Interview: The Real-Heroes Of ’13 Hours’!

13-hours-the-secret-soldiers-of-benghazi-review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is in theaters now.  We had the opportunity to speak recently with the real-heroes who were in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012.  Three of the six-man team of CIA security contractors, Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto, Mark ‘Oz’ Geist, and John ‘Tig’ Tiegen, took some time to talk to us about the events portrayed in the film, what actually happened in Benghazi, their experience working on the book and film, and what they really people to know about what happened that night.

real-heroes-of-13-hours Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto, John ‘Tig’ Tiegen, and Mark ‘Oz’ Geist

“First, thank you for taking the time to speak with Heroic Hollywood today, and thank you for all that you do.  Also, I would like to say sorry for what you went through, and that help never came.”

Tanto:

“That’s not on you, thank you brother. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.”

“Well, we are honored to be able to talk to you guys a bit about your experience.  How did the book, then the movie come about?”

Tanto:

“When we decided to tell our story we came together, collectively, and made the decision as a team. Before that though we kept working, as contractors. Myself and Tig kept deploying and so did Jack and Dave, two other guys in the book [and film]. Mark [‘Oz’] couldn’t because he was hospitalized. We decided to tell our side because the story was being twisted and the media seized on it and were using it for their agendas, right and left.

It was after about 8 months or so seeing the story twisted, I felt we needed to tell the truth. we never set out to write a book. It got to a point where we needed to tell the truth for the people that died – to honor those guys and recognized my teammates who did amazing things that night. We got linked up with 3 Arts, the book was written and they have a movie production division. So it was really a one stop shop from there for the book and the movie.”

“Did you guys receive any resistance, or push back, while trying to get your story out?”

Tanto:

“After speaking with the company [CIA, within the Intelligence Community, the CIA is referred to as ’the company’] and the agency [3 Arts], we hired lawyers because we needed to and not much really, I mean there were sensitivities involved and we weren’t going to be able to continue contracting, and that was tough. It’s amazing being with your brothers and fighting with them. Being there and being with them and believing that you’re going to defeat all the obstacles.”

“What was it like working on the book, and more specifically the movie?  What was that experience like?

Oz:

“It was great, they wanted to get our story and get it right. They had us there to fine tune some of the specifics. Tactics are tactics, but each individual deploys that tactic or handles their weapon differently. The actors wanted us there and Michael Bay [the director] wanted us there to get it right. Max Martini, who plays me, really wanted it to be me, and Pablo Schreiber is [Kris]. He [Kris/Tanto] was upset he wasn’t cast to play himself. [Laughing]”

Tig:

“Well Tanto and Pablo are dating now, so… [Laughing]”

Oz:

“Actually, Pablo has a restraining order on him now I believe. [Laughing]”

Tanto:

“[Laughing] Yea about that . . . no the actors were great. they wanted to get to know us as people not just what happened that night before filming, and we grew great friendships out of it.”

Tig:

“They took great care in making sure they weren’t altering what we were telling them happened that night.”

Tanto:

“Very early on they made it clear to us that they wanted to tell the truth, and I have great respect for them [everyone involved in the film].”

“Did working on set take you back to that night, was it difficult?”

Oz:

“Walking on to the Annex set, yes. It was pretty accurate. But we were focused on getting it right, and getting the story out there.”

“Was there anything you wanted to make sure didn’t get left out about your story, and make sure it made it into the movie?  I’m guessing one of them was the order to ‘stand down’?”

Tig:

“Yes, the ‘stand down’ order was one of the big things that needed to be in there. The CIA chief of the base, ‘Bob’ in the film was, I think, very risk averse. He told me to stand down.”

Tanto:

“I was told to wait twice, then Tig was told to stand down, we still don’t know why, no one does.”

“You were losing the initiative?”

Tig:

“Thats right, we knew the longer we waited the worse it was going to be.”

“And you guys collectively made the decision to go?”

Tanto:

“Thats right, we heard over the radio ‘if you guys don’t get here, we’re all going to ‘bleeping’ die.’ That’s word for word, that’s what actually spurned us to go. So against orders to wait we went, that was 25 minutes after the initial assault, it took us another 25 minutes to fight our way into the compound from 400 yards out.”

“If you guys had been there immediately, would things have been different?”

Tanto, Oz and Tig, collectively:

“Yes, absolutely!”

Tanto:

“No doubt in my mind the ambassador would still be alive.”

“Have you guys had to testify?”

Tanto:

“I have been interviewed by the Senate Benghazi Committee but I have not testified before the senate. I have spoken to the politicians about what happened, however a lot of what I said didn’t make it into the report, which fueled us to get this story out there. Tig and Oz testified.”

Oz:

“Yes i did. I was amazed that you don’t always speak to the congressmen or senators there. They don’t even have to show up for a hearing, a lot of people don’t know this but sometimes it is just their people or staffers and you don’t know, if they didn’t like what you said, or the way you said it, if it was going to actually get back to them.”

“Oz, you were out with a case officer on a meet when the assault started?”

Oz:

“Yes, we called it ‘out to dinner’, but yes.”

“When you learned what was happening, how quickly did you move and how did you feel about being away from your team?”

Oz:

“I obviously wanted to be with them . . .”

Tanto:

“Oh come on you were scared . . . [Laughing]”

Oz:

“[Laughing] I needed to get back to them because, that’s my team, and we had a job to do.”

“An ambassador is the equivalent to a 4-Star General, you guys no this, and they don’t travel anywhere without an ‘in extremis’ response team near by, why didn’t the ambassador have one?”

Tanto:

“We still don’t know.”

Oz:

“We never got an answer on that either.”

“At any point were you guys asked to be the QRF (quick reaction force)?”

Oz:

“No, but we offered.”

Tig:

“Yea we told them if they needed us we would be there.”

Tanto:

“We knew that if they were to receive any serious contact, that they would be in real trouble, so we volunteered. give us a call, we are a mile away.”

“What do you want the audience and the public to take away from your experience, the book, and the film?”

Tanto:

“We just want to get the truth out there, our story. Because it happened. When you’re on the ground and it’s happening to you, it cost people their lives, and they’re trying to say it didn’t happen – that was tough. That was what really pushed us to get our story out there.”

Tig:

“Honor the four that gave their lives that night – and to get the truth out – because they weren’t getting the respect they deserve.”

Oz:

“We wanted to tell our story, and honor the four that lost their lives that day.”

See their story – 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is now in theaters!

Heroic Staff

Heroic Staff

Heroic Special Activities Division Agent Trainee Program