are all indicative of this lack of trust in the senior leaders. It all goes back to careerism.

[bctt tweet=”The injury in the soul is one of the worst kinds of injuries. You cannot get over it unless there is a communal effort to help you out.” username=”talentwargroup”]

You hear some general officers and diplomats now that they’re away from the uniform talking about what they did or would have done, but where were they years ago? You had 30-plus years in the military. Why not make a stand for the people who served you faithfully for two decades and demonstrate by your deeds that this is an immoral act? The answer I keep getting back is, “You can’t do that. If every general officer did that, we would not be able to execute the orders of the United States political apparatus.” My answer is no one did it. The question I keep getting from all the guys I interviewed is, “Where were they?”

Let’s talk about the risk to national security. You said, “America’s broken promises are a risk to national security. The wholesale abandonment of Afghanistan cast serious doubt on the US willingness to honor its promises to its allies.” We talked a bit about this, but with the Global War on Terror officially over. I don’t think the war on terror is ever going to end. I will take a stand on this. Anyone thinks terrorism is over because we close the chapter book on the Global War on Terror out of their mind. There are people who are trying to fall into this tower. We have to be conscious of that every single day.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“There are people who are trying to fall this tower.”

We have put a lot of focus now on what we’re calling this near-peer conflict, like Russia and China, those who have the ability in terms of weaponry people who could combat us. Partnership with other nations will continue to be the only way to protect ourselves. Can you talk more about these broken promises we talked about with respect to NATO? We still have to put Green Berets on the ground in Africa, South America, and even in Europe. We have a war in Europe that we haven’t seen since World War II. It’s as horrific, if not worse. We still have to put guys we know who have to sit across from someone and say, “You can trust me.”

Let’s unpack that. On a couple of levels, first of all, this was my point about the senior officers. Particularly in the book, I’m hard on the Special Operations community. I’m hardest on the Special Forces senior leadership because of what you just said. We are the premier experts on by, with, and through. When the nation needs a partnership approach, they turn to US Army Green Berets. They expect us to be able to walk into any crappy environment and leverage relationships on behalf of the nation. Anybody who has trained in social capital rapport building knows you build trust when risk is low, and you leverage it when risk is high.

We have burned all of our social capital, not just with the Afghan partners but across the country. What bothers me is that if you look at Special Forces Command, US Army Special Ops Commands, SOCOM, or Swick, no one’s talking about this. There have been no after-action reviews on what is the impact on the indigenous approach. Instead, what we have, for example, at SF Command, is a podcast called The Indigenous Approach. It’s all about how we work by, with, and through as if this never happened. To me, every podcast episode ought to be about, “How the hell do we overcome this? How do we put our Green Berets in a position where they can build social capital again?”

To pretend like this didn’t happen is setting us up for disaster. That’s in-house. When you look at the national security implications, you brought up near-peer. Last time I checked, the Chinese embassy, the Russian embassy, the Iranian embassy, and the Pak embassy are still open in Kabul. We walked away from the near-peer threat in the very country that has always been the great game. We took ourselves out of the fight completely. Now, you run the risk of Commandos and Afghan Special Forces being co-opted. The final piece of this is I was talking to Lieutenant General Sami Sadat, the last commander of the Afghan SOF, who I think is probably going to lead a resistance there.

He said he’d got guys well placed on the ground. Al Qaeda is completely reconstituted. They have foreign fighters in the country now in Afghanistan, from Northern Africa to Southeast Asia, training on former Afghan National Army bases in the open on our gear. Zawahiri has been completely replaced by the chief of ops, a far more competent, capable individual. We are looking at a resurgence of not just ISIS but Al-Qaeda in an unfettered sanctuary with no partner force on the ground and no intelligence network to speak of. The only people holding it together now are these volunteers and veteran groups that are keeping it together with duct tape and Belden wire.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

Let me go a little deeper on that because I wanted to talk about this concept of over-the-horizon strike capabilities. It reminds me of this concept we had under the Obama Administration called Lead from Behind. I believe this concept goes against everything we were taught as Green Berets. The number one soft imperative is, behind look cool. That’s number one. The second is to know your operational environment. Ground knowledge matters more than anything. It’s the relationships we build.

