A few minutes with Kris “Tanto” Paronto talking about 13 hours in Benghazi

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Kris Paronto, left, who helped save 20 people during the Benghazi terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2012 shakes hands with MO Rep. Mike Haffner, who few security patrols over New York City as a Navy pilot on the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Photo by Megan Duncan

LAGRANGE, Mo. — It was 13 hours that Kris “Tanto” Paronto, and the rest of the CIA annex security team, held off terrorist in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, helping to save 20 lives.

Tragically losing their lives that day were J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Patrick Smith, Ty Woods, and Glen Doherty.

Paronto relived those long hours in Benghazi on the set of the 2016 major motion picture titled “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” following the book that released in 2014.

He said the movie experience broke down some —but not all— of the stereotypes he held about Hollywood. 

“They did a great job,” he said. “We were on set and we helped with the script writing.”

Paronto said that John Krazinski, who played Jack in the movie, is “the nicest guy in the world and his wife, Emily (Blunt) is sweet.”  The role of Paronto was played by Pablo Schreiber and they are still in contact.

Paronto said that he found watching the actors work therapeutic. He could finally see what happened and the heroic acts by his friends that were missed in the chaos of the night. 

“We could all see each other now and be amazed at the heroism of the team,” he said. “I knew they were awesome and that they are bad-asses but it was like, ‘Holy crap. Tig, you got up there and did that? Jack, you went into the building that many times? I didn’t know because we were all spread out everywhere.”

Saturday Feb. 25, Paronto was the guest speaker at the Lincoln Day dinner event hosted by the Lewis County GOP at the Caldwell Building in Canton, Mo. His first stop was at the shooting range, Practical Tactical in LaGrange, Mo. where a group was there to greet him, including Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

Also in attendance was Missouri Rep. Mike Haffner, who was a Navy pilot assigned to fly security patrols over New York City following the attack on the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

The events of that night in Benghazi involved a lot of high profile and political finger-pointing as to whose fault the attack was. It was also a media frenzy and one that Paronto and his friends were caught in.

He said when the movie came out and they were traveling around for it, “there was money and a ton of social media followers and all of these things.”

“I was terrible. I was awful. I think that’s where a lot of us guys were,” he admitted.

During this time, he began going on talk shows and public speaking but his talks became a place for him to outpour anger. Soon he realized not participating was the only way to heal.

While he continues to do a few public speaking events here and there, he has stopped working with mainstream media. He first told Fox News he would no longer appear on their shows in 2017.

“The media made everyone angry. It’s like everyone wanted to see the old king and queen days and have people in the stocks waiting for public hangings. I think people wanted to see that. I wanted to see that,” he said. “It is a manipulation whether you are on one side or the other, but I have never been afraid of that because I just tell my story.”

He can now look back and see God’s hand throughout that night in Benghazi.

“The things we experienced, you can only experience in combat. It helps if you can see the good parts and feel the feelings. I can even see God’s hand, which I did feel that night too, and I kind of forgot that,” he said.

He also believes that the men who were with him that night were all chosen to be there.

Each of the men had been deploying for ten years already and had served in Bagdad, Mexico, Columbia and more. Paronto had fought pirates off the coast of Somalia for a stint. 

“That’s why God had that team there. Guys who could be disciplined and pick a target out,” he said.  “There were terrorists moving on us through a house in the village we called Zombieland. That was not a made up name. That’s really what we called it.” 

Paronto said the terrorists in Zombieland played on their empathies.

“They were good at what they were doing because they knew we weren’t going to shoot in places where they would be children because we had all seen children die at one point. Terrorists knew that. They worked on our empathies and sympathies but that’s a tactic and it’s honestly very smart,” he said.

Paronto is relieved he can finally look back on that night without needing to know whose fault it was. Things have changed for him and his faith has played a big part of that. 

“I am a strong Christian. Worst mouth in the world — I am a potty mouth Christian — but I remembered that God judges everyone and he will take care of it. Including everyone on that administration,” he said. “Now that I am able to let the anger go. You can be angry for so long, but I finally let go and let God. That is when everything started to get better.”

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