The Faithful Soldiers of Benghazi

Even in dire circumstances, these heroes found strength in God

by Elisa Cipollone | Updated 08 Jan 2016 at 6:01 PM

The newest Michael Bay action thriller is making headlines for more than just the director’s signature explosions.

Bay’s new film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” will be released Jan. 15 in theaters across America. The movie, based on the book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi” co-authored by Mitchell Zuckoff, tells the story of the six brave men who fought to defend the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, from terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2012. Four Americans died in those attacks, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Those six valiant soldiers, rather than the political controversy surrounding the Benghazi attacks, are at the heart of the film’s action. With the movie’s release date coinciding with the critical run-up to the 2016 presidential election, the inclination to interpret the film in a political light is tempting to many people.

That temptation should be avoided. Those who see “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” will be reminded less of the politics of what happened and more about the strength of the American spirit and the faith of our soldiers. The film shows the valor and courage of the men who did what was right and courageous in an unimaginable situation.

Three of these men have been speaking out about their challenges in Benghazi. One, Mark “Oz” Geist, explains that the three “were in the fight when the attack happened that night.”

For these heroes, it was fight or flight, and the film illustrates the incredible fortitude involved in staying to defend that compound and save lives. The terrorists had set the compound ablaze and invaded the ambassador’s villa by blowing open the wooden front doors. The terrorists then doused the interior with diesel fuel and set it afire, trapping three men — Stevens, agent in charge Scott Wickland, and communications expert Sean Smith of the State Department.

The security contractors said they were told by the CIA to “wait,” “stand down” and “hold up.” With the compound under attack, no coordinated effort to help or save the Americans seemed underway, so the men felt their “only option was to act” in order to save lives, as they recounted in their book.

At the burning residence, the men found Smith’s body — and took heavy fire without locating Stevens. They continued to battle the terrorists until the attackers finally fled.

In interviews leading up to the release of the movie, three of the heroic survivors have made clear there was a bigger influence in their valor: faith. One of the soldiers, Kris “Tanto” Paronto, said, “Faith teaches you how to live with courage, how to live with honor … (It) gives you something to strive for. To me that’s the American spirit.”

John “Tig” Tiegen, who was also on the scene, said, “Faith means quite a bit to me — it’s just something that kind of guides you.”

“God and the service kind of go hand-in-hand. You are doing something honorable that’s above yourself,” said Paronto. “(God) was taking care of us, he was watching out for us, and he got us out of some situations.”

The soldiers’ trust in God could not be ignored or glossed over by the filmmakers. Pablo Schreiber, who played Paronto in the movie, honored the faith of the real hero. In the movie, Schreiber says, “Whenever bullets start to fly, I always feel protected. As long as I’m doing the right thing, God’ll take care of me.”

“I’ve always had that strong relationship with God, and that’s what’s always gotten me through life,” Geist said. “It’s not about dying, it’s about how you live your life. … My life’s always been about serving others, and putting me and what’s important to me second.”

The politics of the United States’ response to the horror in Benghazi is an important issue in the 2016 election, and the film will reignite discussion of what was done, or not done, to save Americans from enemy attack. Yet “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” honors the faithful and brave soldiers who did what was necessary that day.

Their faith and fortitude should be remembered above all, and the film should be used to commemorate them and their heroic actions in the face of chaos, confusion and terror.

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