This 4th of July we pause to honor our fallen heroes and this ’13 Hours’ interview demonstrates the grit and sacrifice our soldiers display. We experience an even more in-depth view speaking with real-life Benghazi hero Kris “Tanto” Paronto.
When a U.S. diplomatic compound and a CIA annex building were attacked by Islamic militants in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, six real-life heroes, guided by their faith in God and conviction to do the right thing, voluntarily and courageously fought to protect 36 American lives.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi is the newly released, action-packed film depicting the gripping true story of the attacks in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The movie stars John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Pablo Schreiber, Dominic Fumusa, and David Denman and is directed by Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Transformers). The film is adapted from the non-fiction book, 13 Hours, written by New York Times bestselling author Mitchell Zuckoff.
Benghazi has been a highly debated and politically charged issue since the tragic events unfolded that September night, but few have talked about and celebrated the bravery, courage, and faith of the six men who willingly chose to put their lives on the line to defend the American compound despite the overwhelming forces against them.
While some in the political realm want to debate, scrutinize, and question the events at Benghazi, there is no disputing that the courageous men involved on the ground that night are heroes. Kris “Tanto” Paronto is one of those heroes. He was part of the CIA annex security team who responded to the terrorist attack on September 11.
Sonoma Christian Home had the privilege of speaking with “Tanto” about the fateful night in Libya and how his faith in God sustained him during the 13-hour battle, and in the days that followed the attacks. SCH Contributor Vanessa Lebow reports.
SCH: How involved were you during the filming process?
KTP: We were heavily involved in the process–from going over the script, to making sure the set looked right, and meeting with the actors portraying us.
We were very involved in making sure the people who did heroic things that night were accurately portrayed and honored because they haven’t been accurately honored by the government.
SCH: Does the movie tell the story you wanted it to tell? Is it an accurate depiction?
KTP: Yes, it’s very accurate. Although, I think the story should be “13 hours through Tanto’s eyes.” (laughs)
I do understand it’s hard to encompass 13 hours into a 2-hour film so you have to meld some characters. For example, the interpreter in the film is a compilation of 3 different people. So, I understand that.
But, as far as the accuracy of the combat scenes, they are spot on. So is the timeline and the characters.
I was very happy with the amount of confusion that the film shows. It’s confusing to watch, but it captures what we went through. We didn’t know who was the enemy or who were our friends. It shows that we were confused and that the night was chaotic. Some critics were critical about that part of the movie, but that’s exactly how it happened. We didn’t know which people to shoot and which people were friendly. It was mass chaos. Mass confusion. I was very proud they got that right.
SCH: I saw an interview with you where you said the movie left you drained, but it was also cathartic. What do you mean by that?
KTP: When I first saw the screening at Paramount, Michael (Bay) came up to me and asked, “How do you feel?”
After a few minutes to compose myself, I told him I felt like there is a big hole in me. I want to go back. The movie had taken me back and was so realistic. I loved that job so much and I didn’t want to quit. So, when the movie was over, I felt like the job was pulled away from me.
Those two hours made me relive everything and the job I loved. I was exhausted and drained when it was over.
But, it was also cathartic because after waiting 8 months (for the film to be released) I watched the story spin out of control and be monopolized by politicians and mainstream media, I was finally able to tell the true story. The story of the film—faith in God, faith in your brothers, courage, sacrifice—that story wasn’t being told so having to keep that in for such and long time and then seeing it told on the screen really helped me.
The cathartic process is actually seeing that the truth is out there now. It helps with those negative thoughts I had after that night when the story was completely monopolized and misrepresented by politicians and mainstream media. So, now, I get to say this is what really happened and it’s very therapeutic.
SCH: I watched a terrific video of you guys talking about the importance of your faith. Tell us more about your faith background.
KTP: I’ve always had a base of Christianity. I was like any kid, though. I would rather be playing on a Sunday than be sitting in church. So, my faith didn’t become personal to me until the military when I started to realize I didn’t have entire control of what went on around me, but God did. He had a lot to do with what and who I was becoming. God is very important in the military.
SCH: How do you feel like your faith helped you deal with the attacks and the loss and tragedy of it all?
KTP: I have a wartime Bible and there’s a prayer in it, the prayer before battle, that reads: If I die on this battlefield this day may I die at peace with you.
It shook me because (at the time) I was in Iraq and the idea of me dying on the battlefield became real. I went and talked to my pastor and he helped me understand that I don’t always have control and if dying is what my path is, that’s okay. Let go and let God have control. When I started doing that, I didn’t really get scared anymore. Of course you still get intense and still have that fight or flight adrenaline, but there’s a peace.
My character says it in the film, and I said it that night in battle, “As long as I’m doing the right thing, God will take care of me.”
I didn’t mean that God is going to keep me safe, but that He would take care of me. If I’m supposed to die here, then it’s God’s will and I accept that. It’s okay.
That’s why what happened to me that night in Benghazi was perfect timing because I had gone through so much previously that I accepted what was supposed to happen. When my friends were wounded or dying around me, I felt like God grabbed me back the back of my scruff and said, “Tanto, get back in the fight. You’re not done, yet.”
God was a huge part of getting me through that night. Huge.
SCH: You guys are so courageous. So many of us pray for that kind of courage, but few of us actually have it. Where does that courage come from for you?
KTP: I don’t know if it’s courage or if it’s just us doing our job.
Courage is accepting that this is the path you’re supposed to be on. The army value of selfless service is important, too. I think about John 15:13 a lot, Greater love has no man than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friend.
That’s how I view my job. That’s how I view me. That’s how I live my life.
I don’t see it as courage. It’s more that I’m will to accept the consequences that come; and, not consequences in a negative term, but that whatever happens, it’s supposed to be that way.
SCH: So, it’s surrender?
KTP: Yes, exactly. Some people think it’s quitting, but I’m like, “NO!” I’m going to keep fighting. I’m simply okay, at peace, with what happens.
SCH: What do you hope the audience learns from this film?
KTP: Unfortunately, there will be people who try to discredit it. There will be people who try and push it politically. That’s terrible. It’s absolutely not a political film.
I want people to come out of there with a renewed sense of faith in each other; and, to see God in it. There’s an underlying tone of God and faith. I hope people are inspired. It’s a very patriotic film. Be proud of your military. Be proud to be an American. Be proud of people serving and know that there are men and women still willing to give their lives for their bothers and sisters.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi is available on DVD. It’s a great movie to watch this patriotic holiday! Learn more about the film by visiting Thirteenhoursmovie.com