We talked about VSO, the send me mantra, “If someone’s got to go, send me.” Many have said, and I tend to agree, that what if we had, at minimum, left some strike package in Afghanistan? It’s because at least the presence was at check on the near peers in Iran. There was a base there that we could, at the very least, conduct other operations in the region off of, but as you’ve said, we’ve lost all foothold now. Everything is over the horizon. We got to fly planes thousands and thousands of miles to be able to do anything. Can you lead from behind? What is the risk of this over-the-horizon mentality?

Let’s bring it back to this brand new tower. It wasn’t here a couple of years ago. There were two towers here a couple of years ago. They fell because over-the-horizon targeting failed. They missed Bin Laden with over-the-horizon platform-based attacks. They had no substantive intelligence, even though there were plenty of indicators, but there was no ground presence to speak of that allowed us to intervene in the attack that changed our life forever on 9/11/2001. To me, how can we even take this on as a doctrine? You then see the strike that killed ten innocent people in Kabul.

We got Zawahiri, but he was standing in a wealthy neighborhood, drinking tea in the wide open. He wasn’t even that much of a player. To think that after what happened here and in DC is now an acceptable methodology to do over-the-horizon targeting and abandon a partner force and an intel ground network that we bled for, and our friends died for many years is unconscionable. I’ll ask you this. Let’s say there’s another attack in this city a few years from now by a reconstituted Al-Qaeda that makes that one pale in comparison.

Out of those smoldering ruins, you’re going to have America’s response. It probably won’t even matter who’s in power because the people will demand it. The yellow ribbons will come out. The flags will come out on the porches. The Budweiser commercials will kick the country songs, and we’ll load up our kids, and they’ll go over to Afghanistan. Except for this time, they’re going to be facing a Commando, Afghan Special Forces, and Afghan KKA who were completely abandoned. I wonder how receptive they’re going to be to our young men and women who landed in that country again. I can’t think it’s going to be very good.

You can go back to the Kurds. We did it to them, and we’ve struggled with building rapport with them.

It’s a systemic problem. Pineapple interviewed a guy named George, who lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He evacuates people as well. He’s a former Green Beret. He’s evacuating Montagnards. He’s been doing it for many years. For many years, he’s brought thousands of Montagnards to Fayetteville, where he settles them on tribal lands on a farm. How can we continue to do this and not learn at least as a regiment or Special Operations community? We should be doing hard internal reviews now.

The word I’m getting from people inside the building at USASOC and SF Command is that if you bring up Afghanistan, it’s a good way to shorten your career. What happens is the partner force looks at you. They nod their head when you show back up and say, “I’m going to take everything they’ll give me in terms of money, resources, and equipment. I’ll generally do what they ask me. I won’t try very hard because eventually, they’re going to leave me again.”

Here’s the thing, Fran. Will Lyles, one of our shepherds, lost both legs in Afghanistan. He walked away from his C-Suite executive job the minute this all happened to save the interpreter who saved him on the battlefield. If people think that maybe I’m ranting now and raging on generals and admirals, I’m simply reflecting on what I heard in dozens of interviews. Here’s what I would say to anybody reading this that has access and placement with our senior leadership.

According to a survey, 73% of veterans feel betrayed, and 67% feel humiliated. There’s been an 81% increase on the VA hotline in terms of mental duress, yet no mention of Afghanistan on the VA website. To turn the page on this thing and pretend like it didn’t happen, not addressing this moral injury and the impact of this thing, and the systemic abandonment problem that we have, we have a dissonance of trust between the leaders and the led that is going to be a national security threat in itself if we don’t get this fixed.

