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Benghazi Hero: ‘I Know God Got Me Through’
13 Hours: A Story of Courage and Christianity Amid Attack
By Patti Armstrong
After the fall of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libyan tensions fired up, and embassies were abandoned.
Then, on Sept. 11, 2012, heavily armed Islamist militants launched an organized attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed: U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty and State Department computer expert Sean Smith.
Six CIA contractors defied orders to defend the compound. Thirteen hours later, only four of them were still alive, but they had saved more than two dozen fellow Americans.
When the heroes returned home, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama were blaming an anti-Muslim video for the attack. Even now, after emails revealed Clinton knew immediately the video wasn’t to blame, Washington characterizes the attack as unexpected and unpreventable.
The True Story
Marines Mark “Oz” Geist, John “Tig” Tiegen and former Army Ranger Kris “Tanto” Paranto and a fourth man who wishes to remain anonymous want Americans to know the truth about what really happened.
Their story is told in the book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi and has been turned into a movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, opening in theaters this Friday.
At the press conference last week, following a preview of the movie, the actors, writers, director and the three real-life men gathered to talk about the heroic true story. Screenwriter Chuck Hogan explained that he felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to capture the real story. “I was holding a candle of truth, so I took what I thought was a great book and build a bridge into a great movie.”
The director, Michael Bay, known for his big-budget action movies, said that in spite of the politics surrounding the story, the heart of the movie is about the human spirit.
“I kept telling the actors that this is about selflessness,” he said. According to him, telling the tale accurately was critical as a matter of human justice.
“We shot it oversees in Malta, a couple hundred miles away from Libya, so it would feel authentic,” he said.
“Did you consider filming in in Libya?” someone at the press event asked him.
Bay’s face dropped. “No,” he said. “It’s too dangerous. We’d be killed.”
The men who lived the story said the set evoked déjà vu. “They nailed it,” said Paranto. “I felt like I was back in Benghazi.”
The actors all expressed awe at the men they portrayed. John Krasinski, best known as Jim from the TV show The Office, played SEAL-turned-contractor Jack Silva (a pseudonym for the anonymous hero). “I was one of those people who thought I knew everything there was about it and felt pretty stupid when I read the book and realized that the truth was never told in the press,” Krasinski said. “The story is about true heroes. We should acknowledge that and say thank you in a way we should have done a long time ago.”
Contractors Are Not Mercenaries
After the press conference, Geist, Tiegen and Paranto gathered for personal interviews. Geist was wearing a jacket with the words “Shadow Warriors Project.” He explained that it was a nonprofit organization he and his wife began for men who serve our country as contractors but then have little support afterwards. According to him, during 2013, more contractors (who are usually ex-military men) were killed than military personnel.
“They aren’t mercenaries, either,” Tiegen added. “A mercenary is fighting for the money. Contractors are making sure people get home. I’m not going to risk my life for some hunting party in Zimbabwe.”
Role of God
All three men were raised in various Christian denominations and are using their platform to talk about how integral their faith is to the story. “We are lucky to have our faith,” Geist said. “God is my foundation, the strength that gets me through anything.”
“Several times throughout that night,” said Tiegen, “I thanked God that I was still alive.”
During a pause in the fighting, he looked around at all the bullet holes and asked himself: “How the hell are you still alive?”
“When I’m in situations like that, I know that God’s there … whatever happens,” Geist said. “I tell him, ‘God, use me as you see fit.’” He explained that during the 13 hours of fighting, there were mortars fired with a “kill radius” of 21 feet. “I was within 15 feet of three them,” Geist recalled. “I know God got me through.”
Tiegen said he was angry when he got home and heard what was being reported. “The media twists things the wrong way, and it’s destroying the country,” he said. “Going back to having faith, it’s faith that is going to get you to want to know the truth.”
In the movie, Paranto’s character says: “Whenever bullets start to fly, I always feel protected. As long as I’m doing the right thing, God will take care of me.”
He said that those are his exact thoughts. “I felt protected; nothing was going to touch me, and I could feel the source.” According to him, God and service such as his go hand and hand. “You are doing something honorable that is above yourself,” he said. “I’m a sinner and imperfect, but when I’m overseas, I’m the closest to being the person I think God wants me to be.”
In Benghazi, Paranto said he read the Bible daily, often meditating on passages to put him at peace with God, should he die that day. According to him, once a person is at peace with the possibility of death, he stops worrying about it and is better able to focus on the task at hand.
“I tell people that, whatever they have to do, to have faith that God will get you to overcome any obstacle. You may not come out alive, but then, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi opens Jan. 15. It is rated R for combat violence and strong language.
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