13 Hours: The Story of Benghazi – Mark Geist

13 Hours: The Story of Benghazi – Mark Geist

13 Hours: The Story of Benghazi – Mark Geist

Many have heard the story of what happened Benghazi … but few lived it. And Mark “Oz” Geist is one of them. Host Charles Mizrahi invites Geist to tell the story of what really happened, and to share how he’s using the organization he started to continue to serve his fellow Americans.

Topics Discussed:

  • An Introduction to Mark “Oz” Geist (00:02:19)
  • GRS: The Best of the Best (00:04:48)
  • Going to Benghazi (00:12:06)
  • September 11, 2012 (00:15:41)
  • The Six Ps (00:46:02)
  • Origins of “Oz” (00:51:28)
  • The Story Continues (00:52:43)
  • Another Round (01:01:14)
  • Injuries & Aftermath (01:11:12)
  • An American Ideal (01:18:17)
  • Shadow Warriors Project (01:20:51)
  • Closing Thoughts (01:29:44)

Guest Bio:

Former U.S. Marine Mark Geist was hired as part of a team stationed to protect CIA operatives in Benghazi, Libya. But on September 11, 2012, the six men found themselves in the middle of a terrorist attack which they successfully ended in order to save dozens of American lives. Since the incident — and the injuries he sustained from it — Geist has made it his mission to help other American private security contractors who put their lives on the line for their country. His organization can be found on ShadowWarriorsProject.org.

Resources Mentioned:

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Read Transcript

Charles Mizrahi:

Mark “Oz” Geist, thank you so much for being on the show. I greatly, greatly appreciate it.

Mark Geist:

Hey, thank you for having me, Charles. I’ve been looking forward to this ever since we were able to connect.

Charles Mizrahi:

Same here! And you weren’t feeling well… I’m glad to see you’re feeling much better now, because I want to tell you… I devoured this book. This book — I tell you, folks, it reads like fiction. Sadly, for the tragic events that happened, it’s true. But this book will keep you on the edge of your seat. Mark and his team wrote this book, 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi. We’ll get into it in a second… It was also a major motion picture.

Charles Mizrahi:

And I just want to let you know, Mark, I had my whole family watch it. We got together — my four boys and my wife — and at one point, one of my sons said he couldn’t breathe. It was too intense. And I said, “I’m speaking to the man who was there.” And he goes, “Wow.”

Charles Mizrahi:

I just want to tell you something… I am really proud to live in a country that produces men like you and your team. It really is a testament to what a great country we have.

Mark Geist:

It is, you know. And people always ask me, “Why the movie?” And one of the things is, it’s not just about Benghazi. It’s about what happened there, but the book and the movie are also indicative of what’s going on every day in this world. I mean, we have private security contractors, military, civilian employees that work for our government around the world. We have, roughly, 273 diplomatic facilities… And this could happen anywhere. And the fact that we have people that are willing to put their lives on the line to service this country, to make it a better place… I mean, to me, that’s the heart and soul of this movie. It’s not just about us. It’s indicative of the people who love this country.

Charles Mizrahi:

Yeah, unbelievable. And people who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice — their lives — to protect literally total strangers only because they’re Americans. Not liberals, not leftists, not Democrats, not Republicans — not anything! The first thing was: “There are Americans in the compound. We have to protect them.” That’s what I got. It was just absolutely amazing.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, let’s talk about the book. Let’s talk about your experience there. And then I want to talk about what you’ve been doing since, because I think it’s fascinating what you and your beautiful wife, Krystal, have been doing in order to help people who were in your place. Reading this, there’s a whole world out there that I didn’t know about.

Charles Mizrahi:

But before we begin on how you even ended up in Benghazi, tell me what GRS is, and how you got there.

Mark Geist:

GRS is part of the CIA. It’s a government entity that’s called “Global Response Staff.” Our job is to protect Americans around the world — to be bodyguards. And that’s it. You know, we’re not there to get into a fight. Ideally, we never want to get into a fight because we’re in a small group. Usually, it’s five or six guys. That night — September 11 — I was out in town with a female case officer. So, the two of us together… there’s no way we ever want to get into a gunfight. It’s not about taking the fight to the enemy. It’s about making sure that people live and come home.

Charles Mizrahi:

OK, so this is not John Wayne. This is basically, when you do your job and no one hears about it, that’s a happy day.

Mark Geist:

Yes.

Charles Mizrahi:

And the job that you guys do is being done every single day — over 200 outposts throughout the world — and no one ever hears about it until there’s a problem.

Mark Geist:

Yeah. Kind of our sister group, I guess you could call it, is DSS (Department of Security Services) for the state department). And they do the same thing. They work for the state department doing the same thing.

Charles Mizrahi:

So now, I want to join GRS but there’s no way they’re going to have me because I wasn’t in the military, and I’m not one of the top guys like you. You had marines, you had Navy SEALs… Did you have an army ranger in the group?

Mark Geist:

Yeah, we had one army ranger. Three Marines, one army ranger and two Navy SEALs.

Charles Mizrahi:

OK, so now you guys sign up for this GRS, and the pay is darn good per day…

Mark Geist:

It is.

Charles Mizrahi:

You folks are basically the security force for the CIA. Let’s put it this way… You guys are the bodyguards for the CIA when they’re out in the worst places in the world.

Mark Geist:

Yeah, that’s exactly it.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you’re not a mercenary, you’re not a gun for hire… You’re basically paid by the United States government in order to protect our CIA operatives — in this case, GRS — wherever they may be in the world.

Mark Geist:

Yes, sir. That’s it. That’s the best definition I’ve heard.

Charles Mizrahi:

Great. Now, my first question is… You were in the Marines for what — 12 years or so?

Mark Geist:

Yeah, I served in the Marine Corp for 12 years. I was in law enforcement for six. Most of that was investigating crimes against children, crimes against family… And then I had my own business for about three years doing bounty hunting and private investigations until the work kicked off, and then started contracting in 2004.

Mark Geist:

Actually, I started out protecting state department personnel, and then I was training Iraqi SWAT teams and the protective personnel for the Iraqis. And then, for about a year and a half I was the security consultant for Dr. Ayad Allawi, one of the former prime ministers of Iraq. It was a Department of Defense contract where our job was to protect him and make sure that his security force was up to par.

Mark Geist:

And then I got picked up by GRS for the last few years.

Charles Mizrahi:

After you serve in the military and you have a family — most of the team, I read, have families — you go back into the fight again. What motivates you? What drives you — after 12 years, with all the stuff you’ve seen — to go back and put your life at risk in pretty bad places in the world?

Mark Geist:

You know, for me, I think it’s just something in the way I was raised. I had a grandfather that served in World War II. He was a tank commander. He was in North Africa, fought in the battle across Europe, in Germany… I have three uncles that served in the military — two in the Navy, one in the Marine Corp in Vietnam. And that idea of selfless service and being a part of something bigger than yourself is something that was in my genetics maybe… but it’s also just the love of the country and the love of what were stand for here in America.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, to be apart of this team, not only do you have to have a military background — I’m assuming — but you also have to be like the best of the best?

Mark Geist:

Yeah, they look at each individual and every position for the different skillsets that you might bring. My background in the Marine Corp… I was with STA Platoon (Surveillance and Target Acquisitions Platoon), I was a counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism instructor and I was also a linguist. I was an interrogative translator. I speak Persian Farsi as a second language, so that was a special skillset that I had. The other guys each had their own. The Navy SEALs, being Navy SEALs, bring everything that they do. Same with the army rangers and the other Marines.

Mark Geist:

And that’s one thing about GRS that maybe a lot of people don’t understand is that we were a team that came there… All of us had worked in the same locations at various times, but never as a group or as a team. A couple of the guys had worked together, but like myself, I knew who Tig was and I knew were DB and Tanto were, but I had never worked in the same place at the same time as them.

Charles Mizrahi:

  1. So now, you sign up for GRS. GRS gets the best of the best to protect the CIA operatives dealing in Benghazi. Our embassy is in Tripoli. Benghazi is set up as a CIA outpost that no one was supposed to know about. Is that right?