What you’re talking about is this moral injury, which is a concept that you brought up. You defined moral injury as the psychological consequence of a betrayal of what’s right by someone who holds legitimate authority in a high-stakes situation. Many in the last year have said, “Although we may have had a moral obligation to our Afghan partners, there was no legal obligation.” How does that sit with you?

How does this sit with you?

It doesn’t sit with me. It’s very simple.

[bctt tweet=”Veterans are losing trust and faith in senior leaders. They are no longer seen as a moral compass, pushing many retired officers to isolation.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Anyone who worked with partner forces or a partner on the battlefield, to leave them in the way that we left them, I don’t know how you could live with that. I’ve interviewed all 5th group guys from Vietnam who worked with the Montagnards. To this day, they openly weep when they talk about their Montagnard partners. I was talking with a guy named Donny, who was one of our shepherds. This guy is an iconic 5th group NCO.

TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

“To leave them…in the way that we left them…I don’t know how you can live with that.”

He said that if he had known then what he knows now about how we would have treated our partner force, he would never have joined SF after those towers fell back on 9/11. He never would’ve joined. He said, “My son is showing interest in the Army. I’m going to do everything I can to stop him.” To me, how in God’s name can we take these amazing veterans who gave us so much? How can we look at our active duty forces now, our special operators in particular, and see the retention and recruiting problems that we have and not look inward at ourselves and go, “This is the result of a moral injury?” We need to talk about this.

The biggest problem I have with this friend is it is an injury to the soul in a way it’s one of the worst kinds of injuries because you never get over it unless there is a communal collective effort to help people get through it. Leaders are key to that. Where I see a real deficit of leadership now from our military leaders, in particular, is the absence in the public space, talking about this moral injury to our people and also Congress and other leaders about increases in mental health capacity and whatever else is needed to address this problem, and most importantly, to reduce this systemic problem of abandonment that we all see and know and that we’re never going to fully get over this until we have the assurance that it’s fixed.

I want to talk about the recommendations that you made because you’ve made a couple of recommendations as to where we go from here. I had the opportunity to interview an Afghan parolee, Asma Paigeer, and Al Buford from Patriot Group International has brought her into his family. She was 1 of 150 school girls who was evacuated from the airport on one of the C-17s. She’s now at Virginia Tech and trying to help raise some money for her to be able to continue her education. She’s a very impressive young woman, and rarely in interviews do I become speechless.

She said to me, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” She said that her ability to complete her education is how she will defeat the Taliban. If she couldn’t complete her education, that achieves the Taliban’s intent was to deny her the opportunity to go to school. You said that the focus must remain on the people of Afghanistan and not what the Taliban can get at the expense of the people, including recognition. You’ve provided these three recommendations. The first one is, “Work with the UN to establish a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to flow in and at-risk Afghans to flow out.”

At night in this city, I bet you that you see some Ukraine flags. When I went to my wife’s birthday thing at the beach, they did a little tap ceremony at the beach and a flag retreat. Before they did that, the gentleman veteran said, “Let’s have a moment of silence for the people in Ukraine.” Do you know who you never hear a moment of silence for or the flags for? The Afghan people. We partnered with them for twenty years. Whatever narratives are out there about them fighting or quitting, those are false narratives. They did what they had to do to survive what most of us would do to protect their families. Many of them are still fighting and resisting. The international community has done a disservice to the Afghan people.

We have all stuck our heads in the sand. It’s like what the Germans talk about. When the trains would come by with the Jews on them, they would sing in their churches louder so they wouldn’t hear the screams of the Jews on the trains going to the death camps. To me, it feels like that, as an international community and as a nation, we are singing louder so that we don’t hear the screams and the absence of humanity that’s happening with women who are subjected to brutality, to Commandos who are being hunted and killed in front of their families, and to kids that are being deprived the rights to go to school.

