Interview with Mark Geist and John Tiegen of “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi”
Former Marines, Mark “Oz” Geist and John “Tig” Tiegen, were unable to quiet their minds and bodies on September 11, 2012. They were in Benghazi, Libya, when what they were trained and ready to do, not what they were actually there for, kicked in; and luckily for anyone who survived because many wouldn’t have, had these men not been willing, ready and able to be, not in their words, heroes.
For them, they couldn’t just sit and allow people to die if there’s something they could do about it and though they were told not to engage, they dug in to find true abnegation within themselves and did what they felt had to be done; ignore those orders.
There are many who would call them angels; some who would say they were crazy for stepping in, though those people would be few and far between, but what does it take to be someone who runs into gunfire, instead of someone who runs from it?
What they were faced with was a situation where Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith. A book has been written and a film is about to be released, telling the story, not just their story, the story, of what every man went through.
These men want to spread the word of what real sacrifice is, what it really means and who, on this night, understood the meaning of that word more than anyone. Not only understood but took it to heart… and took it to that grave.
I was given an opportunity to have a little chat with Geist and Tiegen, and was honored to have met them; to, essentially, get the definition of that word first hand. They were very frank and open and I found them to be quite funny at times, poking fun at one another and then at me when I walked out of the interview, forgetting my recorder. Tiegen was upset when I had returned; thinking that he had gotten himself a souvenir.
But, this is that chat and I hope you take interest in what they have to say. Enjoy.
Shari: Have you seen the movie yet?
Geist: Not the whole thing. We’ve seen bits and parts throughout the making of it (Thinks) and then… umm, of course, the two trailers and the featurette. There was a small twenty piece that they put together that we’ve seen.
Shari: What kind of emotions are brought up, if any, when you see your story being turned in to a Hollywood movie for all to see?
Geist: For us it takes us through a lot of different emotions; or at least me. And, uh… I think the movie, the way it’s made is gonna… and the efforts that they’ve brought to it to make it as true to life as possible is gonna bring you, the viewers, the same thing. I mean, you’re gonna feel everything from, you know, compassion to anger, to fear, to sorrow; and I think it’s going to be excellent… they did a really good job of it.
Tiegen: I think it’s going to be a punch in the gut. (Long pause before he speaks again) That’s my opinion.
Shari: The main motivation behind this is just getting the truth out there and… it’s not a political issue or any of these other things that are surrounding it, it’s just getting your true story of the real events on the ground, you know, out for the public to know. But when you go to an author to write a book or to make a film, especially when they’re portraying it as an action film, a lot of times there is some understood ‘creative license’, but they’ve gotta change things a bit to keep people interested. From your perspective, what percent of the book and or the movie, is faithful to your story of what really happened out there?
Tiegen: I mean, since we haven’t seen the whole thing, I would say anywhere between eighty-nine to ninety percent of it. I mean… (Stumbles for his words a bit) you know, it’s… there again it’s not really about the politics all it is, is about what happened that night on the ground, I mean, people ask us, you know, ‘Do you think it’s going to affect Hillary?’ or this and that… well, honestly, we don’t care if it affects Hillary. It’s not our goals. You can make it positive or negative for her. Our goal is just to make sure that the story of four guys and the sacrifices that were made for our country gets out there and gets told the right way.
Shari: What was it like being on set… seeing it all come back to life?
Geist: Umm… for me it was surreal. I mean, it didn’t… seeing it come back to life, I don’t know maybe it’s just the way we work, you know, I compartmentalize things so, when I was on set it wasn’t about the events that happen… I mean, it’s about the events that happened through my life but I don’t see it as that. I see it as a work of how people are…. I mean, how they’re doing that and the technical aspect of taking this from the paper, umm, from the book to putting it on film and how the actors took the effort that they did to make sure that they get the story right. Each one of them, you know, contacted the person they were playing and tried to get as much background information of not just how we did things there but as much as how… where I grew up, where I… I mean, Max Martini is who plays me, and he wanted to know about my background; where I grew up, my family life because that allows him to…
Tiegen: …steal his credit. (Laughs)
Geist: …yeah; (Laughs… continues) no… he can encompass so much more of me into that story; into that character because then he can just… it’s not just some guy carrying a rifle or shooting a gun, it’s everything also and that’s the story we want to get that… the guys who do this, I mean, us… the other guys out there that are out doing this as well as the Ambassador and Sean Smith is certain that the foreign service officers that serve in this country in the 270 odd some diplomatic facilities that we have around the world aren’t just robots that are doing their job. They’re people who have families and have loved ones that have sacrificed for that… and they’re doing that because they love this country and they want to honor this country and we want to honor them in doing that.
Shari: You guys are former Marines but you weren’t in Benghazi as Marines, you were security contractors. I wanted to ask when you leave the base after being asked to stand down, what was the thought process going through your minds when you made that decision? Were you worried about what would happen if you disobeyed orders, or was this instinct?
Tiegen: It was kinda… we didn’t care about what would happen with our jobs. I mean, you’ve got someone on the radio saying, ‘Hey, if you don’t get here, we’re going to die!’ So, I mean, we’re not gonna sit there and listen to people being killed, over a radio, when we can go up and make a difference… so, you know, we didn’t care about the consequences at that time, so we took off. I mean, we knew our base was gonna be protected because we still had twenty-something Americans that knew how to shoot a gun and it ain’t like they’re going to sneak up on ‘em cuz they’re pretty much ready for it, you know, so I mean, (contemplative) …yeah, we heard ‘em say, ‘Hey! If you don’t get here, we’re gonna die.’ So we left.