Mark Geist:

Well, there were two places. You had the consulate (they also called it the “special mission facility” — the state department facility which was about eight acres). That’s where the ambassador would come. If he came down from Tripoli, that’s where he would stay. And he had security detail there that protected him when he was in-country, or in Benghazi. And then, we were about a mile away at a smaller compound — probably the size of a football field, at the most. And with all the support personnel, it was probably 18 to 20 people there.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you get the assignment from GRS. And how long is it? A 60-day or 90-day contract? How long is it?

Mark Geist:

Well, it’s between 60 and 90 days. You know, your contract is set for the year, but each place you go to is an individual contract, if that makes any sense. You’re hired full-time, in a sense, but you only get paid when you’re in the country that you’re designated to go to.

Charles Mizrahi:

Got it. So, your assignment now is to go to Benghazi. You know Benghazi… and this is the time when Gaddafi was just overthrown, the country is still dealing with a lot of war lords and it’s really divided. Military arsenals are open where kids in the street have hand grenades. So, you’re going to a pretty crappy area in the world.

Mark Geist:

Yeah.

Charles Mizrahi:

How did your wife react to this? How did Krystal react?

Mark Geist:

She didn’t really understand what Benghazi was like. And I never really shared it with her. I mean, most of the pictures I shared with her to show her where I was going were pictures before the overthrow. And before the overthrow and Gaddafi, there were some beautiful beaches. They had an Olympic training center down there — things like that, you know? And that’s most of what I told her. She kind of knew what I did, but… I always did more paperwork than I did anything for her.

Charles Mizrahi:

Yeah. Got you.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you go to Benghazi and you meet up with your crew there — there were six of you. So now, you get there. And your job there is to protect CIA operatives.

Mark Geist:

Yes, sir.

Charles Mizrahi:

How long was that period? Was it for 60 days or 90 days?

Mark Geist:

I was going to be there for about 60 days.

Charles Mizrahi:

OK, and when did you get there?

Mark Geist:

About 45 days before September 11. It was right around August 1 or July 30.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you have only two more weeks. So far, nothing’s happened, you’ve done your job well… And when you talk about 9/11, it wasn’t the 9/11 we experienced here in September of 2001. It was a different 9/11 — September 11, 2012.

Charles Mizrahi:

And the book is called 13 Hours because for 13 hours you held off how many marauding, terrorist, crazy people trying to kill you guys?

Mark Geist:

Of the exact numbers, I’m not sure. I’ve heard that between the killed and injured, there was somewhere between — and I can’t validate this, so it is hearsay — 150 and 300 individuals.

Charles Mizrahi:

That’s killed or injured — that doesn’t even talk about all the ones that were there. For a nice number, let’s say there were another 200 that got away.

Mark Geist:

Yeah, probably.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, we’re talking about 500 people… and you folks. That was it.

Mark Geist:

Yes, sir. Between the attacks that happened at the consulate when it was overrun and the three follow-up attacks that happened at the annex, roughly somewhere around that would be a good number.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, it’s a regular day… Now, on 9/11, you’re on some type of alert. I did read that there was some alert because of 9/11. And your team was in the annex, and you’re out protecting a CIA operative—in the movie, it depicts her as a nice lady sitting there for lunch. They want to have lunch, and you’re dragging them away. I don’t know how true that is, but you’re out in the city with her. It was one operative, or two?

Mark Geist:

It was just myself and her. I explain it as… We were meeting a local Libyan couple, and it happened to also be their daughter’s birthday. So, we were having what I call a “dinner date.”

Charles Mizrahi:

OK… You get a call. What happens there? Who calls you, and what is it about?

Mark Geist:

I got a call, over my cell phone, from Tyrone Woods, or “Rone.” And because the cell phones are not encrypted, it’s not a secure form of communication. So, he wasn’t going to give me much information. He just said, “Hey, Oz, you’re going to need to get back to the annex and stay away from the consulate. And the fact that he did that in the middle of a meeting already put me on alert. Because that’s not something that would normally happen unless there was something grave that needed to be addressed.

Mark Geist:

So, I gathered up the female case officer. I got her in her car. And in her car, I did have secure communications. And that’s when I was able to turn on the radio and hear what was really going on over at the consulate at that time, and we headed out the compound gate we were at. And really, we could’ve driven straight from where we were at to the annex. It would’ve taken maybe five minutes, but we would’ve had to go near the consulate. So instead of going directly, we kind of headed west — down the beach, basically, on the shoreline — as far as we could. We cut back through and kind of came back through some of the desert to get in on the back side. It took us probably 30 to 40 minutes to get back.

Charles Mizrahi:

And when Rone called you… you know, this guy is a Navy SEAL. This guy is top-shelf. The best of the best. So, when he calls you to say, “Get your butt back here…” there’s something seriously wrong.

Mark Geist:

Yeah, it had to be something severe for us to be called out of what we were doing.

Charles Mizrahi:

How did you feel as soon as you got there? Did your stomach drop? Did you say, “Holy smokes, something bad is happening here”?

Mark Geist:

You know, the first thing that happens in my mind is that I prioritize tasks as they’re coming. First thing is, get her in the car and head out. Because typically when something like that happens — especially an attack on a diplomatic facility, if there’s others in the area… Benghazi, at the time, had about 10 or 15 militias that operated in and around Benghazi. And those militias… Some of them are somewhat friendly, and some were like Ansar al Sharia who attacked us.

Mark Geist:

And they start setting up impromptu checkpoints because they know people out there are moving, and they want to see who they are. Ad they know that they can take advantage of that, so my thing was: “OK, I need a plan a route out inside my head, immediately, of how I’m going to get from where we’re at, back to the annex without getting caught up by one of these militias.”

Charles Mizrahi:

So, your brain immediately goes into military mode. “I have an objective here. I have a mission.” And the objective is to get back to the annex.

Mark Geist:

Yeah. Because out there on my own, I know that it’s really unsafe for us. And the female case officer… she was great at her job, but that fear set in in her — that fight or flight syndrome. And she’s trying to tell me, “We need to do this, we need to do that…” and, in a very blunt way, I told her: “Hey, I don’t need your mouth. I need your eyes. I need you to shut up and keep your eyes on what’s going on out there because I’m focusing on driving. I need you to focus on other potential threats that you might see.” And it calmed her down, and she jumped right into what she had to do and she knew it.

Mark Geist:

It was just that little bit of adrenaline that kicks in. Over the radio, we’re hearing the explosions and the gunfire, and the state department team leader came over the radio and said: “If you don’t get here now, we’re all going to die.” Obviously, there were a few expletives in there, as well… so you could hear that fear and panic in his voice which kind of transferred over to her a little bit until I was able to get her settled down and focused on what we needed to do.

Charles Mizrahi:

Got you. So, you drive back to the annex. You get to the annex. Then what?

Mark Geist:

Well, when I got in, I had to take over security there because the rest of the team — Tig, Tanto, Jack, DB and Rone — after having been told to stand down… The third time, they just left.

Charles Mizrahi:

Hang on a second… So, you’re out in the field. These guys are already told that the compound was being attacked.

Mark Geist:

Yes.

Charles Mizrahi:

  1. Their first reaction is, “Let me drive over there. We’ve got to defend.” They’re told by Bob, who… what is his position?

Mark Geist:

He was chief of base.

Charles Mizrahi:

Chief of base… He tells them to stand down. And these guys are like bucking broncos knowing that lives will be lost every second that they’re delayed. So, my first question to you is: Why the heck did he tell them to stand down and wait?

Mark Geist:

I think the first time — and I kind of understand his reasoning for it — is that the last thing he wants is for the CIA base to be known, giving up our security. Because once we send our guys over there, if the attack came to the annex… And everyone at the annex is trained in weapons, so they should be able to defend themselves to some degree, especially behind a barrier. So, I can kind of understand his reasoning. He’s trying to get some of the other militias that are somewhat friendly to find out what’s really going on over there.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, he’s trying to assess the situation, and we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt. And he’s calling off your guys, and your team is like, “We’ve got to go.” The third time they said, “To heck with this!” And the calls kept coming into them, telling them how desperate the situation was. Is that right?