These are things that we’ve always insisted upon as a nation and an international community. Why are we turning a blind eye to one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in modern history? It makes no sense. Where are the corridors that would protect these people? Where are the UN interventions on the women’s rights issues alone? There has to be a greater focus internationally and nationally on dealing with this humanitarian issue that is Afghanistan. At a national policy level, why don’t we give at least the same tacit level of support to the Afghan resistance that we’re giving to the Ukrainian resistance? It makes no sense.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

Your second recommendation is, “Create a special parole program that bypasses the legislation and bureaucracy to allow for the immediate evacuation of those most at risk.” People have been in this SIV program for years, and it hasn’t gone anywhere.

That alone is probably going to take eighteen years to evacuate the people. Here’s the thing, Afghan Commandos, Afghan Special Forces, and the Special Mission Wing are not eligible technically for SIV because they worked for the Afghan government. The Berber on Bagram is eligible. That’s nothing against the Berber on Bagram, but who really held the line here for freedom? The most at-risk community members, particularly our Special Operations partners, have no pathway now.

There are no options for them. The State Department could do this right now. Congress could mandate this. The Biden administration could put this in place. We need a pathway for humanitarian parole for the most at-risk, particularly Afghan special operators, and to get them out of there right now. Most of them would probably go back and fight if they could get their families to safety.

The third one is, “Leverage the aid networks established by the US veteran and volunteer groups.”

The private-public relationship that has happened in this whole thing to me is worthy of note. Pineapple was recognized not too long ago by a society that fosters privatized efforts in the United States. I thought that was very interesting. I never had sat down and thought about the private efforts of these groups like Dunkirk, Moral Compass, and Act Free. What it came down to was all of us filled a gap that emerged from this chaos where all of these warriors holding the line at HKIA was looking at a sea of faces and weren’t sure how they could be. We knew who they were. We knew where they were, and they trusted us to deliver them responsibly to certain four-foot holes in the wire and be pulled through.

That, to me, was a value proposition that the private sector filled very quickly. You look at the Ukraine situation where groups emerged in Ukraine 10X faster because of the work that they had done in Afghanistan. As we look at this humanitarian and resettlement problem here in the United States, where these big agencies are overwhelmed, what our private volunteer groups are doing is astounding. One of our shepherds, Ish, is an Afghan American SIV recipient who was Jim Gant’s interpreter. Now, he’s running a nonprofit out in the Northwest of the United States with Vietnamese refugees who were combining efforts because the Vietnamese understand what it was like to come over here.

They’re helping the Afghan refugees sponsor and bring Afghans over here and resettle. At the end of my book, I ask, “What’s your Pineapple Express?” For our country, if we’re going to make the upswing into better days that we need to make, helping Afghans escape was our Pineapple Express. There needs to be a citizen mobilization like that across a whole lot of fronts. It starts with just recognizing that nobody’s coming, stepping into the gap, and leading as best you can.

This is an interesting one with respect to this topic because when you look at public-private partnerships, you look at the COVID vaccine. There’s an example where the public-private partnership resulted in the vaccine being produced quickly. We see it in the industry and IT technology. There’s a part of the book where you talk about recognition, and they don’t want to bring it up.

It’s not like we want a pat on the back. We’re all veterans for the most part. We’ve had the lack of recognition, had recognition, and we know that it comes and goes. That’s a booby prize if that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s hollow. The recognition from Congress, the Biden administration, the State Department, and DOD to those active duty operators that did what they did like John, Jesse, and JP, but also to the veteran groups who have cashed in their kids’ college funds, used their pensions, and have paid for safe houses and babies to be born and have medical care through these reverse engineered unconventional warfare networks that they’ve managed for a year.

For the President to not recognize them in the state of the union, on top of the moral, adds fuel to the flame of the moral injury they’re already incurring. They’ve been on a 911 call for a year. They’ve sustained heavy moral injuries. There’s not even a recognition by the government of the role that they played that was critical. To me, how hard is that?

Let’s talk about the mental health aspect of this thing. There are 2,465 US service members lost, and the number of NATO lives lost was 1,144. Many have been left asking the question, “Was it worth it? What did we achieve?” You personally have talked about the 23 people close to you that you’ve lost. There’s been, as you said, “A palpable spike in veteran mental health incidents, following the Afghan collapse, which still continues today.” It’s been a trigger for so many people. I mentioned the thirteen that were lost. I’ll never forget standing at the kitchen table and being sick.