Geist: I, kind of, relate it to the person that stands there with their cell phone and videotapes and fight. I don’t see how you could do that. How do you not get involved in… something that’s going on; to help somebody else’s life? That’s not who we are and it just baffles me that people can stand around and watch that and not have a care. To me that’s cowardice. They’re cowards; they’re chickens, they have no integrity. And… to me, it’s that simple. I mean, I don’t know how anybody sits there and… you gotta live with the consequences but the consequences are Americans are gonna die or they’re not; people are gonna die. It doesn’t have to be Americans. I mean, if it had been the French consulate, we would have done the same thing. It wouldn’t have mattered, I mean… it’s… people’s lives are at stake and you can make a difference in their life and you don’t do something, I think that says more about somebody’s character than anything else.
Tiegen: And that’s where working together, being the two SEALs, three Marines and a Ranger… the Ranger wasn’t very good but that’s a Ranger. (Laughs) It’s not as much when they’re not here. But, you know, you do a little bit of training and know what each other’s gonna do and, you know, it goes back to the whole training through the military, you know, tactics are tactics no matter how you look at ‘em so we all just kinda knew what to do and just flowed with it.
Shari: At what point did you realize that this story needed to be told? Did the author, Mitchell Zuckoff, who wrote the book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi”, approach you or did you approach him or..?
Geist: No, I got injured over there with the two guys that got killed and umm… I had been in the hospital recovering back and forth and… we talked on a regular basis. All of us. All five us. I mean, just… we’re a family now. It’s like we’re a bunch of brothers now who irritate the crap out of each other and we’ll pick on each other but don’t let anybody else come after any of our guys. And we just started venting to each other about the frustration, that two of our teammates got killed and two more, an Ambassador and a Foreign Service Officer who had gotten killed and it didn’t seem to us that the politicians cared about that. There was no honor being brought to them; to their families. Umm… they were taking the story and trying to spin it for their own political gains for whatever reason, whether it’s Left or Right, and I distribute that criticism to both sides of the aisle… equally; and so we just, you know, how do we tell the story? And we talked about, ‘let’s go to the media.’ But, you know then, if we go to the media, they’re just gonna do what they’re doing right now and spin it. How can we put this into something that everybody will have to know about and umm… through people we had met throughout our careers and kinda, we were introduced to certain people and they reached out to them and, I think it was something bigger than just coincidence because it brought the right people to help get this done in the right time manner and the time frame from the agent who was with “3 Arts Entertainment”, he runs the literary division. He knew who the writer was, that would be writing. Mitch Zuckoff was the writer that our agent felt could tell the story the best way and he did, of course, as you can tell. It’s a New York Times best-selling book.
And then being able to then take this book and put it to that next platform with Paramount and Paramount coming together believing in this story and wanting to tell it as we wanted it and Michael Bay doing the same thing and the respect that they came with to this story it just kinda all came together and it is what it is now and I think it’s a great piece. I think people are going to walk away from it with a different viewpoint of the whole scenario and realize what we want is that there are these people out there who give their lives in some of the worst places in the world and they’re separated from their families and… that they will, I think, it’ll be a change in view to a lot of places on both sides of the aisle.
Shari: Since you were an elite team and actually seemed more superior to, say, the SEAL’s or the CO’s, do you or have you felt under-appreciated by anybody or your country since nobody knew about what you were capable of doing and then you ended up being heroes and should be respected?
Tiegen: No, I mean, I guess we are Marines and we are with the SEALs but… (Smiles) we don’t brag about it (Laughs) but you know… I really don’t care if anyone appreciates me. I don’t do the job for them to appreciate me. I do the job to keep the bad guys over there and I just like doing it… and, you know, if I can get twenty terrorists killed with one attack from a missile that made my day and I drink my coffee. We don’t do the job to be rewarded, umm…
Geist: …we do it to make a difference.
Geist: Because we can make a difference in people’s lives… I think.
Tiegen: This wasn’t, neither one of us, this wasn’t our first rodeo, I guess you could say, you know? We had been doing it for ten years; been working with the agency for about that long and, you know, you’re not going to go that long and working for them where you are, without seeing somethin’. So, it just happens that this is the time when the Ambassador for thirty years got killed and you know, just… for me it was just kinda being there and seeing the security that was there prior; it was attacked twice prior, it had a grenade thrown through the wall, it had a big hole blown through the wall and I was there for that one. There were only two guys that were protecting the consulate grounds that time. It was just kind of like, ‘what the hell?’ And then they go off and they start spinning the story for their benefit. You know, but we just don’t do these things to be appreciated or awarded ‘cause if that was the case, the other two guys would have come out to the public too. They wanted to keep working; keep doing what they were doing.
Shari: Was this just another day at work for you or something much more than that?
Geist: I think it started out as just another day at work. I mean, that guy’s trying to shoot you, you shoot back and hopefully, you shoot them before they shoot you and you protect the ones that they’re shootin’. It didn’t start out to be defining but I think the closest that comes to defining it was that I got injured there. It redirected my life but even that is just life and you just accept that.
Tiegen: He wasn’t any good anyway.
Geist: (Laughs) We all just went back to work.
Tiegen: We all go back to work. It ain’t like we all quit. I didn’t stop until we decided to do the book. They said, ‘Well if you’re doing the book, you can’t work.’ Otherwise, I’d still be working.
Shari: Are you bummed about that?
Tiegen: Oh, yeah… if definitely sucks. I mean, it’s great and I like being home with the twins but I’d definitely like to be over there; especially right now. I’d imagine it’s going to be a lot of fun here soon.
And with that, it was over. They would do it all over again. See “13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI” from Paramount Pictures which will be released nationwide on January 15th, 2016.