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The Spear

Storytelling Podcasts

The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point. It aims to explore the combat experience, with each episode featuring a guest who tells a detailed and personal story, describing the events and exploring topics like decision-making under stress and what it feels like to be in combat.

The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point. It aims to explore the combat experience, with each episode featuring a guest who tells a detailed and personal story, describing the events and exploring topics like decision-making under stress and what it feels like to be in combat.


United States


The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point. It aims to explore the combat experience, with each episode featuring a guest who tells a detailed and personal story, describing the events and exploring topics like decision-making under stress and what it feels like to be in combat.




Preparing to Evade

In 2011, Todd Angstman and his Special Forces team deployed to Gao, Mali, to provide training and assistance to the Malian Armed Forces. Gao was an important city, the hub of trans-Saharan trade, and had a combined arms task force deployed there, working with Angstman's Green Berets. The Arab Spring and subsequent uprising in Libya led to a decrease in security across northern Mali as displaced Tuareg tribesmen entered Mali. What was supposed to be a simple training mission took on more...


Ambushed in Baghdad

On August 11, 2004, Staff Sgt. John Borman’s platoon ventured out on what was supposed to be a short counter-mortar observation mission. Except that day, instead of targeting Camp War Eagle, the Mahdi Army targeted John’s observation post with accurate indirect fire. To top it off, John wasn’t even supposed to be in Iraq that day. He was supposed to be in Wisconsin at his sister’s wedding. After fixing a damaged HMMWV, John’s patrol pushed to another position that turned out to be a U-shaped...


Fire in the Skies Over Baghdad

In this episode, retired US Air Force Col. Kim Campbell joins to share a story from 2003. A career A-10 pilot, her squadron was deployed to the Middle East at the beginning of the war in Iraq. During a mission, she and her flight lead in another A-10 responded to a call for air support from a US unit engaged with Iraqi troops. On her last rocket pass, she felt and heard an explosion—and knew immediately that she had been hit. Listen as she explains what happened that day and how she...



In early 2019, Eric Kahle was a first sergeant assigned to an aviation maintenance company bound for Forward Operating Base (FOB) Dahlke in Afghanistan—also known as “Rocket City.” It was not long before rockets became a common occurrence for the soldiers of Delta Company and Kahle was mentally transported back to his first combat deployment in 2006 to Iraq. That deployment, which saw the loss of flight crews and friends, impacted how Kahle approached combat leadership and taking care of his...


Shot in Baghdad

In the fall of 2006, Rory McGovern was a company fire support officer assigned to a combined arms team operating in the area around Abu Ghraib, Iraq. The day after Christmas, he was on a security patrol in support of a local sheikh’s Hajj send-off party when a shot rang out. McGovern had been hit. He shares the story of that encounter with the sniper and subsequent recovery in this episode.


Mosul Gets Hot, Part 2

On December 21, a suicide bomber detonated inside the dining facility on Forward Operating Base Marez outside of Mosul. Twenty-two people were killed in the blast, including Captain William Jacobsen, Matt Sacra’s company commander. Not long after, Sacra was wounded for the first time while serving as an advisor to the Iraqi Army. Following a lengthy recovery, Matt was wounded on his first mission outside the wire. Matt recently finished writing and editing The Armor of God in Iraq: An Armor...


Mosul Gets Hot, Part 1

In late 2004, Mosul was becoming more and more unstable. Matt Sacra, a Stryker platoon leader, and his soldiers deployed there to help quell the growing insurgency. On November 10, the platoon was ambushed. The next day, it fought as part of a battalion-sized operation. The combat Matt and his soldiers saw over those two days was an experience that, as he describes, left an indelible mark on him as a soldier and deeply influenced his development as a leader. This is the first of a two-part...


A Horse Soldier Reflects

In late 2001, Scott Neil was a US Army Special Forces soldier whose team was among the first US forces in Afghanistan—the legendary Horse Soldiers who led some of the opening operations in the war there, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. While theirs is a well-known story, Scott’s military service extends well beyond that experience. In this episode, he reflects on a twenty-five-year career that included time in a foxhole in Panama as a young private, the remarkable work of the Horse...


The Decision-Making Crucible of Combat

In 2005, Major General Pat Roberson was the ground force commander for a combined special forces task force in Iraq given the task of melding a battalion of Iraqi forces and a battalion of Kurdish commandos into the newly formed Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Brigade. One night, the ISOF Brigade and Roberson’s Green Berets conducted an air assault into Salman Pak for a nighttime raid against insurgent forces. As the task force encountered several tactical problems, Roberson found...