I, too, have lost many friends in Afghanistan. The guy who saved my life, I lost in Afghanistan. In Iraq, I was with him, and then he subsequently went to Afghanistan. He got a bronze star for saving me, and he was lost in an IED on my birthday. I remember I’m waking up and seeing it and being a disaster. Still, I’ve given talks about him because that’s how we are impacted by these things. You’ve struggled with your own mental health challenges. You’ve talked about the battles you’ve faced, standing in your closet and feeling that, “Today’s my last day,” and crediting your son coming home early from school being one of the only reasons we’re sitting here possibly.

[bctt tweet=”Humans are designed to connect with one another. However, today’s transactional society causes people to go into a trance-like state centered on fear.” username=”talentwargroup”]

You wrote the play Last Out to talk about a lot of this and give veterans this perspective through the lens of other veterans, which is unique. Talk to me a bit about your approach to mental health. How do we reconcile this now, a year later? How do we come together as a community? We’ve seen how strong this community is when it’s activated.

I got a call from the general that I worked for. He said, “I need you to come to DC.” I said, “To do what?” He said, “Don’t ask me any questions. Get in the car.” I watched in the kitchen, looked at my wife, and said, “I got to go to DC. The general called. I’ve been out for six years.” I looked at her. She looked at me and said, “You better go and pack a bag.” She didn’t even ask why. That’s how this community activates. How do we activate around helping each other in mental health?

We’ve got to get over ourselves. We all made a lot of mistakes in the Afghanistan campaign. None of us are absolved of that. There were a lot of mistakes I made, but we got to move on. I’ve said this to a couple of the general officers who weren’t crazy about that book because their legacy’s a little bit questioned in that book. That was not my intent. The thing is, we’ve got to get to a point where we look where we’re going now. We look at the mental health issues facing our troops and veterans.

Here’s the thing. When 73% of the veteran population say they feel betrayed by this abandonment, 67% feel humiliated, then you couple that with 30,177 suicides of active duty post 9/11, not even counting Vietnam, compared to 7,000 plus KIA in the War on Terror. To me, those are combat deaths. Most of those in the last few years have been bad. Those numbers of betrayal and humiliation, what’s that going to do? Where’s that going to take us? As leaders, we have a moral obligation now to look at this and go, “We have a crisis on our hands.” Our veterans are losing trust and faith in our senior leaders. They’re pulling back.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

They’re no longer our moral compass, the way they used to be. They’re pulling back and isolating, and we cannot allow that to happen. I found that storytelling and connecting through the narrative is a powerful way, one way to overcome that. It helped me get out of my depression and my near bout of suicide. That’s why I wrote Last Out because what I wanted was to tell the story from the stage with veterans and military family members that helped civilians understand the cost of modern war but also validated and held space for military families, gold star families, and veterans to heal and process their own life through the safety of storytelling.

The fact of the matter is societies have been using storytelling to bring warriors home and reassimilate them into society for thousands of years. We’re one of the few societies that don’t. We don’t talk about it. We’re the quiet professionals. That’s great, but what ends up happening is that silence turns into isolation. If you’re not connected to your narrative, you lose your purpose and identity. Soon, you lose yourself. We’ve got to find a way to connect. That’s what Last Out is all about. That’s why we have it on tour. That’s why it’s a film.

Civilians, I believe, are going to have to help us redistribute this emotional load that so few of our society are carrying. It’s heavy. Storytelling, play, and other forms of narrative exchange can help do that. The final thing I’ll say on this is that the same study that quotes 73% feeling betrayed and an overwhelming majority of veterans and civilians believe that the events that are community-based and narrative in nature are far more useful for reassimilation than parades and ceremonies. We need to be thinking about that. We need to sit together, exchange stories, lean in together, and heal through connection.

