Their bravery has no bounds — in real life and on screen.
Ex-Marines Mark “Oz” Geist and John “Tig” Tiegen, members of an elite security team contracted by the CIA, lived to tell their story of what really happened in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 12, 2012.
Their extraordinary heroism that night — when Islamic militants attacked a U.S. State Department special mission compound and nearby CIA station — is immortalized in the film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” which opens Friday.
Author Mitchell Zuckoff first told their personal experiences in his 2014 bestseller “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi.” He interviewed five of the six surviving Global Response Services teammates who repelled the attackers and protected the Americans stationed there, against overwhelming odds, and averted tragedy on a much larger scale.
The pair of military operatives wanted to be involved in the movie adaptation, not just to set the record straight, but to also honor their fallen comrades.
Four men died that night — American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service information officer Sean Smith, GRS team leader Tyrone “Rone” Woods and Glen “Bub” Doherty, who was part of a Quick Reaction Force that came to help from Tripoli.
Director Michael Bay got it right, they said during a stop in St. Louis.
The movie’s release date coincides with when two other successful movies based on true accounts of the war on terror, “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor,” premiered. Jan. 15 also happens to be Rone’s birthday.
Geist and Tiegen’s courage, integrity and patriotism shone through as they discussed their input on the movie set and their ingrained response to the call of duty. The pair sat down for an interview at a downtown St. Louis hotel restaurant before they flew home to their families in Colorado for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Being able to work on the book was therapeutic, Geist said.
“Getting out and being able to talk about it was good,” Tiegen said.
So when the film was in the works, they knew they had to get involved. “The truth had to be told. We lived it,” Geist added.
“There are movie companies who wanted to do it strictly for the dollar. But these guys chose to reach out to us, the guys that were there, and wanted to tell our story,” he said.
“We’re not public people,” said Tiegen, who was in the midst of his third trip to Benghazi when the attacks occurred. “We were compelled to get across our story of what happened. We were working, doing what we were doing, when we answered the call.”
That frantic call was a plea for help from the diplomatic compound, where lives were in serious jeopardy as terrorists stormed the secret location. Although that area wasn’t part of their job, they didn’t think like that. When Americans are in trouble, they respond.
“We looked at each other and said we had to go now,” Tiegen said.
“We had to go, no matter what. And damn the consequences,” Geist said.
There was no military support to back them up.
Their tale of sacrifice and bravery was obscured by the ensuing controversy about how those in charge handled the incident, and it became a political football.
“It’s not about politics,” Geist said. “The politics of this has taken the subject matter and split it apart to the far right, to the far left. The fact that four Americans lost their lives, and they didn’t get the honor and respect they should have, was because of the politics.”
“The movie is a minute-by-minute account of what we as a team went through, the sacrifices we made and what action happened on the ground that night,” Tiegen said.
“People have pre-conceived ideas. There’s a large segment of the population that doesn’t know our story,” Geist said.
Tiegen, 39, is a former Marine sergeant who spent several years as a security contractor for Blackwater, serving on missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq before joining the CIA’s GRS.
Tiegen, quiet and precise, was the most experienced in the city and assisted in saving the lives of many. He directly saved three team members, including Geist, and received an award for heroism and valor.
His infant twins were born two months’ premature while he was overseas. His wife coped with the intense danger of his situation by not watching the news.
Geist joined the Marine Corps in 1984. Chosen to serve as an Anti-/Counter-Terrorism instructor in a newly formed program, he changed his occupational specialty to the intelligence field, specializing in interrogation translation. He studied Persian Farsi.
After 12 years in the Marines, he became a deputy sheriff in Teller County, Col., and became an investigator for crimes against children, certified as a forensic interviewer. He served as chief of police in Fowler, Col., and later went into the private investigations business and was a bounty hunter, too.
In 2004, he started contract security work in Iraq. He served as a mentor/adviser to the personal security detail of Dr. Ayad Allawi, the former Prime Minister of Iraq.
He is credited with helping to save the lives of more than 25 Americans during the Benghazi attack. He is still recovering from the injuries he suffered in the battle, and has had numerous surgeries.
The pair spent 10 days on Malta during the moviemaking process.
“We took our point of view to the set,” Tiegen said.
Geist said the movie is as accurate as possible. Bay, who has made the “Transformers” series as well as “The Rock,” “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor,” is known for his action-packed, explosion-heavy films.
“We respected Bay’s vision and he respected us. We did not want to lose the story in the making of the movie. He wanted our perspective,” he said.
They both had flashbacks to that time when they saw the realistic set of the Annex, where they were stationed.
The emotional side of their story — depicting their lives as married guys back home — as well as the camaraderie of their “band of brothers” was aptly portrayed, they said.
Team members also included Jack Silva, Dave “Boon” Benton, aka “D.B.,” and Kristian “Tanto” Paronto.
“They got the human element right. That was a huge part of it,” Tiegen said.
They enjoyed meeting the actors who portrayed them — Max Martini (Oz) and Dominic Fumusa (Tig).
“Their dedication and attention to detail was great,” Tiegen said. “It was fun, enjoyed how they got our mannerisms down.”
At the time of the interview, they had seen only a partial cut of the movie. But it brought up many emotions they think an audience will feel, too.
“It will bring up every emotion you have,” Geist said. “Fear about what these guys had to go through, their integrity and concern for each other, the stress of the situation, and anger. Plus sadness and compassion for the families who were back home.”
They became leaders early in life, learning lessons about adversity. But their innate sense of honor, driven to do what is right, can’t be taught.
“There’s a reason why we go where we go,” Tiegen said.
“When there’s a commotion, we turn and go into it when others run away from it, like first responders, police and firefighters. For us, it’s a basic instinct,” Geist said.
They said they were driven to serve their country because they want their children to live in a better world, and their love for America, preserving our quality of life.
“It’s another reason to give back. We feel compelled to do so,” Tiegen said.
‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’
- Cast: James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Pablo Schreiber, Toby Stephens
- Director: Michael Bay.
- Rated R
- 144 minutes