In July, Americans celebrate the birth of our great nation, the greatest nation in the world. We as Americans are both privileged and blessed to live here. Our national anthem proudly depicts the fight men and women have endured, as well as the sacrifices made with a nation in the making.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key has powerful verses of what he was witnessing as the British attacked Fort McHenry so many years ago.
Sadly, many Americans do not know there are many more verses to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I wish to share the last stanza with you, my fellow Americans:
Americans have had a long history of standing their ground in the firm belief in righteous causes for the love of God, country, family, and for the freedoms of their fellow man.
So strong in all of the above attributes, noble Americans pushed to violence become the fiercest warriors on God’s planet in internecine conflicts.
ONE SUCH STORY of magnificent bravery and absolute heroism was conducted on the night of September 11, 2012. On this day, a group of terrorists attacked the U.S. State Department Special Mission compound and a nearby CIA station called the Annex in Benghazi, Libya.
Unless one has lived in a cave for the past couple of years, the majority of Americans are fully aware of this story, as depicted in the best-selling book and popular movie by the same name, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
From the book: “Against overwhelming odds, Mark ‘Oz’ Geist, Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto, John ‘Tig’ Tiegen, Jack Silva, Dave ‘Boon’ Benton, and Tyrone ‘Rone’ Wood went beyond the call of duty, performing extraordinary acts of courage and heroism, to avert tragedy on a much larger scale.”
I have personally had the honor of meeting with Oz, Tig, Tanto and Boon at several different functions. And when I was given the personal opportunity to train with both Tanto and Boon through their newly formed training company, Battleline Tactical, well, that was a no-brainer.
Some may ask, other than the fame and notoriety of the Benghazi heroes, what reason would the average American citizen pay hard-earned money to learn from these experienced gun fighters?
My answer to that is plenty! These men were and still are highly trained personal protection specialists, aka bodyguards, who protect high valued government diplomats.
Bodyguarding means protecting.
Protecting means defending.
Defending means it could lead to fighting. Fighting is a prime requisite for toughness.
Fighting is a sanguinary affair of the highest order; naturally this proclivity will be associated with a lifelong understudy of the most advanced weaponry on the market, and in the business of self-preservation, adds to aid in the longevity of protection and survival.
So, my question to the average American citizen is, do you not have the same duties and responsibilities protecting your own loved ones? Of course, the answer is a resounding yes. So wouldn’t any training session from some of the best and most elite bodyguards in the world and the lessons they learned in their hardfought
exploits be of value to your family?
Can you even put a price tag on such good training? And aren’t you and your family worth every penny? Of course, the answer is damn right!
WITH AN INVITATION from Bill Orndorf, Bruce Corey and Israel Matos of Defense Marketing Instructors, LLC (more on them later, as these men deserve their own article), I along with around 23 other seasoned responsible gun owners received some very intense handgun and rifle training from Battleline Tactical at the Nail Ranch in Palm Bay, Florida.
As one would assume of any professional trainer, Battleline Tactical’s dynamic duo of Paronto and Benton emphasized safety.
-Topics of the pistol course for day one included different carry positions in holsters and advantages of each, drawing the weapon from said holster positions from concealment, repeating the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship, target acquisition, how to engage threats from 3 to 25 meters (once again from concealment), close-range shooting from concealment, shooting from simple cover, strong side and support side shooting on the move, multiple target acquisition, low-light shooting, as well as a discussion on pistol ballistics.
-Day two focused on the rifle with pretty much the same kind of topics covered with more detail in loading and unloading the rifle under stress, sight alignment, sight picture, discussion of various optics, breath and trigger control stance, grip and
points of contact, and follow-through.
What impressed me was Benton’s classroom and range presentations.
He demonstrated great patience with all of the students, as there was a range of skill levels. Benton worked assiduously to the late hours of the closing day, ensuring everyone met the qualifications to the instructor’s standards.