Mark Geist:

Yeah, they could hear everything. I mean, if they were up on the rooftops of our buildings, they could see the gunfire and tracer fire going across the sky. You could hear the explosions… And really, what kind of set them out the gate was when they heard the same thing I did: “If you don’t ger here now, we’re all going to die.” And at that point, they knew that they had to go.

And falling back to Bob, as much as I give him the benefit of the doubt, the problem we had with him was that he didn’t understand what our capabilities were. He’s worried about us going over and just getting into a gunfight, and, like I said, “That’s the last thing that we want to do.” When we get over there, we want to assess the situation and determine what the best course of action is. Because the last thing we want to do is to get into a gunfight with 40 armed individuals. Because what we knew, at that time, was that 40 individuals had taken over the consulate.

Charles Mizrahi:

And you don’t know if there’s any dead at this point… You have no idea what’s going on other than that the consulate is being overrun?

Mark Geist:

Yeah. It’s been overrun, and at this point, no one knew where the ambassador was. Was he kidnapped? Was he killed? Who knows?

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you’re flying blind now.

Mark Geist:

Yep.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you get back there. Two times, they’re told to stand down. Third time… what happens?

Mark Geist:

Once the guys hear that, “If you don’t get here now, we’re all going to die,” they’re out the gate. They quit asking for permission and just left. They headed over to the consulate and they got within about 300 yards. There was a dirt road that ran in front of the consulate. They’d come up to the corner over there, and there was a guy sitting in a Hilux pickup truck (we call it a “technical”). It’s got a heavy machine gun sitting in the back. And this guy is with a group called Feb17, and they were kind of one of the friendly militias. He’s sitting there shooting toward the consulate, and they could see the tracer fire coming from the consulate and they glanced around the corner. Tig saw a guy shooting back. And so Tig just stepped around the corner and he launched three 40mm grenades out of his grenade launcher and landed on the guys down there that were shooting and pretty much just blew them up and kind of dispersed anybody that was there if they didn’t get killed or injured.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, where were you?

Mark Geist:

I’m taking over security at the annex. I’m making sure that if anything happens over there that I’m over there to protect the number of people that were at the annex still.

Charles Mizrahi:

You’re the only guy protecting the annex?

Mark Geist:

Yes.

Charles Mizrahi:

If you’re overrun, I don’t know how much one guy can do. Well, apparently one guy can do a lot, but you’re one guy protecting how many people?

Mark Geist:

Around 20 people.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, including you, 21 guys with a perimeter that was pretty penetrable. It wasn’t high, there wasn’t that much defense around it… You had Libyan friendlies protecting — was that it?

Mark Geist:

We had three local Libyans that we had hired to help kind of run the gate, and if anybody came up, their thing was basically more eyes than anything. So, they were up on some elevated fighting positions. I was up on top of the buildings. And up on top of the buildings, we had already preset a lot of different places where we had ammo. Every corner of the building has ammo, so I could move from position to position. If it came down to it, I mean, I’m going to shoot and move, shoot and move. And from on top of the main building, I could probably cover the majority of our perimeter to some degree. And my thing was making sure that everybody was in that building and not walking around.

Charles Mizrahi:

Were they in the building?

Yeah, they were in there. And they were trying to get things done. So, one of the other individuals there I put on the front door and said, “Don’t let anybody go out unless they’re coming in ones or twos, but then they’ve got to come right back.” I wanted accountability. Because my fear was that if somebody was climbing over the wall (because they can climb up over the wall and get in) and I see them running around with a gun, they’re probably going to get shot. So, out people needed to stay in one location.

Charles Mizrahi:

How high were these walls?

Mark Geist:

They were probably about 10 feet.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, it wasn’t hard to scale.

Mark Geist:

No, they could’ve gotten over fairly easy.

Charles Mizrahi:

No barbed wire, no electronic means to deter anyone… Because you didn’t want o make it look like a compound.

Mark Geist:

Right.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, a 10-foot-high perimeter, one guy, ammunition in all four corners… You’re covering 70% to 80% of the area. Great. Back at the annex, what’s happening?

Mark Geist:

Back over at the consulate…

Charles Mizrahi:

Now, what do we call that? I keep confusing them. It’s the consulate?

Mark Geist:

Yeah, the consulate. The annex was where we were at, the consulate is where the ambassador was.

Charles Mizrahi:

What was the compound? That word was used…

Mark Geist:

Yeah, the compound was about eight acres that was surrounded by 100-foot to 12-foot walls. It had an entrance on the north side to the ambassador’s compound—or the consulate—and it has another entrance on the south end of it.

Charles Mizrahi:

OK, so the consulate and the compound are one and the same?

Mark Geist:

Yes, sir.

Charles Mizrahi:

Got it. OK. Just so my mind can get this, let’s talk about the consulate. That’s where the ambassador was. And you’re not there—you’re back in the annex.

Mark Geist:

Yes, sir.

Charles Mizrahi:

  1. Now, you’ve got your five buddies… They approach. They get in. First three grenades destroy those people. Now they get into the consulate.

Mark Geist:

Tanto and DB got to some higher ground so they could provide cover fire and observation while three guys moved through the front gate and it was Rone, Jack and Tig that moved down what we call consulate road, turned to come through the front gate… and what they run into is basically 40 armed individuals that are running around in a very disorganized manner.

Mark Geist:

The guard shack that was right there was fully engulfed in flames, which was to their right. And directly in front of them, about 25 yards, was the ambassador’s residence — his house that was inside the consulate — which was fully engulfed in flames.

Charles Mizrahi:

Wow, so they got there, and there’s fire… You don’t know if the ambassador’s in there. You don’t know how many people are killed or what the situation is. You have zero intel on that.

Mark Geist:

Correct.

Charles Mizrahi:

  1. So, they see the ambassador’s residence completely engulfed. What are they doing?

Well, first off, they have to take care of the bad guys that are running around. And it’s hard to identify the good and bad because, I mean, they’re not wearing uniforms. Basically, you’re going to shoot the guys that are pointing a gun at you.

Charles Mizrahi:

Wait, let me interrupt you for just a second… There was no previous intel. You had smart people there. You knew the lay of the land… No one had any intel — especially on 9/11 in a pretty bad spot in a Muslim country interspersed with civilians and warlords — that something was going to happen? There was no high alert? There was no advanced warning of any sort?

Mark Geist:

Well, you know, September 11 — no matter what year it is — in every diplomatic facility around the world is a higher-alert status. There was no actionable intel that something was going to happen to our facility or to the consulate, but you have to be prepared for anything.

Mark Geist:

And the guys that were protecting the ambassador there… I will say this: They were great guys. They had the heart to do their jobs… but they didn’t have the experience.

Charles Mizrahi:

Right. Sean Smith, the information officer who, unfortunately, was killed, did his best… But something to the effect of, these guys… You put them together and their experience didn’t even equal to one of you guys.

Mark Geist:

No. I mean, I kind of figured out afterwards how much military and combat experience our team of six had, and combined, we had over 100 years of experience. And their team of five had maybe a quarter of that at best.

Charles Mizrahi:

And your 100 years of experience was at the top level.

Mark Geist:

Yes.

Charles Mizrahi:

Not to diminish what they were doing, but you guys are warriors.

Mark Geist:

It’s like playing pro ball versus triple-A.

Charles Mizrahi:

Not even triple-A — I’d say high school ball! You know?

Mark Geist:

Yeah.

Charles Mizrahi:

You’re too modest.

Charles Mizrahi:

So now, they’re trying to assess the situation, all hell’s breaking loose, the ambassador’s residence is on fire, they’re trying to secure and you have people walking all around this house. And you don’t know the good guys from the bad guys at this point — is that right?

