There are a lot of opinions still swirling over the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Congress issued hearings and reports. Some of what’s been reported contradicts previous stories about the events.
That’s why hearing about what happened from the contracted soldiers, part of the Annex Security Team, in the field is critical. The military contractors were part of a security unit stationed in buildings near the U.S. Special Mission Compound.
The compound served as a base for U.S. diplomats and the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. Four people were killed: U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone “Rone” Woods and Glen Doherty.
It’s also the basis for the book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi” and an upcoming movie by Michael Bay “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” The Sentinel talked on the phone with three of the security soldiers — Mark “Oz” Geist, Kris “Tanto” Paronto and John “Tig” Tiegen — about what happened in Benghazi and about the film out Jan. 15.
Question: Have you seen the film and how close to the book is it?
Oz: I think it’s as close as you can get. And the fact that it took 13 hours and 300 odd pages and was condensed into a two hour movie, it’s exactly what it should be. Someone asked me a question if there was anything else that could make it better and I can’t think of any thing. I’ve been thinking about it for two days and I still can’t. It kept to the spirit of the book.
Q: Were you consultants on the film to ensure its accuracy?
Tanto: Yeah, we were involved when the script first came out — reading it and putting our input in. We were involved with set design. And each of us had a week overseas along with Mitchell Zuckoff [author of “13 Hours”] as well. You know the actual one of us who can write. [laughs]
So we were heavily involved from the get-go and always being on call for phone conversations [for the film]. And each of us spent time with the people that played us in the movie. And all of them we’ve actually become friends with that the guys that portrayed us... We’ll call them up and have a beer with them if we’re in the same town.
Q: What movies do you think are accurate depictions of the military or combat?
Tig: “American Sniper” was a good one. “Lone Survivor” was really good.
Tanto: A good heroism movie from Vietnam — I wasn’t in Vietnam of course — was “We Were Soldiers.” What I liked about “We Were Soldiers” was how you feel like when you’re leaving. That’s on a bigger scale of how the families are back home and how they were dealing with the deaths. And how the government was being wholly unprepared to explain deaths. Of course being [an Army] Ranger, I also liked “Black Hawk Down.” I think they did a good job technical on that one getting down the mannerisms of what Rangers and Deltas are like.
Q: How important to you is it that the whole story about Benghazi be told?
Oz: What made us write the book in the first place wasn’t that the story wasn’t being told but that it had got spun into a 100 different directions by people on the right and the left for their own personal gain.
We’re not about being public figures or at least we weren’t before this. When you would see misrepresentations of the ambassador [J. Christopher Stevens] having been drugged through the streets and raped and mutilated — that never happened. And it’s only right that his family knows the truth about what happened to him. And that needed to be told but it wasn’t being told because the story got hijacked. So we felt the only way to do this was to put it into a book because we didn’t want it to get spun again if we came out on the talk shows. Once it’s on paper, it’s there forever.
Q: What parts of your training do you feel proved essential while under siege?
Tig: All of it. I mean, the more training you can get the better off you are. You can react a lot faster. I mean there wasn’t one essential thing. All of our training came into play that night.
Tanto: I think what I’ve taken back from training is: There are times in basic training that when you’re a private and then you go through Ranger school that you face—I don’t want to use the word hazing because it’s a bad word that doesn’t fit the context — and you need to have those challenges.
I think for all us in those earlier days, you could get thrashed by your drill sergeant and that helped us. What we call it is embracing the suck. You embrace it — it sucks but you love it because you’ve been put through it over and over. So it mentally prepares you and you come out on top of it.
So that’s why if you read the book, there’s also a lot of humor going on that night and that’s because we’ve learned how to embrace the suck — that’s the best way I can term it.
Q: What are your thoughts about the reports in Congress about the attacks?
Tanto: I’d ask Congress: Were you there? Did you see what happened on the ground? Did you see us fight that night? Were you there when our friends got blown up in front of our faces? Were you there when we were pulling lifeless bodies out of the burning building? You weren’t. So all I can say is that we’re torn by what’s going on and we’re reliving it everyday so that people can get the truth out there. It’s not easy to do.
I don’t want it to get turned into this big political agenda thing which is what it has been turned into. So we’re trying to bring it back to show the heroism. We’re trying to bring it back to show that there were a lot of sacrifices going on. There were several huge firefights and guys did amazing things and guys were willing to sacrifice themselves to save others... I think Hilary’s gotten enough play on this. Either negative or positive, she gets talked about over this and we’re done with that.
Q: How do you pay homage to your friends and colleagues who were killed in the attack?
Tig: We’re kind of going around telling the story [about what happened], and by the way we’re telling the story we’re keeping them alive. Just keep honoring them [by telling] what they did and what they went through. We don’t sugarcoat anything that happened —how they died or how they were taken care of afterward. That’s how you honor the guys — you just have to tell the truth about them.