You said anybody interprets what you’re seeing through your own inner lens.

It’s called autobiographical listening. That’s why it works so well and it’s 70,000 years old. If I sit down with you 10,000 years ago and talk about why Sabre tooth tigers make crappy pets, and I’m all bloodied up, you’re going to listen like your life depends on it because you’ll autobiographically listen and locate yourself in that story. It’s as if you live the experience yourself. That’s why we love storytellers and stories.

Where we need to go in a lot of ways with this healing is through narrative exchanges and finding ways to connect civilians, politicians, leaders, veterans, gold star families, and military families in a room, exchange stories, and get a shared perspective on this thing that’s not just war but the abandonment, the withdrawal, all of it. We got to talk about it in a way that’s open and healthy. Now, we’re turning the page like it never even happened. That’s a very dangerous proposition based on the numbers I’m seeing of how veterans feel about this.

I agree with you on the storytelling piece too. It’s getting out there and talking about the things you’re passionate about. I started this thing called The Jedburgh Podcast. That’s been my outlet. That’s where I looked around and said, “How am I going to begin to express myself and talk about what I care about and tell stories of others through this lens that shaped me several years ago?”

That’s why at the end of the book, I say, “What’s your Pineapple Express? Getting Afghans out was ours, but what’s yours?” That’s metaphorical. When you look at the arena where something is broken, and you look around, and nobody else is coming, how are you going to step in and lead? You’re going to feel like you’re over your skis, you’re underqualified to do it, and you’re not the right person. That’s been my life, probably yours too.

The reality is that’s exactly what the country needs now. Frankly, institutional leaders need to see that. We need to model that for them. If they can’t replicate it, we need to replace them with fair elections and whatever else we need to do. We need leaders that are doing that work, who are going, “What’s my Pineapple Express? What do I need to do to play a bigger game?” Otherwise, we’re going to keep going down this same rabbit hole.

Your work with the Heroes Journey is allowing veterans in transition to do that by working with them to craft their narratives and tell their stories.

We run story workshops. We’re working with the Gary Sinise Foundation now. In fact, we run story exchanges where you exchange stories with other veterans and civilians. We run narrative competence workshops, where we teach you how to use storytelling and active listening to build rapport, job interviews, and talk to your teenagers. We have another one called Take the Mic, where we train veteran influencers. I’m an actor, a negotiator, and a keynote speaker. I’ve spent the last couple of years developing my craft and instrument as an influencer from the stage. I love training other speakers how to take the mic and own a room.

The people are hungry for it. People are hungry for veterans who have been scuffed up to walk in a room, tell their story, and own that room through relevance and relatability. It makes us feel safer, we’re being led, and connected. What we focus on at the Heroes Journey is helping veterans find their voice, purpose, and point of view and then tell their story powerfully from the stage or one on one. It has to be authentic. Storytelling, by definition, is authentic. Otherwise, it’s a speech.

That’s why you talk about The Generosity of Scars.

Repurposing One’s Struggles in the Service of Others. The most generous thing we can do as leaders is if we can take the stuff that scuffed us up and put it to work in the service of other people so that you hold space for them and in the safety of your narrative, they can locate themselves in their story and see how relatable you are because you’ve been where they’ve been. All of a sudden, they feel now what’s possible for their own life. Autobiographically, they start to make a move on their own. It’s contagious. We need it badly in this society that we live in. The Generosity of Scars is at the epicenter of what we stand for at the Heroes Journey.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

We’ve talked a lot about rapport building and building relationships. We’ve talked a tremendous amount about the operational environment and where we sit nowadays. Regarding your work with Rooftop Leadership, I am inspired by what you’re doing there because you’re talking about this high stakes low trust environment you referenced a bit ago. Why do leaders and organizations need to know how to operate in this environment? Maybe you could start by defining what a high stakes low trust environment is.