Mark Geist:

Correct.

Charles Mizrahi:

  1. And they keep coming… What’s the next step?

Mark Geist:

Well, first off, you’ve got to take out the threat. And the guys that were bad, the guys that had guns that they determined were a threat… they started taking them out. And a lot of people ask me: How can three guys take out 40 armed individuals? Basically, it’s the element of surprise, and violence of action. When you come through — whether it’s a house or a compound like that — you start shooting the bad guys.

Mark Geist:

And I have a rule (and most of the guys probably have one similar to it) that anything you’re shooting once, you’re shooting at least twice. Because ammo’s cheap and life’s not. And when the bad guy’s start seeing their friends get shot in the face, they decide that they don’t like getting shot in the face. It doesn’t do well for longevity. So, they start separating and disappearing. They don’t have the stomach to stay in the fight.

Charles Mizrahi:

Right. These aren’t warriors. These are just local people who are able to buy guns cheaply.

Mark Geist:

Yep, that’s what they are.

Charles Mizrahi:

Got you. So, now they’re there. When do you get the call?

Mark Geist:

We push them off. Our team left, and the state department guys came out of where they were kind of isolated… and they were searching for the ambassador.

Charles Mizrahi:

How many state department guys are there?

Mark Geist.

Five. Five security guys.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, there are five security guys that are trying to hold off this onslaught before you folks arrive.

Mark Geist:

Correct. And again, I don’t want to say anything disparaging toward them, but what happened was that they didn’t fire a shot the whole night. And a lot of that came to their training. And I don’t blame it as much on them as on the training the state department provided them. You know, they don’t put the right people in the right places.

Mark Geist:

Scott was one of them. And Scott’s job before coming to Benghazi was as a passport fraud investigator for the state department. I think he went through a six or eight week high-threat protection course, and he was able to go there. And a lot of that was the way the state department set up — these full-time employees had to have a hardship tour. They had to go to some place that was like that so that they could get promoted. And this is where politics comes into it…

Mark Geist:

You know, Scott was a great guy. He was great at the job he was doing before. And because of that, they said, “Hey, we want to promote you, but you’ve got to get a hardship tour.” So, he chose to go to Benghazi. They allowed him to. And if you’ve got one guy like that on your team and everybody else is top-notch, then you can kind of get him up to speed. But when you don’t have the right training and the right experience, unfortunately, you’re gambling. You’re rolling the dice hoping that snake eyes don’t come up. And 90% of the time, snake eyes don’t come up… but that one time that they do, you don’t have the right people there.

Charles Mizrahi:

Right. OK, so they’re doing their best to secure the area, trying to take out the 40 terrorists…

Mark Geist:

Yep, “terrorists” is the best way to put it.

Charles Mizrahi:

Good. So, terrorists were coming in there, and this was unprovoked. You guys did nothing. Basically, they just came in. And this was a time when America was trying to help the Libyans get back on their feet after Gaddafi… So, it was a peaceful situation. You had Obama as president. This wasn’t anything of a territorial conquest. This was basically helping a country get back on its feet after a dictatorship. And they come over the walls and start trying to destroy you.

Mark Geist:

Yep.

Charles Mizrahi:

  1. Where are you now?

Mark Geist:

I was back over at the annex the whole time. I mean, when the five guys and the state department guys came out along with them, they searched for the ambassador. Tig and Rone went in and out of the building looking for the ambassador. And they didn’t have gas masks or anything. They were just holding their breath as long as they could, and they would try to get in there and search for the ambassador. And over the next couple of hours, they probably searched inside of that building at least 10 or 15 times.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, wait… These guys are going in, holding their breath… Noxious fumes. The house must be pitch black. They’re going in and searching in pitch black without gas masks as far as they can hold their breath? And they keep doing this back and forth 10 times? And unfortunately, they don’t find the ambassador.

Mark Geist:

They don’t find the ambassador. Now, at one point, they got separated and Tig came out and was catching is breath and he heard Rone yelling that he was lost. And Tig immediately went right back in, went toward Rone’s voice and finally found him and led him out. Early the following morning, before our final attack at the annex, Rone had told me how Tig had saved his life. Had Tig not come back in and gotten him, he wouldn’t have made it out of that smoke-filled building.

Charles Mizrahi:

Wow. So, the recovery would’ve been another casualty.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, they’re coming back and forth. You have men on rooftops trying to secure the consulate, right?

Mark Geist:

Yeah. And there was a counter-assault which means that the bad guys — after having been kicked off — decided to come back. They realized that maybe there weren’t as many people there as they thought or whatever, and they were going to try to take it back over. And they started shooting RPGs back again and AK-47s and everything…

Mark Geist:

They guys repelled that attack and — at that point — the team had to make that decision over there. Do they stay there and try to hold it, or do they fall back to the annex, reassess the situation and see what to do next? Because at this point, we’re getting to around midnight. So, they’d been there from 9:30 or 9:40 to about midnight, and they had to determine what to do next. Couldn’t find the ambassador… We also got intel that there were another 100 guys that were going to be coming back at the consulate again.

Charles Mizrahi:

How much time did you have between the first attack and the next one?

Mark Geist:

Maybe 45 minutes to an hour. And then they tried to counter-assault.

Charles Mizrahi:

With 100 men.

Mark Geist:

Well, that time we didn’t know how many. They were able to repel that, and the third time, they were going to start a third assault. And that’s when the rest of the guys left with everybody and got everybody out of the consulate except for the ambassador. They had found Sean Smith’s body… Still couldn’t find the ambassador. But they had left then because it was indefensible. I mean, six, eight, 10 guys against 100 in a compound that size was going to be very difficult. So, everybody left and got back to the annex. 

Charles Mizrahi:

Sean Smith, the information officer who stayed with the ambassador. So, you found him, but you didn’t find the ambassador.

Mark Geist:

Correct.

Charles Mizrahi:

Where were you now during the second assault?

Mark Geist:

I’m still over at the annex making sure that if anything comes that way… I’ve got to stay there. In my heart I want to be over there, but you don’t always get to be in the fight. You’ve got to sit back and cover everybody’s six.

Charles Mizrahi:

How did you feel when your buddies were over there taking on heavy fire against amazing odds… and you’re hearing all this, right? You know exactly what’s going on. What’s going through your head?

Mark Geist:

Two things. One is: What can I do if it comes here? I mean, worst-case scenario is that the whole team gets killed and I’m defending our compound by myself for the most part. I’m going to take over and defend that. And basically, I’ve got to make plans on what to do. That was one thing going through my mind…

Charles Mizrahi:

You were thinking that? Like, “My gosh, my five buddies are going to be killed over there and I’m the last of the Alamo. It’s going to be just me here.”

Mark Geist:

Yeah, I’ve got to plan for that possibility. I’ve got to plan for every possibility that could occur. And that, being the worst… how am I going to deal with that? Are we going to get in vehicles and try to exfil out of there? If we can do that, tat’s fine. If not, what’s next? Do we stay in place and defend? Do we have any help coming? We had requested it, but we hadn’t been informed that anything was coming. So, even with them making it back, our choices are: Do we stay in place if they come back and attack us, or do we try to find another way out of there before they attack us?

Charles Mizrahi:

So, it’s now 12:30. They’re in the consulate, and you’re back in the annex. There, the second attack is about to come. And you’re still at the annex holding down the fort.

Mark Geist:

Yes.

Charles Mizrahi:

Those 100-plus men come. Your team does what now?

Mark Geist:

Well, before they came, they were able to exfil. The second wave came in, they were able to repel that. And then they left before the third wave happened. And they were able to make it back. And once they got back everybody just filled in spots to make sure that we’re ready for what was there, because we knew by then that they were going to come back at us over at the annex.

Charles Mizrahi:

It was no secret where you were, right?

Mark Geist:

Not at that point.

Charles Mizrahi:

Right. OK perfect. So, they exfil back to the annex?

Mark Geist:

Yep.

