2020 Recipient – Mark Nutsch

Former Major Mark Nutsch, U.S. Army is a native of the Kansas Flint Hills and was raised in a ranching family. While attending Kansas State University, he competed on the rodeo team and was commissioned thru the Army ROTC program. During his active duty and reserve career, he served in various Infantry, Ranger and Special Forces assignments, repeatedly deployed with multiple combat tours to the Middle East and Central Asian states.

Upon graduating from K-State Mark Nutsch, joined the U.S. Army and became an officer in the U.S. Special Forces. He was Captain of a unit called Operational Detachment-Alpha 595 and led missions to Uzbekistan and Kuwait. In early September 2001, he joined the battalion staff.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks Captain Nutsch led a heroic 12-man team of U.S. Special Forces on a covert mission into Afghanistan in October 2001 where they rode to war on horses to fight elements of the Taliban regime, side by side with their Afghan counterparts, and liberated the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif. This achievement is considered one of the most successful unconventional warfare campaigns in modern military history. Nutsch earned a Bronze Star with valor for his bravery.

The exploits of this mission are depicted in the recent motion picture 12 Strong: The Declassified Story of the Horse Soldiers which tells the story of how Nutsch and his comrades overcame significant odds to help achieve a historic military victory in Afghanistan.

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Mark has opened a whiskey distillery business, American Freedom Distillery headquartered in St Petersburg, Florida. Their spirits Horse Soldier Bourbons are produced in Columbus, Ohio. The mold which shapes the Horse Soldier bottles is made of steel from the World Trade Centers, which was donated by the Port Authority. The steel was melted down and became the model for their bottles.

In 2019 he was named National Honorary Campaign Chair by the Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation for the Next Vistas fundraising campaign.

Mark and his wife Amy have been married 20 years and have 4 children. They currently live in Leavenworth, Kansas.