He walked into Benghazi.
And not even an all-night firefight with an enemy that heavily outnumbered Mark “Oz” Geist and his team of ex-military CIA contractors that left him with a badly injured arm and shrapnel throughout his body was going to stop him from walking out.
On Friday Geist – who along with the rest of the Benghazi CIA annex security team contributed to the book “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and the Hollywood blockbuster that followed it – spoke to a capacity crowd at the annual Not Forgotten fundraising dinner at the Christian Worship Center. He talked about how things unfolded that day, about the 13 hours that transpired from when the first radio calls came in that an Al Qaeda affiliate had attacked the sparsely guarded Benghazi consulate and the last personnel involved with the operation were finally out of the country, and everything that has happened since.
And he spared no details.
Geist said that once the annex team that had dispatched to the actual consulate to try and protect Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff they returned and took positions around the annex where they were prepared to fight back insurgents. He said it was actually kind of “easy” – likening the entire experience to a real-life game of “whack-a-mole.”
With all of their technology – night vision and infrared lasers – it was a waiting game until somebody stepped out of the shadows and was eliminated. Then they’d wait for the next guy to come take that body away, and they would dispatch that person as well.
After a pair of firefights, then the mortars started falling.
That’s when tragedy struck.
Of the three mortars that rained down on their position, one of them ended up killing contractor Tyrone Woods, the second badly damaged Geist’s arm, and the third killed contractor Glen Doherty – who had flown down from Tripoli to provide support with a crew that included other contractors and a pair of Delta Forces operators – and sent shrapnel into Geist’s body.
By the time the dust settled two contractors, Ambassador Stevens and Diplomat Sean Smith were dead, and nearly 100 fighters loyal to Ansar al-Sharia and Al Qaeda were dead.
Geist said that he and the rest of the team decided to partner with a writer on the book because they wanted the story told correctly and didn’t trust that those who made the fateful decision that night would do that accurately.
“The families deserve the right to know what happened to their sons,” he said to a round of applause. “We did this because the responsibility wasn’t being taken by the people who knew what the truth was – and wasn’t going to be taken by the people who knew what the truth was – and we decided that we had to do it ourselves.”
The entire Benghazi attack has become a political firestorm since that night on Sept. 11, 2012 and the issue continues to dog Democratic Presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for decisions that she made as Secretary of State.
According to Geist, the matter was complicated since there were no Department of Defense personnel formally committed to Libya at the time. By sending a Marine Corps team from Italy that is tasked with providing emergency security at high-risk consulates could have been perceived as an act of war without permission from the President of that country.
Even still, Geist said that he hopes that Congressman Trey Gowdy gets “the answers” that he feels the American people are due. Despite the fact he thought things were handled incorrectly, he doesn’t think that there were any nefarious intentions by those making the call on what transpired that fateful night.
“I don’t believe it was nefarious,” Geist said. “I don’t believe that the politicians making those calls wanted us to die. But the inability to act is something that can have dire consequences. In every major military tactical training course they teach you how to make decisions and stick with those decisions because it’s not good to want to analyze a decision from every angle before you make it in a scenario like that.
“I’d rather make a bad decision and go with it than sit there and not make a decision at all.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.