Ambush in a Restive Valley

In this episode, host Tim Heck is joined by Lt. Col. Blake Schwartz. In 2009, Schwartz was a Special Forces team leader deployed in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. Enemy fighters in the Langar valley, a restive area astride a vital road network, were a particular target for Schwartz’s soldiers. Schwartz attempted three times to enter the valley with his forces. On his final attempt, while countering a Taliban ambush, he authorized the firing of a Hellfire missile from an orbiting MQ-1...


Battle for the Mosque

On April 10, 2003, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (A/1/5) was tasked with searching a mosque in Baghdad for Saddam Hussein. The previous night and into that morning, A/1/5 had fought a running gunfight to capture a presidential palace where Marines were wounded and the company gunnery sergeant was killed. Despite the losses the company had suffered, A/1/5 was sent back out into the streets of Baghdad. Upon arrival at the mosque, 2nd Lieutenant Nick Horton 's platoon came under...


Ambushed Ambushers

In 2008, Major Corey Faison was a scout platoon leader at Combat Outpost Lowell in Afghanistan's Nuristan province. The area was a hotbed of Taliban activity and the company at the COP found itself frequently under attack. Faison’s platoon planned to conduct an ambush aimed at killing or capturing a high-value target transiting the area. But while climbing the rugged, mountainous terrain en route to the designated ambush site, Faison and his soldiers found themselves being ambushed instead.


Drone Strike in Kunar

This episode of The Spear features a story from US Air Force Major Joe Ritter. An RPA pilot, his story takes place both at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where he and his sensor operator, Dylan, were located, and in Afghanistan's Kunar province, where thhey were flying an MQ-9 Reaper during an intelligence collection mission. When an unusual event catches his eye, Joe realizes his MQ-9 Reaper may have found something other than what they were looking for.


The Three-Block War in Sadr City

For then-Major Bill “Fenway” Wyman, Sadr City in 2004 was a strange mix of combat and humanitarian missions. Fenway was a civil affairs team leader, advising the commander of the 2-5 Cavalry on how to win local trust, support humanitarian operations, and spur economic development. In this episode, he recounts a pair of events—handing out backpacks one day and hunting down snipers just a few days later—that combine to highlight the ever-changing nature of combat operations in Baghdad.


Finding Balance

In 2009, Lieutenant Mike Karlson deployed to Afghanistan, new to both his unit and to his job as executive office of its maintenance troop. During that deployment, he struggled to balance the pressing requirements of his job and some very challenging personal circumstances: his father was terminally ill with brain cancer. After returning home on emergency leave to say goodbye to his father, he was back in Afghanistan in just two weeks, faced with new challenges as he took over a platoon...


Baghdad, 2003

In 2003, Karl Blanke was a weapons platoon commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Crossing the line of departure in the first wave, Blanke’s Marines spent three weeks fighting their way north to Baghdad. Upon arrival, his company was immediately tasked with searching for high-value targets in a nearby neighborhood. The fight for the neighborhood saw several Marines wounded. This is the story of that fight and one of those Marines.


In the Air over Anbar

In 2007, United States Marine Captain Kyleanne Hunter was flying escort missions above Marines operating in western Iraq. When the Marines on the ground discovered a massive weapons cache—and a large group of armed insurgents protecting it—she found herself in a situation that challenged her as a pilot and changed the way she and her fellow Marines flew in Anbar province. This episode also marks the first with Tim Heck, MWI’s deputy editorial director, as host.


Reconnaissance Mission Compromised

In the spring of 2003, Lt. Col. Dave Rittgers commanded a Special Forces team deploying to Afghanistan. As soon as the team arrived in country, its members were told to begin planning immediately for a what is known as a special reconnaissance mission. They did so, but after being dropped off by helicopter and working their way to a concealed location from which they could observe their target, the mission was disrupted. Listen to the story in this episode.


Hand-to-Hand Combat, When It's Least Expected

In this episode of The Spear, MWI's John Amble is joined by Maj. Tyson Walsh. In 2013, during a deployment in Afghanistan, he found himself fighting hand to hand against an enemy combatant in an unexpected place: inside the heavily secured Bagram Airfield, the largest US and coalition base in the country. Listen as he tells one of the most intense stories we have featured.


A UH-60 in a Firefight

In this episode, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joe Roland joins to share a story from 2004. A UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, his aircraft and another were supporting an Army Special Forces team in search of a group of enemy combatants in Afghanistan's northern Kandahar province. As soon as his aircraft landed to drop off a US soldier and two Afghans to take up an overwatch position, they saw enemy fighters approaching the position. He made a decision to hover his aircraft between the enemy fighters and...