Almost every engagement that we’re in these days is because we’ve created a modern society that is mostly transactional. It’s mass technology. It’s high tempo. The stakes are high, and failure is not an option. We are constantly living at the edge of the envelope with our cortisol levels in the red. It’s like redlining an engine. We’re not designed to do that as human beings.

[bctt tweet=”If you can establish a level of tactical empathy, reciprocity will fall. This costs nothing in a transactional world. You just need to be a good listener who insists on seeing the picture in another person’s head.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Humans are meaning-seeking, emotional, and social storytellers who struggle. In other words, we’re a mess. At a primal level, that’s who we are. We’re designed and wired to connect with one another, yet the society we’ve built around us is so transactional that nobody’s ready to listen to the other person. We’re almost operating in a trans-like state of fear-based behavior all the time. When you’re in a fear-based state, you can’t listen and connect. You’re in survival mode.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

What we have to do as leaders is we have to recognize that leadership is the management of energy, according to Professor James Clawson. It’s your own energy and then the energy of those around you. How do you manage the emotional temperature in a room? How do you bring someone from a sympathetic state down to a parasympathetic state where they’re in a calm and connect state? That’s all those old-school interpersonal skills that you and I learned in the Q Course in Robin Sage. The difference was in Robin Sage, you either had that instinct or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you were out.

They never let you in, which meant you were out.

There’s a whole body of work, a whole area of science around storytelling. There’s neuroscience around how the brain lights up, active listening being present, and intentional diaphragmatic breathing while you’re preparing to walk in a room. What I did was I geeked out on that for ten years after I got out. I thought, “What if I could build a body of work around human connection? What if I could help leaders in these high stakes, low-trust environments apply both art and science in how they connect authentically with other humans so that emotional temperature comes down, reciprocity is strong, and the other party’s ready to listen?”

I’ve been doing it for years in almost every industry, and I love it. What’s cool about it is I get to bring all of the great stories and lessons from our NCOs that taught us so much and incorporate that art with the latest science on storytelling, listening, and interpersonal dynamics and combine them. It’s a real skill. It moves the needle from instinct to skill. What Rooftop Leadership is all about is getting leaders to go up on the proverbial rooftop and take a stand as we did in Afghanistan using purpose-based human connection.

Afghanistan is not over. There’s still a mission there. You’re still involved with it. You have worked a bit on the Ukraine mission. What’s next?

I’m going to stay involved with Afghanistan. Moral Compass is a group I belong to. It’s an informal federation of volunteer groups, mostly Special Operations types, who are working Commandos. I’m going to focus on the book, being an advocate, and a storyteller. My ground game days are pretty much over. I’m sponsoring a few people, but I’m not as good at that as a lot of the other younger guys are. I am pretty good at raising money, engaging at a high level, and telling the story. That’s where I’m going to put my efforts for the rest of my days. I’m never going to quit on our Afghan partners. I believe resistance is coming. I believe for anybody reading this, if you’re struggling with what it was all for and why it matters, I don’t think it’s over yet.

Eight million young men and women who received an education because of what our veterans preserved and fought for, I believe the Commandos, the Special Forces, the KKA, and the NMRG are going to make a stand. I do. In many ways, it’s already happening. There’s a chance that Afghanistan will find its way without us. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea? It would be helpful if we supported them, but my prayer is that they’ll find their way and what we did there held space long enough for them to realize it in this new manifestation. I believe that it was enough. We haven’t seen the last of the Afghan people standing up for themselves.

Scott, as we close out, the Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things as core foundational tasks called habits. I call them foundations. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision, their focus and attention could be on more complex challenges that came their way. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?