Charles Mizrahi:

And you didn’t lose any men at this point other than the ambassador and Sean Smith (whose body you have with you)?

Mark Geist:

Yeah. I think Tanto had a few scrapes and scratches because one of the walls that he was climbing over to get to the consulate fell down, but we didn’t have any major injuries. Scott Wickland from the state department, he had some smoke inhalation, so he was pretty much combat ineffective. And then the team leader from the state department just went inside what I call Building C to do whatever he was going to do there, and the rest of the state department guys came in.

Mark Geist:

I put them at different points up on the rooftops. Because we had four rooftops that were kind of in a diamond shape with a big, square wall around us. That’s what the annex looked like. We had to cover 360 degrees, so I got the guys up there, and once the rest of our team showed up, Rone asked me where I had guys and just went and filled in other areas of weakness and be ready when the next attack came to us — if it did.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, when they come back, just from a protocol point of view, who’s the man in charge? You’re the man in charge because you’re there and you tell everyone where to go, or everyone just knows what to do?

Mark Geist:

Well, we pretty much know where to go. Because in our down time, what we’d do is plan attacks on our base — on the annex. We would sit there and draw a picture of it up on the wall on a whiteboard and we would take turns figuring out how we would attack it. Some of the guys would talk about how to defend it. So, we would role play and basically game these things out. So, whether it was that someone snuck over the wall in the middle of the night or if they came and blew a hole in the wall with a vehicle-borne IED… or if it was just a large attack like what it ended up being.

Charles Mizrahi:

Was this one in your playbook? Did you think of this scenario?

Mark Geist:

Yeah. We’d probably thought of just about everything. And we’d probably thought of ways to attack our place that they never would have. But that’s just kind of what we did in our down time. It’s a Marine Corp thing, my Six Ps: Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. Just making sure you’re ready before you have to be ready.

Charles Mizrahi:

Nice. Perfect.

Charles Mizrahi:

So now, you’re all on top of buildings… You’re on these four buildings shaped in a diamond, detecting — because they could come from anywhere around you. How do you have all this ammunition? You put all this up there on the roof prior?

Mark Geist:

Yeah. Again, it comes back to those Six Ps. I think we had roughly about 60,000 rounds of ammo.

Charles Mizrahi:

For someone like me, a mere civilian, try to help me understand what 60,000 rounds is.

Mark Geist:

Think of a shipping palette full of ammo about five feet tall. So, a four-by-four shipping palette about five feet tall… Maybe half a shipping palette.

Charles Mizrahi:

And how much firepower is that? Is that a lot, a little, a boatload, an army, a war? What is it?

Mark Geist:

Well, the amount of ammo is as important as the individuals in the firearms that you have. Most of us had what everyone in the world today calls assault rifles. And they were true assault rifles because they did fire fully-automatic.

Charles Mizrahi:

Fully-automatic is how many rounds per minute?

Mark Geist:

If you pull the trigger and hold it back, you can shoot off a 30-round mag in probably less than a minute.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you have a lot of firepower there. Five guys doing that with 60,000 rounds… So, I’m not saying you could hold these guys off forever, but you could buy yourself a lot of time.

Mark Geist: Yeah. And just do everybody out there knows… Never in my 30 years of working in the military, law enforcement or as a private security contractor have I ever felt the need to use fully-automatic. I mean, it’s a waste of ammo, really. It’s better to do single fire or semi-auto fire… The full-auto is not something you’d ever use anyways.

Charles Mizrahi:

That’s just Hollywood making it seem like you guys use that.

Mark Geist:

It is. And what it’s really designed for is to provide cover fire while you’re moving — to put a full volley of fire at somebody, not necessarily expecting to hit a lot, but to put their heads down so you can move to a different location.

Charles Mizrahi:

So basically, just shooting cover and moving on.

Mark Geist:

Yeah.

Charles Mizrahi:

Got you. OK, so your team’s back. How many people, now, are in the annex?

Mark Geist:

Probably 26 to 28 people total with the state department guys there.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, everyone’s back, this seems to be the best spot… It’s a happier day for you, because it’s not just you. I know I would feel a lot better. So now, you have your men on all these buildings. You have these other 20 people. Where are they now?

Mark Geist:

They’re still inside Building C. We had them all pretty much in Building C. We had the six of us on the rooftops, along with three of the state department guys. And then we started seeing movement on our eastern flank. And what we would call our North and Northeastern flanks were what we call, “Zombieland.” We saw roughly 15 to 20 guys in the assault that were moving up on us.

Mark Geist:

Now, me and Tig are in an elevated fighting position in the corner, and then Tanto and DB are up on the rooftop, and we’re the only four that can shoot in this direction.

Charles Mizrahi:

Let me stop you for a second. Give me the full names of these men. You folks use the military call signs that these guys have. “Oz,” “Tig” — that kind of thing. So, let’s give these men the respect they deserve. Give me their full names so everyone knows who these heroes are.

Mark Geist:

So, you’ve got Tyrone Wood, John Tiegen (“Tig”), “Jack” (his is a pseudonym — he’s never put his real name out there), Dave Boone (“DB”) and Chris Paronto (“Tanto”). And then you have me, Mark Geist (“Oz”).

Charles Mizrahi:

How did you get “Oz,” by the way? The others all make sense…

Mark Geist:

Well, when I first started contracting, they called me “Polter” for Polter-Geist. That’s what somebody designated my call sign as. I switched contracts, went to another one, and somebody there was named “Potter.” “Potter” and “Polter” over the radio is too similar… And I don’t know why they started calling me “Wizard of Oz,” but I went to another place and there was a guy there named “Wizard,” so it got shortened down to “Oz.”

Charles Mizrahi:

Good story. Now, by the way, when they’re coming back with the counter-assault, this is the third time, and this is how many hours in?

Mark Geist:

Well, now we’re getting to about 1:00 in the morning and this is actually the fourth attack because they’re coming at the annex. We’re done over at the consulate.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, this is the fourth attack. And really, it’s been three and a half hours of hell. And thank God you didn’t lose anyone up until this point. Now they’re coming over… Is the weaponry better—more destructive? Are they getting smarter at this point? Are they learning more?

Mark Geist:

Not really. I think they thought that the annex would be defended like the consulate was. You had about 15 to 20 guys moving up. We had infrared lasers on our weapons, we had night vision covering our eyes, so we could identify them moving up. So, as they’re moving up, we’re kind of waiting for them to get as close as possible. We had some floodlights that we put up which would light everything for about 30 yards from our walls. So, we’re waiting for them to get pretty close and letting them think that they’re going to get up on us.

Mark Geist:

And one of them did get pretty close and had thrown an IED over the wall. It actually landed back by me and Tig and blew up. And that’s really kind of what started the whole firefight — that attack. We opened up on them and they opened up on us when that thing went off.

Charles Mizrahi:

You’re on the roof now with who?

Mark Geist:

I came off the rooftop, and I’m in the northeast corner of the annex. And we had built elevated fighting positions. So, I’m right up against the outer wall. From about chest-up is what would be exposed. So, I can shoot over the wall and defend it from that spot. And Tig had joined me up there. Tanto and DB were up on Building B, so we pretty much had them in a crossfire. And they’re coming up from the east, and we had picked out where everybody was at.

Mark Geist:

So, we took them out pretty quick. It was like playing whack-a-mole at the fair. If somebody sticks their head out, you put a couple rounds into them. They fall down, you take the next guy out. And that lasted maybe five to seven minutes before we killed or injured most of their guys, and they decided to pull back.

Charles Mizrahi:

I just don’t understand… If you’re the second wave, or the second group, after you see what happens to the first line of attackers, wouldn’t you give up? You’ve got to be stupid to keep coming! Anyway, thank God our enemies are stupid.

Charles Mizrahi:

So now, it’s 1:30 in the morning or so. What are you up to?

Mark Geist:

Well, we’re feeling pretty good because we hadn’t lost anybody. We hadn’t had any major injuries — glass in the face, small cuts… nothing major. And at this time, we also got information that Glen Doherty, “Bub,” and his team from Tripoli had been able to acquire a civilian aircraft and fly down. And they had landed at the Benghazi international airport.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, help is on the way.