If Benton is the yin of the Battleline Tactical training group, then Paronto is the yang. After I had trained with these men for two solid days, many associates asked me to describe Paronto. I had remembered reading a book on Wild Bill Hickok by Richard O’Connor and his description of the shootist was thusly: “Wild Bill was one of the best revolver shots ever produced in the west. He certainly was the best shot in the fight. It is one thing to shoot accurately at a target and another thing to be able to shoot accurately at a man who is shooting at you …
He was devoid of nerves; his mind was clear, his hand steady and his marksmanship certain in the most desperate situation. He never became excited. A cool man is often a phlegmatic man, but Wild Bill was the reverse. He was not only perfectly cool, but he was always alert and nimble of wit, and in action as quick as lightning.”
One could easily substitute the name Kris Paronto for Wild Bill, and substitute semiautomatic pistols for revolvers, and that would be an accurate description.
WHILE ALL THE shooting was intense, the drills set by the hardened Battleline instructors all came from firsthand personal accounts of real-world
experience and not on theory or conjuncture. Benton and Paronto’s military
backgrounds are thoroughly discussed in the New York Times bestselling book 13 Hours, and if the reader thinks this is a shameless plug to buy said book, that would be correct.
Having been in this business for over 35 years myself, I was driven to get into the heads of these two modern Spartans and to understand what motivates them.
After rereading the book, the reasons why made perfect sense.
In the class, one drill was a stress-induced one, which required us participants to run a pretty good distance and then find our personal gun that we had previously placed on a table.
Only that was wrong, because of course the instructors mixed everyone’s guns up. So, you’re scrambling under time to get your gun, sprint back to the range, and
before you could shoot targets you had to put a tourniquet on yourself with one hand as if you were wounded, and get back in the fight.
Tyrone Woods was the Senior GRS Leader for Benton and Paronto’s Protection team in Benghazi. Not only was Woods a Navy SEAL, but he was both a paramedic and nurse.
He drilled this into his team’s heads and it paid off in huge dividends when fellow GRS teammate Mark Geist was badly injured by a mortar round, and that is exactly what he had to do for himself!
If you’re around guns, it makes sense to have as much medical training as you can get, which led to another discussion of carrying personal medical kits, with clotting agents, sterile Kerlix dressing and tourniquets. Of course, for the same
While shooting platforms at the range are different from real-life situations, it was drilled into the class that one can never practice too much in a variety of positions, as the flow of the engagement will dictate how and what shooting
position is used.
Students showed up with a wide variety of rifles, and I was happy to get a chance to shoot three different types of rifles that I have had my sights set on for some
time now: Knight’s Armament, Daniel Defense and Bravo Rifles.
I did marvel at Paronto’s Maxim Defense AR-Pistol Platform and Benton’s personal AR-Pistol platform from Veritas Tactical.
An entire book could be written about how great the training was from Benton and Paronto. All I can say is that in all my years in the field, it was one of the best training experiences I have ever had and would fully recommend Battleline Training to everyone.
Moreover I am proud of these fine men; they are true American heroes.
These gentlemen stand for everything America represents, honoring God, honoring their country, honoring their family and honoring their Battle Buddies with their mantra: “No one gets left behind, even if it costs them their lives.” Ladies and gentlemen, this is what type of men Francis Scott Key was talking about in his national anthem, and these men are why our country truly is the land of the free
and the home of the brave.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY PAUL PAWELA
Editor’s note: For more information on Battleline Tactical, go to kristantoparonto.com.
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]here’s good reason to see the Paramount blockbuster film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. It’s the true story of a group of six former US military private security contractors who fight with awe inspiring bravery and professionalism to save the lives of their fellow Americans during the September 11-12, 2012 terrorist attacks on the American diplomatic compound and a CIA base (known as the Annex) in Benghazi, Libya. In a battle that eventually took on the feel of a small scale Alamo — odds
They opened a can of all-American whoop-ass on the terrorists
against them may have been higher than 10 to 1 — they steadfastly stuck to their guns, their duty as they saw it, and most importantly, they stuck together as team. They opened a can of all-American whoop-ass on the terrorists, won the firefights and made it possible to evacuate everyone to safety the next morning. A well trained, highly disciplined and motivated American warrior is a force to be reckoned with, and this comes out in the film’s heart pumping battle sequences.
