Interview: Kris Paronto, John Tiegen, and Mark Geist – 13 Hours


Benghazi has been tossed around on the news for the past four years. Many people have heard of he place, but few know the story. Michael Bay takes on the political action thriller, based on the book by Mitchell Zuckoff, in the new movie 13 Hours. I sat down with three men who lived through that night, Kris “Tanto” Paronto, John “Tig” Tiegen, and Mark “Oz” Geist to talk about their involvement with the film, watching military movies, and what they want people to takeaway from 13 Hours.

Let’s start with giving me your military background.

Kris  Paronto: My name is Kris Paronto, my call sign was “Tanto”. I was 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment at Ft. Lewis. I started contracting in 2003 and stopped in 3013.

John Tiegen: John Tiegen, my call sign is “Tig”. I was in the Marine Corps for four years. I got out in 1999 and in 2003 I started contracting. My last deployment was mid-2013.

Mark Geist: Mark Geist, my call sign is “Oz”. I joined the Marin Corp in 1984. I was in for 12 years, I was a cop after that. I did a few other things as a bounty hunter and bail bondsmen. I started contracting in 2004 until I was injured and blown up in Benghazi in 2012.

How do you go from living very interesting lives to being a part of this movie? Doe someone contact you? 

KP: We kept working. Myself and Tig kept deploying and so did Jack and Dave, two other guys in the book. Mark couldn’t because he was hospitalized. We did the movie because the story was being twisted and the media seized on it and were using it for their agendas, right and left. After about 8 months of seeing the story twisted and turned and the deaths being utilized as political ammunition, I thought we needed to tell the truth. Writing a book was never the intention. It got to a point where we needed to tell the truth for the people that died and for the people that lived and sacrificed themselves – to honor the guys who passed away and recognized my teammates who did amazing things that night. It kind of snowballed. We got involved with 3 Arts, the book was written and they have a movie production division. I think it was meant to be.

MG: We had a Seal involved so he knew exactly what to do [laughs]

Do you watch military movies and think they’re doing everything completely wrong?

KP: Most of the guys I’ve been around always watch military movies. We critique the hell out of it.

MG: It’s hard to watch it. The story will be great, but you’ll see a tactic or a guy that’s supposed to be in a certain unit but he’s not doing what that unit would actually do. It just ruins it.

Is there a movie that gets it right?

JT: There are several that get it right. Saving Private Ryan is really good.

KP: Blackhawk Down did a great job…

JT: Lone Survivor

KP: Lone Survivor is what Seals would do. They would sit there and argue on the objective about what they need to do. The tactics looked good. They all get them fairly right. What ruined Saving Private for me was the scene when they’re assaulting the bunker. You had a Ranger arguing with his superior officer about how to do it. That would never happen. Seals will argue with their superior officer [laughs].

When you were on set for 13 Hours, did you have a dual role of making sure your story is told and the tactics are right?

MG: Harry Humphries has been working with Michael Bay for years, all the way back to The Rock. He does a lot of their pre-filming training and handles security on the set. They had us there to fine tune what was specific to each one of us. Tactics are tactics, but each individual deploys that tactic or handles their weapon differently. The actors wanted us there and Michael Bay wanted us there to get it right. Max Martini, who plays me, is me and Pablo Schreiber is [Kris].

The actors were trying to get who you are as a person?

MG: They did a great job with that. They showed us respect and it made it so much more real.

JT: Bumblebee was the hardest one to train…

KP: That joke is killing me [laughs]. We’ve been hearing it for a month.

JT: What about Megatron when he’s….

Were there any surreal moments on the set?

MG: Walking on the Annex. It was pretty accurate.

KP: During set development, Michael Bay had us come to his office and we were sitting around a conference table that had all the blueprints laid out. Michael is standing back in the doorway and we’re going over it. Tig is quiet but he’s looking over it and says, “This ain’t right. That wall was this way and this one was that way. That’s not how they look.” Michael Bay’s listening and taking it all in and Tig keeps going. Michael says, “Tig, no one else was there. The people watching the movie weren’t there. They’re not going to know. You’re costing me $100,000 because I have to redesign this.” Tig continues, “…and this needs to be this way…” [laughs]. And they did it and got it right. That’s one of the things that showed us they wanted to get this as right as they could when you’re taking 13 hours and condensing it into a two hour movie.

Was there anything you wanted to make sure was in the movie?

KP: I’m in it. That’s all that matters.

MG: He was really upset when they didn’t cast him to play himself.

KP: I tried.

JT: The “stand down” order was one of the big things that needed to be in there.

KP: Because it happened. When you’re on the ground and it’s happening to you, it cost people their lives, and they’re trying to say it didn’t happen – that was tough. That was one of the straws that pushed us. What got us going initially was after the event. After going through 13 hours and doing what we needed to do to get out of there. Then showing up in Germany and seeing something about a video and a protest when we were out in the city all day. That didn’t happen. That is what did not take place. That’s why doing the book was so important and doing the movie was so important. That’s why getting it accurate and not getting into the politics was important to us.

Have you thought about how different your life is going to be once your story is out there?

KP: I’m a ham. I’ll be alright. Pablo is almost as good looking as I am. I just need to stay busy; I wasn’t ready to stop working.

Is there one thing you want people to walk away with after watching 13 Hours?

MG:  Understanding the sacrifices that happened that night and what we did. One a bigger scale, there are 300 diplomatic outposts around the world. There are diplomatic security officers, ambassadors, foreign service officers, case officers and contractors working at every one of them. Over the last 20 years, almost 5,000 contractors have been killed in 80 different countries. No one knows that number because nobody wants to see it or talk about it. That increases how many people have been killed. There are people out there serving their country everyday and sacrificing being away from their families. 13 Hours is a great representation of the sacrifices people are willing to make for this country.

JT: To honor the four guys who gave their lives. The politicians weren’t giving them the respect they deserve.

KP: I speak on this a lot when I do public speaking: The night is not negative. The media and the politicians turned it into a negative. A lot of great things happened that night – the American spirit, the human spirit and the willingness to sacrifice yourself to save another life. I want people walk out of there and feel they can get through anything in their life. We aren’t any different than anybody else. When something bad happens in their life can say, “It’s ok. I can get through it.” And eventually you come out on the other end of it and you’re better for it. There were remarkable feats of courage that took place that night and the sacrifices weren’t in vain.

13 Hours opens January 15th.