Mark Geist:

Yeah. Now, the thing with that was that none of their guys had been to Benghazi before. And when they landed at the airport, that airport is controlled by one of the militias. So, it’s a friendly militia for the most part, but they were going to try to get everything they can. They know what’s going on, they know we’ve got a bunch of Americans landing here, they know Americans have money… How are they going to extract that money out of them? They’re going to delay them as much as possible. So, Glen’s team was trying to negotiate with them so they could get vehicles to get them to our location.

Charles Mizrahi:

How long does that take?

Mark Geist:

Glen’s team didn’t get to us until about 5:00 in the morning.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, what happened between 1:00 and 5:00 a.m.? What’s going on now?

Mark Geist:

At roughly around 2:30, they decided to come back with a counter-assault. This time, they came back with probably double the guys — so 30 to 40 — this time. So, this is the fifth one.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, there were three at the consulate, and already two at the annex?

Mark Geist:

Yeah, this is the second one at the annex. A guy drove up toward our back gate — which was on the eastern perimeter — in a car. We have those cement highway dividers set up so that nobody can get close with a vehicle. They come skidding up, and the guy’s basically throwing an IED at our back gate. Because if they can blow that open, it gives them a shot at coming in. I put three rounds into him. He fell like a sack of potatoes. What he was throwing landed about 10 feet short of the gate, blew up and that started the next attack.

Mark Geist:

And again, it was because we had them in a crossfire and could see them coming up in our night vision… This firefight probably lasted about 20 minutes, and they decided to pull back again. And now we’re really feeling good because we still don’t have any major injuries. I mean, Tig took a ricochet in his side and he was complaining a little bit about that. I told him it wasn’t bleeding, so he should man up a little bit. And really, that’s just us joking around. It’s more of a stress relief than anything else. So, we’re really feeling good.

Mark Geist:

We get a phone call from a cell phone that the ambassador had, and it was a local national saying that the ambassador was at the hospital.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you’re thinking that’s a good thing, right?

Mark Geist:

My first thought was that they’re just trying to get us outside of our compound. Because if we’re outside of our compound, we’re not going to be able to defend ourselves as easily. So, we ended up getting an informant, basically, to go to the hospital and check to see if the ambassador was really there. So, this local Libyan went there, took some pictures of the ambassador which proved he was there — but he was deceased.

Charles Mizrahi:

So now, it’s about what, 2:00 in the morning or something?

Mark Geist:

Yeah, getting toward the end of 2:00. And I had moved from my position to go around and check with the other guys — seeing if anyone needed to be relieved, if they needed water, if they needed ammo. I went up and talked with Tyrone a little bit. He went down — because he was our medic as well — to check on some guys, like Tanto (who had scraped up his arm) and the state department guys. And then he came back up on the rooftop.

Mark Geist:

And at this point, we’re waiting for Glen’s team to get there. And at that point, the plan was going to be to get all nonessential personnel — all the CIA personnel, full-time employees — to go with Glen and their team to escort them back out to the airport and get them on that plane because the plane wouldn’t fit everybody. So, we’d get them out and fly them back to Tripoli. And the six of us were going to try to hold down the Alamo.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, now what?

Mark Geist:

Well, Glen’s team shows up at about 5:00 in the morning. It’s that time in the morning right before the sun’s coming up. We call it “beginning morning nautical twilight.” It’s that 30 to 45 minutes where the sun hasn’t peaked over the horizon yet, but you’re starting to see blues instead of dark blacks. And I had turned to Ty and said, “If they’re going to attack, it’s going to be sometime soon.” Because traditionally, in military history, that’s the time to attack. Everybody’s been up all night. You’re tired. Your eyes can’t see as well at that time with the changing of the lights.

Mark Geist:

Well, Glen’s team had pulled in and all the security guys had come in and went in Building C. And me Dave, the state department guy, was in one corner. Me and Ty were in the opposite corner facing north. But Glen comes up on the rooftop.

Mark Geist:

And I never knew Glen before that night other than by reputation. And Glen was the guy who had the most upbeat attitude that there was — always had a smile on his face. Just a really great personality. But he was also a gunfighter. He was a trained sniper from when he was in the Navy SEALs. And he’d come up and Ty had introduced me to him, and I just kind of told him, “I’m glad we’ve got another gunfighter in here. Hopefully, we don’t need you, but I’m glad we got you.”

Mark Geist:

They kind of moved to my left and started talking and a call for prayer went off, and once that finished an RPG hit the back wall, right in front of me, Ty and Glen. It hit our outer wall which was about 30 feet out in front of us from where we were on top of the wall. Also, a belt-fed machine gun opened up, AK-47s opened up… And simultaneously, another explosion — later identified as a mortar — came in and hit our outer wall on top, right in front of where Dave was (which was 45 feet, maybe, to my right). And Dave yelled out that he was hit.

Mark Geist:

Ty had a belt-fed machine gun. He opened up. I opened up with my M-4, and Glen was kind of moving behind us to get separation. You don’t want to be in the same spot shooting because if they hit one of you, they’re going to hit the rest of you.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, you had four guys together? It was you, Tyrone, Glen… and who was the fourth guy?

Mark Geist:

That was Dave — the state department security guy. And he was in the opposite corner of the building. The building was about a 40-foot by 30-foot rectangle. There was a ladder (we had built these ladders early on) so you could climb up and down. Dave’s sitting over in that corner, I’m about 30 feet from him, Ty and Glen are right in the corner on my left-hand side. Glen had started moving behind us so that we could get crossfires.

Mark Geist:

And when that first mortar hit, Dave got injured. He started screaming out that he was injured, and he’s sitting over there on the box. In the movie, it was very similar. You see a three-foot wall on top of the building. We had a box there that you had to step on to climb up onto the ladder, so Dave’s sitting over there. I glanced over, and I could see the silhouette of him holding his head, and he’s yelling out that he’s hit.

Mark Geist:

And every instinct in your body wants to go over there and help him. But you can’t. Because if I leave my spot, there’s a weakness in our perimeter. So, I’ve got to stay in the fight. And you’ve got to have what we call “self-aid” first. You’ve got to take care of yourself. It’s self-aid, buddy-aid, first-aid. So, take care of yourself. And then, once the position is secured, your buddy can take care of you. And then you can get your first-aid.

So, after that first one hit, I turned back and finished shooting — went through one magazine. I’m changing magazines and I’m about halfway into standing back up again when the next mortar hits the rooftop. It hit about 15 feet to 17 feet to my right.

Charles Mizrahi:

How big is this rooftop again?

Mark Geist:

It’s 40 feet by 30.

Charles Mizrahi:

And this thing hits on top, so they’re gotten a lot better. They know where you’re at.

Mark Geist:

Well, they knew where we were at from the get-go. What happened is, the first one hit and like anything, when you shoot it off, you drop it down a tube and it explodes at the bottom and shoots it out. When that explosion hits, it settles that base plate into the ground which, if it’s a fresh mortar site, sets it back about two inches. So, it’s going to drop that round back automatically. And it hit, like I said, right where the rooftop — the flat part and the wall on top of the roof — it hit right there and blew up and kind of knocked me back a little bit. And I was standing up because I had to start shooting again and I noticed that Ty was in a fetal position at my feet, and he’s taken out of the fight. I know that Dave’s out of the fight, and I know that Glen hasn’t gotten into it because he’s moving.

Mark Geist:

The timing between the first — and there was four mortars total … It took them about a minute and 20 seconds for all of them to hit. Well, after that first one hit, I had raised my gun up to start shooting and that’s when I realized that I’m injured. Because I bring my left arm up, and about three or four inches above the wrist is hanging off at about a 90-degree angle.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, that was pretty accurate in the movie, your arm?

Mark Geist:

You can kind of see where that scar is — where it blew it up.

Charles Mizrahi:

It was hanging down and you were dangling it — in the book also.

