Former Army Ranger Kris “Tanto” Paronto detailed his experiences in Benghazi and shed light on many of the realities he faced during the attack of 2012 on Wednesday evening at the Grand Avenue Theater in Belton. The event at which he spoke was hosted by the Central Texas Republican Women’s PAC and comes in light of the recent movie “13 Hours,” which tells the true story of the veterans who fought in the attack.
At the event, whose proceeds will go toward supporting the Fort Hood Memorial honoring those who died in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, Paronto said he was thrilled when the movie was released because he felt it was an accurate account of how the Benghazi attacks played out.
“They got the spirit of what really happened that night and that was the sacrifice for each other,” Paronto said. “They showed combat in its true form. There are a lot of times where you are scared, a bit overwhelmed, but also having fun and cracking jokes, just like I was doing.”
Amid all the political controversies surrounding the attack, Paronto said he was relieved that the truth of his experience could finally be told.
“It’s nice that the truth has finally been able to get out there after almost three years,” Paronto added. “ We have been fighting the political agenda that has really slammed what actually happened there that night.”
On Sept. 11, 2012, which was the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the United States consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, were attacked by Ansar I- Sharia armed militants. Four Americans, including former United States ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.
The night of the attack, after receiving word the ambassador and the consulate were in danger, the team of six military contractors was ready to be called to action only to be told to stand down by the former CIA chief in Benghazi known as Bob.
Eventually, after receiving numerous commands to stand down, the soldiers decided to disregard the command in order to fulfill their duty of protecting in the line of fire.
“During that time frame he told us to stand down,” Paronto said. “I know there has been a lot of discussion about stand down, but I can care less what anyone else says, people died because he told us to stand down.”
Paronto said by the time they got to the consulate, they were unable to find Stevens in the villa filled with black smoke, which made it difficult to breathe. He said they went as far back as they could go to look for the ambassador, almost falling victim themselves. However, not knowing for sure if the ambassador was still in the consulate building, the team made the decision to go back to the CIA annex to prevent it from also being overrun.
“As a Ranger, like any other branch of military service, you never let a fallen comrade fall into the hands of the enemy,” Paronto said. “We made the decision to leave, and that’s hard for me to deal with because he was there, but we left. It’s hard to deal with, but it happened and I’ll deal with it for the rest of my life.”
As the team returned to the annex building, there were two more series of attacks led by the armed militants.
“As the night went on there were a lot more altercations and chances for us to quit, lie down and just give up, and say, ‘To hell with it, but we did not’.”
Toward the end of the attacks, mortars hit the rooftops where some of the soldiers were, leaving two of them dead.
“It was hard to watch my buddies basically vaporize in front of my eyes, which is what it really looked like to me, but I knew it was for the right reasons,” Paronto said. “And I know it is for the right reasons because it was to save 30 others.”
While Paronto said he felt the movie conveyed a true sense of what really happened in Benghazi, but he wished it portrayed more of a sense of God being there with him through his faith.
“Sometimes you just have to let go of control,” Paronto said. “That night in particular, I was supposed to be in Benghazi, I was supposed to be up on that rooftop, and I was supposed to be fighting with those guys, fighting for my life because that is where God wanted me to be. You just have to let it go. If I had happened to die that night then that’s His decision. I’m not going to stop fighting and give up.”
There were many veterans, active duty service men and women along with family members of those who have served in the audience, who could relate to Paronto’s experience.
“I feel it’s important to Veterans to unite with each other.” said Meredith Granholm, a former Air Force staff sergeant. “As a veteran I support him for what he did and what he continues to do with speaking the truth of what happened in Benghazi.”
Paronto said he was grateful for the support he received from service members and civilians during the political aftermath surrounding the attacks.
“I want to thank you guys, because, to be honest with you, after Benghazi and after things turned on us and people started to call us liars, I hated this place. I hated the US and I hated the government. As I have continued to speak, come around and continue to see the support I’m getting now, you guys have really brought my patriotism back to where it was when I first joined the service.”
However, despite his bravery and courage the night of the attacks, Paronto said he prefers not to be called a hero.
“I don’t like the title, I’m not. I was just doing my job that night,” Paronto said. “I did things I think anybody would have done as long as they were willing to sacrifice themselves for others, so hero isn’t a title I am comfortable with. We just look at it as our job.”
Paronto left one piece of advice to college-aged students regarding the importance and duty of helping others.
“You just describe it as being a self-sacrifice, a selfless service,” Paronto said. “You have to start getting out of your bubble a little bit and realizing there are just times you have to think of others before yourself.”