Another good reason to see 13 Hours is that you probably don’t know what you think you know about how America really protects her interests abroad. The State Department and CIA have their own private security organizations to identify, hire and manage security contactors. Tens of thousands of former American military and law-enforcement personnel work for them in some very dangerous places, even our own American Shooting Journal executive editor is one of them. You hear very little about these contractors because their work in the diplomatic and intelligence communities requires them to keep their mouths shut. That’s how you keep a secret after all.
It might come as a surprise, but the typical CIA agent isn’t very much like James Bond at all. The guys the CIA hires to protect their agents and staff abroad are the heroes of this story. Those private security contractors are called Global Response Staff (GRS) and they make around $150,000 a year. That may, or may not, be good money depending on your feelings about being killed on the job. Dying is a very real possibility in this line of work. During the battle 13 Hours depicts, two GRS men were killed and another gravely wounded along with a State Department private security contractor (DS).
The man [CIA] in charge of the six GRS operatives, actually held them back for nearly 20 minutes
One thought provoking and disturbing aspect of the story is that the Benghazi attacks could likely have been prevented if the State Department had heeded warnings and beefed up security at the diplomatic compound. It was amazing to me to learn that the security at the front gate and emergency alert responsibility was left in the hands of a few disgruntled Libyan militiamen and three unarmed locally hired Libyan guards. It’s more amazing that nobody there thought that was a problem. The attacking terrorists ran into the compound through the unlocked front gate, and caught the relaxing DS operators completely by surprise. Bear in mind, the attack happened on the anniversary of the most successful terrorist attack on US soil, and nobody bothered to check the gate before turning in for the evening. As a whole, the US State Department comes away from this affair looking complacent and negligently indifferent at its higher levels.
As bad a day as it was for the State Department, the lack of a response from the CIA’s leading agent in Benghazi is comparably appalling. The man who was in charge of the six GRS operatives who tell their story in the film, actually held them back for nearly 20 minutes while terrorists swarmed and burned the diplomatic compound less than two miles away. While the CIA’s Benghazi chief tried by phone to get members of the local Libyan militia to rescue the Americans trapped at the diplomatic compound, two of them died. It should interest the reader to know that the militia he was calling for help was the same militia that had the responsibility of guarding the compound. The implication is that the CIA chief was deluded and/or misinformed and therefore incompetent.
Ultimately, rather than stand idly by while their fellow Americans were in danger, five GRS operatives at the Annex simply left on their own initiative, without orders or approval, and improvised a rescue at the diplomatic compound as best they could. Had they not done so, it is reasonable to assume American casualties would have been higher.
The GRS rescue mission to the diplomatic compound was only the beginning of a long night. They drove out the terrorists and fought off a counter attack while searching for the missing ambassador in the burning ruin of his residence. Unfortunately, the ambassador could not be found. Having killed and wounded an unknown number of attackers, they withdrew to the Annex, which the sixth GRS operative had already organized as a defensive base.
They repulsed two terrorist ground attacks
Prudently, the GRS operators had long worked out plans for defending the Annex against siege. Though surrounded by a curtain wall and fortress-like in appearance, they deemed it inadequate for a defense against anything more than AK-47s and a few RPGs. The six GRS operatives, joined by three of the rescued DS security men, took positions on the roof tops of the Annex’s four buildings and on guard towers they’d built against the curtain wall. Everyone else sheltered inside the command post.
