by NICOLE TRUGILLO/Editor-in-Chief
Imagining being on the battlefield is one thing. But to actually experience the sounds of guns going off, dust in every direction, and having the possibility that someone’s life can end is another.
On April 8 at City Bank Auditorium in Lubbock, Southcrest Christian School hosted an event that would open the eyes to many wanting to know what really happened during the Battle of Benghazi.
Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto, Mark ‘Oz’ Geist and John ‘Tig’ Tiegen came to Lubbock for an evening of sharing their story on what happened on Sept. 11, 2012.
These three soldiers, along with others who died during the war, went above and beyond to defend the attacks on the U.S consulate and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, which was named the Battle of Benghazi.
As a result, the battle resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, along with Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty.
Matt Bumstead, the moderator for the night, introduced the men onto the stage. The first to speak was Paronto, who began by explaining what their job entailed.
“GRS stands for global response staff,” explains Paronto. “We’re the security element for the Central Intelligence Agency. More or less, we have Marine infantry backgrounds, and it’s a handpicked group. We have a team leader who a full-time employee of the agency. He actually reports to the chief-of-command, and he then reports to the chief-of-base.”
Bumstead clarifies to the audience that the soldiers were about ready to leave Benghazi. But they were all called to stay.
“That was God telling us that we need to stay,” says Paronto. “The team that we had, we get along well together.”
Geist explained that before the day of the attack, the GRS team was notified of the ambassador’s trip to Benghazi.
“We thought he is going to get attacked,” Geist says.
Tiegen says he heard the call over the radio, and the team leader put in a call for all GRS to return to the team room because the State Department staff had been overrun.
“I stepped out my front door and I could see tracers and RPGs going off,” explains Paronto. “You could tell the consulate was under attack.”
Paronto explains when they are suiting up and putting their gear on, there is no higher anarchy. He says everyone knows their job. No one is barking orders.
Paronto went on to explain that the consulate was huge. There were four buildings spread out on a nine-acre tract.
The DSA agents were separated into three different locations, because that is how they were trained, according to Geist.
“We were not part of their operations,” says Paronto. “We were not the first responders. I was told to wait. We had our stuff, and I walked up to my team leader and he told us we needed to wait.”
Paronto adds, “In their defense, I thought they knew something that we didn’t. I wasn’t as upset when I was told to wait 25 minutes later because I was thinking or hoping that there was another unit.”
After the team heard that one of the options was to allow Martyrs’ Brigade to handle the incident, the team decided to leave and help the consulate.
“Twenty minutes into the attack and I don’t think our government is that organized to tell us to stand down all the way from Washington, D.C., to little Benghazi with a phone call,” says Tiegen.
According to Paronto, when arriving at the consulate, the team split into two groups and occupied two nearby buildings to gain a vantage point.
A fire was set by the militia at the villa inside the consulate where Ambassador Stevens, Smith, and a DSA agent were locked inside a safe room.
“You’re moving down and you have to hold your breath,” explains Geist. “You couldn’t even see your weapon with a flashlight on because the smoke was so thick.”
The teams did an initial sweep and learned about the deaths of Smith and Stevens, who couldn’t be found. Later, after the attacks, it was determined they both died from diesel smoke inhalation.
According to Paronto, the team was ready to collect survivors and proceed toward the annex when they received a call that groups of people were gathering around the consulate.
“That’s when the explosion goes off at the back of the building,” recalls Paronto. “It became a block party at the consulate. Bullets are flying, and instead of Libyans going away, they come outside and see what’s going on.”
Paronto says in the media, they portray the military as bloodthirsty, and they want to shoot everything. But according to Paronto, that’s far from the truth.
“We hold, hold, and hold until we have no other choice but to shoot,” says Paronto. “That’s what we did. We waited until we saw the weapons, and then we waited until they initiate it.”
Paronto praises the movie “13 Hours.” He says that the movie did a great job of showing the fight. He says there were a lot of explosions because their rounds go off.
“Not a Michael Bay explosion,” Tiegen chimed in as the audience laughed. “He likes explosions.”
The standoff between the Americans and local militants lasted 13 hours. The team decided to return to the annex with survivors. The group’s vehicle was hit by an AK-47, before making it to its destination with two flat tires. The gates to the annex were closed behind them.
“You always want to make sure your last conversation with your loved ones is a good one,” Paronto explains. “That’s what makes this job stressful. You think, ‘Is this going to be the last time I talk to them?’I said I love you. That’s it. Get them out of your head. War is a beautiful thing. There is no such thing as fog of war. I can’t stand that. I can’t stand when Hilary Clinton says there is fog of war. There is no such thing as fog of war.”
The men had a chance to reflect on what they thought about the Benghazi attack because it has been brought up on Clinton’s campaign trail.
“I wasn’t surprised when I heard about the videos,” says Geist. “I mean, look who we work for. I speak mainly for myself, but what got me was they were talking about what the ambassador did or didn’t do. The families deserve the truth. We talked about that and honor them. They took a sacrifice for this country.”
Paronto says the first thing he thought about was the spin on the attacks because it dealt with the election years.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, here they go again saying stuff that they don’t even know what happened,’ says Paronto. “They didn’t bother asking who was there, or who was on the ground. It disgusts me a bit.”
The three men tell Americans that we should live free and do what we want to do. Make a difference in someone’s life, respect this country, and respect the American flag.
The event ended with the soldiers and the audience paying respect to the four fallen Americans with a moment of silence. Paronto says the real heroes were the four Americans who died.
“They are the ones who sacrificed everything,” says Paronto. “They are the ones who need to be remembered as heroes.”