Mark Geist:

I’m actually swinging it trying to make it grab my gun, to shoot. Because I know I’ve got to keep shooting — otherwise, they’re going to come over the wall. And that’s when the next mortar hit. And it hit almost the same spot, but just further back in the center of the building and I glanced over and saw Glen go facedown. It had landed in front of him. And then, the third one hit almost immediately after that. Now, I had shrapnel from all of it, and the third one was the first one where I really felt the pain. It felt like I got stung by a thousand bees. And it was at that time that I realized that I better get to some cover, because if another one hits, you’re going to get killed as well.

Charles Mizrahi:

When a mortar goes off, what is the power of that? How much energy does that thing expand on?

Mark Geist:

Well, it’s 81mm mortars, which are right around three inches. And they have a kill radius of 132 feet. You have a 97% to 98% chance of dying within 132 feet of this.

Charles Mizrahi:

And you have three of these hit the roof.

Mark Geist:

Yes, sir.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, Rone is in a fetal position from the blast, your arm is dangling off… Who is in the corner?

Mark Geist:

Dave. Dave had gotten shrapnel to his forehead.

Charles Mizrahi:

And he’s out of commission.

Mark Geist:

He’s out of commission, and Glen is out of commission because the one mortar had landed in front of him and took him out as well.

Charles Mizrahi:

When you say “took him out” like that… Do you know if they’re dead at this point? Or do you have no idea?

Mark Geist:

The way he fell straight to his face, I pretty much assumed that they were dead. But in the back of my mind, I’m still hoping.

Charles Mizrahi:

You can’t go to them now because you’ve still got to defend — with one arm literally not working.

Mark Geist:

Yeah. A bit of skin across the top, and then a bit of skin and muscle on the bottom was all that was holding it on.

Charles Mizrahi:

How were you not bleeding out at this point? Did you have a tourniquet?

Mark Geist:

It was bleeding pretty bad — I just didn’t realize it. I mean, after the fourth mortar hit, I dove down to some cover and everything just went quiet. You know, thank the Lord that they quit shooting mortars because if they kept shooting them, they would’ve killed everybody—not just us on top, but they would’ve killed everybody inside too. Because they would’ve eventually blown up the rooftop and buried everybody.

Charles Mizrahi:

So, everyone is either severely injured or dead up there… What is your next course of action?

Mark Geist:

Well, I set up and pull my tourniquet out because I know I’ve got to take care of myself. And I also see Ty… He’s about four or five feet away from me. And my instincts should’ve said to stay and take care of myself, but I wanted to see if he was alive and if I could help him. So, I crawled over and started looking for a pulse, and I couldn’t find a pulse. So, I sat back up and tried to get my tourniquet on my arm. And when that happened, I saw a shadow come up over the rooftop, and it was Tig. I didn’t know it at the time, but Tig came up over the rooftop and ran into Dave right there — who had shrapnel in his forehead. His left arm was about blown off like mine, and his left leg was about severed off as well. Tig immediately got two tourniquets on him, saving his life.

Mark Geist:

And then, Tig came over to where I am and helped me get my tourniquet on. And while he was coming over, I held my arm up, and I’d reach down to try to grab the tourniquet and put it over top of it before it fell down. And Tig walks over, and he says to me, “Hey, Oz, you might want to quit playing with that thing. You’re not going to make it any better.” And he reaches down while I hold it on and he gets it on, and he asks me if I can get over to the ladder by myself. And again, in the back of my mind, I’m hoping that Ty and Glen are still alive.

Mark Geist:

So, I get up and walk over to the ladder so he can take care of them. I get over to the ladder and then one of Glen’s team comes over and says, “Can you get down the ladder on your own?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I can,” not realizing, really, what I’m saying I can do. But my thing was, they need to take care of the guys up there. So, he helped me sit on the edge of the rooftop — my legs are dangling over and the ladder is to my right — and that’s when I thought, “How am I going to get down there?” So, I hooked my good arm over the top rung and slid off, knowing that my body would turn and land on the ladder and my feet didn’t land on the ladder. I kind of fell down a little bit, but I was able to keep myself from falling over the ground and was able to pull myself back up and climbed on down and walked around to the front.

Mark Geist:

While I’m walking around, another guy comes and leads me inside. They lay me down. In the movie, they show me sitting on the edge of the gurney, and in reality, I’m laying on the floor and there’s four flashlights in my face. And I’m like, “Hey, somebody needs to cut off my clothes because I’m bleeding from more than just my arm.” And so, the female case officer runs back to where we keep our medical supplies and I can just hear stuff flying everywhere as she’s throwing stuff and yelling gout, “Oz, where are the medical shears?” and I’m like, “They’re in the first set of shelves — third from the top!” And it goes back to my Six Ps. Every place I go, if there’s a med room, I take a water bottle, cut it off and place it somewhere near where you’re going to work. Things I put in there are medical shears, morphine and tourniquets, because those are the three things I know I’ll probably be able to save somebody’s life with.

Mark Geist:

So, she grabs the medical shears coming back over and they end up cutting all my clothes off. We find about 20 to 25 holes in me — most of them weren’t bleeding too bad, and I told them, “If it’s squirting blood, stop it — if it’s oozing, don’t worry about it right now.” So, I got hit in the neck. I had shrapnel about a millimeter from my carotid artery. I got hit four or five times with shrapnel in the chest. Nothing was bleeding too bad there. I was hit up and down both legs, on my face. Another piece of shrapnel was about two millimeters from my femoral artery. There were a couple that were kind of squirting a little bit. We got those shut down.

Mark Geist:

And by that time, they brought Dave down. And when he came down, he was worse off than I was. I mean, he lost a lot of blood — in and out of consciousness. So, they started working on him as well. And eventually, we got another friendly militia (actually, the irony is that the militia came and escorted us to the airport was a Gaddafi loyalist militia) helped get us to the airport. We got the wounded — myself and the other guys who were wounded — and all the other nonessential personnel on that aircraft. I rode in the back of a Hilux pickup truck on a stretcher and they came over to grab the stretcher, but I knew I could walk, so — and in the movie, they depicted it well — I said, “I walked into Benghazi, and I’m going to walk out.” And I stood up and started walking to the plane.

Mark Geist:

There was a female flight attendant at the top of the aircraft, and she just disappeared into the back. At that point, I forgot that I was pretty much naked. So, I figured it was me being naked that scared the heck out of her. I climbed up into the airplane and she came back with a handload of towels. And she started laying them down in front of me. I thought that she wanted me to cover up, but she was worried about me bleeding on her boss’s airplane.

Mark Geist:

So, we got Dave loaded up and everybody else finally got to Tripoli at about 10:30. And they took me into a Libyan hospital with doctors that are probably the ones that saved my life. They got my arm put back together, kind of stitched up everything that was bleeding and stopped all the other bleeds as well. Same thing with Dave.

Mark Geist:

While that’s going on, the rest of the team is stuck at the airport until around 10:00 or 10:30. That’s when an AC-130 lands, and they’re thinking that’s the first aircraft from the U.S. coming to help out, but when it comes down, instead of an American flag on the tailfin, it’s a Libyan flag. The one thing we do right with the agency is that we make sure we have a lot of cash on hand because that’s how you pay informants and things like that. Well, the guys had some money on them. They went over and talked to the pilot and copilot and convinced them that it was probably in their financial best interest to fly them out to Tripoli. And so, they cranked up the airplane.

Mark Geist:

In that down time, we were ale to recover the ambassador’s body. They sent one of the militia guys to the hospital to recover his body, so everybody that was in Benghazi that was an American came out with us. We didn’t leave anybody behind. And we didn’t do it with the help of Washington D.C. We did it for each other.

Mark Geist:

And that’s the just the way that we think. Americans are in harm’s way, and we’re going to help them. As you said early on, it doesn’t matter what your race is, what your creed is, what your color is, what your religion is or what sexual orientation you have. We don’t care about that. You’re an American — we’re going to help take care of you. That’s why we raise our hand to uphold that Constitution. Because it’s that Constitution that protects us all. And that’s really what’s important to this country. As much as people want to adjust it, it’s worked for 245 years. You better leave it alone, because that’s what’s going to keep us free and keep people wanting to join our military and come to America.