They repulsed two terrorist ground attacks on the Annex and inflicted heavy casualties, but not without cost. At the start of the final attack at dawn, the terrorists used a mortar to target the roof of the command post building where two GRS operatives and a DS man were laying down a ferocious fire. The enemy attack was broken, but the mortar barrage left the four men on the rooftop dead or wounded.
I had the honor of interviewing two of the five surviving Benghazi GRS operatives about the film and the battle. Mark “Oz” Geist organized the Annex for defense while his teammate Kris “Tanto” Paronto was part of the five-man group that retook the diplomatic compound. Both men fought off the attacks on the Annex that followed, and Oz was gravely wounded in the final mortar attack.
American Shooting Journal Was there anything that the film 13 Hours left out that you think should have been included in the story?
Mark “Oz” Geist We sat down and discussed what should have been in and what shouldn’t, as a group and individuals. I’ve thought about it a lot and there’s not a lot that they could have put in that would make it any better. I really can’t put my finger on any one thing. Of course it would have been great to see more of Max Martini in some of the set up scenes, but that’s more of just a personal thing. He’s playing me, and getting him more screen time would tell more of the lead up to the story. For example, what I was doing out that night [that kept me from participating in the rescue mission to the ambassador’s compound], but that would have slowed down the movie, and I don’t think it would work from a theatrical standpoint. As it is, I don’t think you could have gotten better than what it was.
ASJ Do you think the film captured the feel of that night?
Kris “Tanto” Paronto Wow. As far as getting emotions down, to me, it did get the emotional effect that we were looking for. Speaking for myself, I was re-living a lot of those emotions that I had that night and in other crisis situations or operations I’ve conducted throughout the years. So that was important. It was basically a 13-hour event that the movie condenses into two. There is some melding of characters, and they had to skip some things, but the important [thing] that I was worried about was that it captured the feelings we had that night. The humor that goes into it — you see a bit of that, and when you read the book. It’s fun. There’s a lot of humor that comes into combat situations. That’s a coping mechanism. You get the great edge, you also get the horror of people dying and body parts hanging off and you also, you know, you get the satisfaction of working with the guys you love working with. All that came through. At least I thought it did. Last night was the first time I sat through the movie with an audience, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t look at their reactions. That wasn’t what I was there for. I don’t know how they reacted to it, but I do know that I react very strongly and emotionally when I see it. If it wasn’t done right, then I would not feel like that. It hurts, but it’s necessary, and I’m glad I feel it. [In] the movie script, they got it right. They got the emotion down.
There’s a lot of humor that comes into combat situations.
ASJ At the start of the attack on the compound, five of you were waiting in the car at the Annex for the CIA base chief to give the order to go. When you finally just left without orders, I thought to myself, “these guys are fired, they’ll never work again.” When you made the decision to go, did you realize it would end your careers as GRS contractors?
Tanto We really didn’t worry. Put it this way, it’s on your mind a little bit, but saving other people, saving human life, is way too important. Just doing the right thing — and that was the right thing — is more important than a paycheck. When you see the movie, John Krasinski [portraying the GRS operative pseudonymously named Jack Silva] says, “You can’t put a price on human life, you can’t put a price on how you’re gonna live the rest of your life when you could have had the chance to save somebody, and you didn’t because you were worried about your job.” There wasn’t anything that could have kept us from going.
For me, honestly, it was kind of a joke. I thought “Oh well, guess I’m gonna loose my job.” It wasn’t “Ahh shit,” it was more a ‘ha-ha’ trying to be funny sort of thing. And we did loose our jobs, but we still did the right thing. Money comes and goes. Your friends, man when they need you, you gotta go. When they need you in those situations where they are dying, money is nothing. I’ll get another job.
ASJ You’ve been pretty critical of your CIA team leader and Annex chief for lack of leadership. What was the crux of the problem?
Oz Our [CIA] team leader didn’t have a military background. He was a full time employee. He was not a contractor. That’s why he didn’t have the same military background that we do. He was the buffer between the knuckle-draggers and the intellects.