First of all, that’s an awesome question. I love the way that you tie it to the Jedburghs. That’s humbling in and of itself. I could sit in that for a few minutes. This was true for me with Pineapple. This was true for me with VSO. This was true with the play. By the way, there were plenty more failures than successes. The strategic outcomes that I was able to achieve in my life through a focused application, I believe three things were at play, prepare, connect, and recover. We’re social creatures. We’re wired to interact with one another, but most people are so casual and semi-conscious about it that they leave tons of social capital on the table. They don’t even know what their goals are when they walk into the room.TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

It’s preparing for every engagement you do as if your life depended on it. The way that we do it before we go into a key leader engagement with tribal elders, an ambassador, or a minister of defense, we treat it as if our life depended on it because, in many cases, it does. What if we all did that? I believe 2/3 of the influence comes from the preparation before you ever even walk in the room, even the diaphragmatic breathing you do to get yourself into a parasympathetic state. I have this thing called pre-engagement prep that gets you ready to walk into the room and own the room. That’s number one, prepare it.

Next is connect. With that, I’m talking about meeting the other party where they are, not where you want them to be. That’s how we’re wired, to be an empathetic witness to the other party and focus on their goals and needs as much as you focus on your own because reciprocity is a beautiful thing. If you can establish a level of tactical empathy, reciprocity is likely going to fall. It costs you nothing in a transactional world to be a good listener and insist on seeing the pictures in the other party’s head. That’s usually the metric I use for connect. What’s their goal? What’s their pain? Until I’m clear on that, I’m in no position to open my mouth about my agenda.

The final thing is recovery. When we connect and engage in these high stakes low trust times, the stakes are so high that we’re operating in the red all the time. No one’s recovering. You go right from one engagement to the next, and you’re in a sympathetic state all the time. If you don’t do little micro recoveries between your engagements and connections, then you walk from one engagement into the next, already elevated and emotionally aroused at such a level that the party smells you when you come in, and they know something’s up. At the end of the day, people aren’t doing any breathing. They’re not putting their phones up.

They’re not letting their body recover and drop into a parasympathetic state. The body knows how to unwind. It knows how to metabolize the stress and the tension that come from engagements. You got to give it a chance to do that, whether working out, walking with your spouse, playing with your kids, or sitting in a quiet room and breathing. It’s not getting a gin and tonic and watching Game of Thrones. That’s engaging. The body needs to drop into that parasympathetic state. Those at a high level are the three things that I try to do every single day of my life, prepare, connect, recover, and rinse and repeat.

Those three are amazing. We’ll be pushing that message out. When we talk about the high performance of individuals, teams, and organizations, we tie a lot of these conversations into these nine Characteristics of Performance that Special Operations Command has used since the time of the Jedburghs, this drive, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, curiosity, teamability, effective intelligence, and emotional strength. All of those are required when you talk about what we’ve defined as Jedburghs. What I’ve said on this show are visionaries, drivers of change, those dedicated to winning no matter the challenge. It started with the Jedburghs and was defined by SOF. It’s how we feel when we achieve our motto as Green Berets the oppressed, “De oppresso liber.”TJP - E77 Scott Mann Founder & Author of Operation Pineapple Express Retired Green Beret

The situation in Afghanistan that we talked about has been in so many ways, and as you quoted in the book, “Did we oppress the liberated?” We have to ask ourselves these questions. I want to end with a quote that you have from the book because it’s important. It says, “Veterans and civilian volunteers honored a promise and demonstrated what leadership looked like. Operation Pineapple Express tells the story of a group of friends who honored a promise to Afghanistan when others did not. For a fleeting moment, they defined what America could be once again. We sit here on this terrace overlooking what we’ve named the Freedom Tower, the reflecting pools.”

What was 2021 ground zero? It’s one of the most horrific attacks that the world has ever seen. America, as defined by our former President, is the shining city on the hill. It requires leadership. It requires people to come down here and look at this and say, “I’ll protect this no matter the challenge. I’ll find a way to do that.” The Afghans call that a brother of quality.

In order to know what a brother of quality is, you’ll have to read the book because I’m not going to have you define it here. Scott, you’ve defined brother of quality. You’ve shown all of us in the regiment and the world what true leadership looks like. I thank you so much for spending this interview with me here in New York. I know you got a lot of things going on, but there’s no better place than I can imagine to be now and to sit here talking to you. I appreciate everything you’re doing. Thank you.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.


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