Charles Mizrahi:

More people like you and your team to do what you guys do…

Mark Geist:

Yep.

Charles Mizrahi:

That’s it. Wow. It’s just an absolutely amazing story. Six guys kept out 500 terrorists attacking for no reason. Unprovoked. That’s terrorism.

Mark Geist:

Well, their reason is because we fly an American flag.

Charles Mizrahi:

That’s it, yeah. Because we’re Americans.

Mark Geist:

You see, they don’t care what color, creed, religion, race or sexual orientation you are, either.

Charles Mizrahi:

Yep.

Mark Geist:

You’re Americans, so they just want to kill you.

Charles Mizrahi:

That’s what I think we’ve forgotten. We have all these divisions amongst ourselves, but out of the confines of the United States, they really don’t care. When those planes went into the World Trade Center, I remember watching the fire from my house—the smoke. They didn’t care who was in that building.

Mark Geist:

No, they didn’t.

Charles Mizrahi:

Wow. You found out that Rone had died — that blast took him out. And also, Bub, right?

Mark Geist:

Yep.

Charles Mizrahi:

Two of the Navy SEAL guys on your team. So, we lost four men that day.

Mark Geist:

Yes, we did.

Charles Mizrahi:

Wow. And you came back and you and your wife started an organization called Shadow Warriors Project.

Mark Geist:

Yes, sir.

Charles Mizrahi:

Tell me why you started this organization and what you guys do.

Mark Geist:

Well, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to continue doing what I did, and I still wanted to help serve. So, the best way I could do it is to help the guys by making sure that they’re taken care of if they get injured like I was. And the thought of it first started when I was still in the hospital — in Walter Reed — in Washington D.C. It took us about six months to a year before we actually got it all off the ground.

Mark Geist:

And as private security contractors… Since 2001, we’ve had over 5,000 private security contractors that worked for the U.S. government killed in 80 different countries for being Americans and protecting this country. Because they put themselves in harm’s way. Over 30,000 injured. That’s why we use contractors in a lot of other countries, doing certain jobs for the military so we don’t have to have as many military personnel. The contractors can do it — a lot of the time cheaper — so you don’t have to have the growth in the military and the downsizing and all that. But really, the contractors — especially the private security contractors — are the ones that are in the most dangerous positions. We have a workman’s comp policy, and that’s it.

Mark Geist:

So, as you said early on, I got paid pretty well. I got paid about $780 a day. And most days, I never really had to earn that, because I wasn’t getting shot at. But on the days where you are getting shot at, it’s not enough. So, it kind of compensates it. But once I left Libya on September 12, 2012, my pay dropped. I’m in the hospital for six to eight weeks. I don’t get paid. I get done and I’ve got to file the paperwork for my workman’s comp claim. And you know how efficient that is. I mean, the government is really spot-on, quick. (Tongue in cheek, there.) I didn’t get my first workman’s comp check until after the first of the year.

Charles Mizrahi:

How are you paying bills and putting food on the table?

Mark Geist:

You know, for us, it was the grace of God and the grace of people I worked with that donated money to us. When I went back to Washington D.C., I had stopped by Langley, and a group of them who had worked around us collected money and handed me an envelope that had several thousand dollars in it that they took up as a donation. Because they knew we were struggling just to be able to pay the rent. And really, that’s why we wanted to start Shadow Warriors, so that no one had to worry about that because when you’re healing or mourning the death of warrior, the last thing a family should have to worry about is making their bills.

Charles Mizrahi:

I find the indignity of it all… You held off 500 men, you saved American lives, two of your buddies paid the ultimate price, you were badly injured… and now, you’re on your own.

Mark Geist:

Yep.

Charles Mizrahi:

That doesn’t make any sense to me.

Mark Geist:

It doesn’t. Now, I knew that going into it. I understood that.

Charles Mizrahi:

Yeah, but it still doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense that the U.S. government hires private contractors to protect Americans so you can take the burden off the military, pay you a nice amount of money — don’t get me wrong — you knew what you were going into… However, when risking your life and getting injured and after 14 or 15 operations, you still have to pay to put food on the table and the cable bill… And here, your collecting money. And you can’t feel great about it. That’s sad. And most people don’t know anything about this.

Mark Geist:

No, they don’t. And it’s unfortunate because we still have people serving overseas. Now we don’t have as many contractors overseas, but in Afghanistan right now, for every one active military person, we have 2.5 contractors there.

Charles Mizrahi:

But we’re not talking contractors like mercenaries. I want to make that distinction. We’re talking about security guards for our people, and the state department. You guys aren’t soldiers that are going to fight for Mozambique tomorrow… You’re there to protect Americans under a different line item on the PNL statement of the government.

Mark Geist:

Yep. That’s exactly it.

Charles Mizrahi:

Wow. So, ShadowWarriorsProject.org is an organization that you and your wife started — grassroots. You have a great website. And you want to raise awareness and raise money to help these warriors for the first 90 days or so when they come back home?

Mark Geist:

Yeah. The initial thing is to try to help them with their bills so they don’t have to worry about things. I mean, mainly, their rent is paid, or their mortgage is paid… The lights are turned on, and make sure they have heat or A/C wherever they live. We make sure that they don’t have to worry about that. And if you get through that first three months, it increases their probability of not having to lose their home. It increases their wellbeing — mentally and physically.

Charles Mizrahi:

Just amazing. So, if anyone wants to contribute, go to ShadowWarriorsProject.org. Any amount of money — whatever it is… It doesn’t take much. You’re looking for three months to get these peoples’ lives in order. And just stop the slide. Because once you start to go down that slide — especially if you’re injured — I just can’t imagine how horrendous it is.

Mark Geist:

Yeah. And most of the guys that are in this job — I mean, like myself. I worked as a private security contractor for nine years. I was gone, overseas, for 21 deployments. I was gone for seven years out of the nine and a half years. We’ve got guys who are coming back with PTS. I don’t call it PTSD because it’s not a disorder, it’s just an injury. And you’ve got guys who are repeatedly doing this. They need help. And that’s why one of our other programs that you see on there is our dog program — getting guys who need service dogs — canines. Making sure that they’re taking care of, and that they can still do what they need to do and have help to get through for all the years that they’ve served. And most of them serve several years in the military and then they get out and they still have that desire to serve this country. And this affords them that. Unfortunately, we just don’t take care of them the same.

Charles Mizrahi:

I really hope that this organization goes out of business soon. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a private guy like you and you wife to bootstrap this when it seems, to me (and once again, I might be missing a big part of the picture), that this should really be some government agency — some part of the defense department—that should be taking care of this. It’s a small line item. It sounds cruel.

Mark Geist:

It is. I mean, unfortunately, it is.

Charles Mizrahi:

Wow, Mark “Oz” Geist, you are a hero. I know don’t want to say that, but you and your team are just amazing — especially what you’re doing now. So, you saved 20-something people. My prayer is that you would save many, many more in your organization. Once again, it’s ShadowWarriorsProject.org. I’ll put a link in the podcast description. And the book 13 Hours is amazing. Read the book, watch the movie. And Mark, again, I’m just happy that you’re on our side and thankful that we live in a country that produces people like you and your team.

Mark Geist:

Charles, thank you so much, and thank you for all your support for Shadow Warriors — getting the word out. Because it’s the everyday American that can do $10 or $20 a month — whatever it takes. I mean, it could be $5. You’re going to be helping somebody through life in their toughest of times, when they’re injured for serving and making sure that they’re free in this country.

Charles Mizrahi:

Mark, God bless you and your wife. Thank you for all you’ve done. Thank you for your service. I wish you the best, and only success and happiness for the next 120 years. Thanks so much, Mark.

Mark Geist:

Thank you, Charles. God bless you.

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