ASJ You being the knuckle-draggers, right?
Oz Yeah. (Laughs) Us being the knuckle-draggers.
Tanto (Laughs) Good looking knuckle-draggers though [grin].
Oz He just didn’t have the fortitude to step up and do what we thought was right at that time, and make that hard decision. Because being a full-time employee — I’m not making excuses — but a lot of times they just look at things different than we do. We do what we do because we’re out there wanting to make a difference in the world, and I can’t speak to why he does what he does. If we were career-oriented people, we would probably be in a different profession.
Tanto I had issues with the TL [CIA team leader] because I knew him when he first started as team leader, and he was not highly regarded by the operatives because he didn’t have military experience, let alone special operations experience. He came off like a new second lieutenant coming in who was trying to run the enlisted guys who have already been doing it (the job) forever. The reason I got upset with him was because he was going to get beat down in a lot of the places where we were, and I stuck up for him. It kinda felt like a slap in the face, like hey brother, I went to bat for you, stuck out my neck for you, I’ve known you, I helped mentor you, I’ve worked at some sites before Benghazi and now you aren’t listening to me. I took it a little personally because we had history before Benghazi.
ASJ At least he got in the car.
Tanto That’s it. He, yeah, at least he had the guts to get in the car.
Oz The thing is, it would have made him look even worse if he had not and we ended up leaving without him. He would have looked a whole lot worse being stuck there with one thumb in his mouth and the another thumb somewhere else.
ASJ Among your group of GRS operatives that night, was there a squad leader in the field? It seemed like the other team members entered the compound gate on Tanto’s word that he thought it was clear.
Tanto In that part I said, ‘Hey, just shoot, move and communicate and you’ll be fine.’ Which is lingo for ‘Hey, use your tactics, and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle.’
ASJ So, basically you did this old school.
Tanto Yeah. (Laughs) We’re old. We’re all old.
Oz Hey, I’m only 50. That doesn’t count. I’m not old, I’m 50 young.
Tanto That’s a tribute to the teams’ maturity level. Tig [John Tiegen] was the youngest. He was 39. The rest of us were in our forties, and had been serving for a while. Yeah, were able to do it up close and on the take without a lot of talk on the radio. Just do your tactics. So, as far as there being a team leader, Rone [Tyrone Woods] was the assistant team leader to our TL for a title. But honestly, we all were either NCOs or officers. Myself, I was both. I was a mustang, enlisted and an officer. We didn’t have one leader per se, we all were leaders. So it wasn’t, ‘Hey this guy [go] do this and this.’ It was if somebody needed to say something, they’d do it, and people would listen.
ASJ And you didn’t know what you were going to find. You didn’t have a plan other than to go in there and find out what was happening, and see what you could do to save those Americans?
Oz You know, that’s what he talking about when he says, ‘shoot, move and communicate.’ You’re always looking for work when you’re doing that. You’re moving down there [but] you’re not just rushing in blind. You’re just moving as quickly and as tactically as you can, and each person is looking for the dead spot where somebody might be hiding and covering that area. As you go in, second by second you’re just analyzing everything that’s going on before your eyes. If there’s something you see that needs attention you just take care of it, and then everyone else on the team will react from your actions. This is how we work together. It’s just kind of a free-float teamwork concept.
Tanto We had a term for that in the military. It was called moving and working expeditiously. I had that ingrained in me since basic training. It means you’re moving as fast as the situation allows you to, and still maintain control. That’s what we were doing.
Oz It goes back to the training we have all had from SEALS, Marines, Rangers, etc. It all goes back to that.
ASJ Thank you gentlemen, or should I say knuckle draggers?
Tanto (Laughs) ASJ
Posted in Hollywood and Pop Culture Tagged with: 13 Hours, Benghazi, CIA, GRS, John Tiegen, Kris Paronto, Libya, Mark Geist, movie, Oz, Paramount pictures, Security Contractors, State Department, Tanto, Tig