In 2012, a group of terrorists attacked the U.S. State Department's Special Mission Compound and the Annex, a CIA station, in Benghazi. Six American security officers tried to protect the Americans stationed there and bring them to safety. Although a few lives were lost, the crew succeeded, even though the odds were stacked against them.
Journalist Mitchell Zuckoff recounts their story in his compelling book, 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi. Now, a film based on the book opens at area theaters on Friday. Last month, Paramount Pictures brought Mark "Oz" Geist, Kris "Tanto" Paronto and John "Tig" Tiegen, three of the security officers portrayed in the film, into town on a press tour.
Sitting in a suite at the Renaissance Hotel, the three clearly have the kind of camaraderie that comes only from surviving a particularly intense situation. Each of them now works as a motivational speaker, but they also admit that they didn't set out to become celebrities.
"It feels weird that people care about anything I did," says Geist when asked about what the experience of promoting the film has been like. "Just like over there: We were just doing a job. If you're going to do something, you might as well be the best at it."
Initially, Zuckoff contacted the guys one by one and interviewed them separately before assembling the book. The three all read drafts of the book and then suggested corrections. They first had to hire lawyers to get security clearances from the U.S. government.
"We knew it would be a hotbed because it would be the truth," says Paronto, "so we had to take the necessary steps to make sure we didn't endanger national security. That took about eight months. It was a good process and very therapeutic. A lot went on that night, and we got split up, so it was interesting to see what the other guys were going through."
When it came time to make the film, director Michael Bay (Transformers) asked them to be on set and meet with script writer Chuck Hogan.
"We read through the script and made changes and revisions if we needed to," says Paronto. At one point, Geist took Bay aside to tell him that he needed to make a set design change.
"We were in L.A. and they had pretty much already built the set," says Geist. "Tig told him that the walls were in the wrong places and a door needed to be moved. He said, 'Thanks. You just cost me another $100,000.' But they changed it."
The guys are well aware of the way the issue has become politicized. They say both the book and movie serve to correct that by presenting factual details that don't vindicate one political party over the other.
"The story has evolved into something it wasn't, by both the left and the right," Geist says. "It angered me because two of the guys who got killed were standing by me when I got injured. The media is just as complicit in spinning the story. To me, that's a dishonor to the four Americans who died that night. We came together as a team to get the story right. We wanted to rectify it. We were the ones on the ground, and we were the ones who lived it."