Actor and Retired Marine Rob Riggle on Playing the Commanding Officer in ’12 Strong’

Actor and comedian Rob Riggle plays Lieutenant Colonel Bowers in the new film, "12 Strong," now in theaters.
Actor Rob Riggle attends the world premiere of "12 Strong" at Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 16, 2018, in New York City. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images) ANGELA WEISS/Contributor/Getty Images

I had transitioned into a reserve unit in New York City after serving as an active duty Marine. I was serving as a Marine during the day and pursuing comedy at night. On September 11, I got the call: “Report to Ground Zero.” They had already closed the bridges and tunnels. My reserve unit was activated to work on the bucket brigades from September 12 to September 18. We were working for 12 hours at a time, moving the rubble by hand looking for anyone who was still alive.

For obvious reasons, I was a little pissed off. My country had been attacked. I had just spent a week pulling people out of piles of wreckage. I was a captain at the time, with a high level of security clearance. I knew that we were going to need people, so I volunteered to go back in.

In an insane coincidence I received my orders on November 10, which happens to be the birthday of the Marine Corps. They had activated me and told me to report to Central Command in Tampa. I was given some time to prepare and say goodbye to the wife. I reported on November 17. By the time it was November 30, I was over in Afghanistan.

On arrival I reported to Lieutenant Colonel Max Bowers, commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces groups, who were operating out of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. They were aligning with the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban. They were the first guys in, fighting in some extraordinary circumstances. That is the story I get to tell now in 12 Strong, and not only that, I get to play my old boss Lieutenant Colonel Bowers. I get to play the man that I worked directly under, as part of his command element over there.

By the time I retired I had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. In a lot of ways, it is crazy that I got to not only serve with these men, but also portray the operation in this movie. It is an honor to get to share their story.

— as told to Charles Thorp. 12 Strong, which also stars Men’s Journal cover guy Chris Hemsworth, is in theaters now.