By Kris Paronto
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Bear true faith and allegiance to the US Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers. Bearing true faith and allegiance is a matter of believing in and devoting yourself to something or someone. A loyal Soldier is one who supports the leadership and stands up for fellow Soldiers. By wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army you are expressing your loyalty. And by doing your share, you show your loyalty to your unit.
Fulfill your obligations. Doing your duty means more than carrying out your assigned tasks. Duty means being able to accomplish tasks as part of a team. The work of the U.S. Army is a complex combination of missions, tasks and responsibilities—all in constant motion. Our work entails building one assignment onto another. You fulfill your obligations as a part of your unit every time you resist the temptation to take “shortcuts” that might undermine the integrity of the final product.
Treat people as they should be treated. In the Soldier’s Code, we pledge to “treat others with dignity and respect while expecting others to do the same.” Respect is what allows us to appreciate the best in other people. Respect is trusting that all people have done their jobs and fulfilled their duty. And self-respect is a vital ingredient with the Army value of respect, which results from knowing you have put forth your best effort. The Army is one team and each of us has something to contribute.
Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. Selfless service is larger than just one person. In serving your country, you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain. The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of each team member to go a little further, endure a little longer, and look a little closer to see how he or she can add to the effort.
Live up to Army values. The nation’s highest military award is The Medal of Honor. This award goes to Soldiers who make honor a matter of daily living—Soldiers who develop the habit of being honorable, and solidify that habit with every value choice they make. Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do.
Do what’s right, legally and morally. Integrity is a quality you develop by adhering to moral principles. It requires that you do and say nothing that deceives others. As your integrity grows, so does the trust others place in you. The more choices you make based on integrity, the more this highly prized value will affect your relationships with family and friends, and, finally, the fundamental acceptance of yourself.
Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral). Personal courage has long been associated with our Army. With physical courage, it is a matter of enduring physical duress and at times risking personal safety. Facing moral fear or adversity may be a long, slow process of continuing forward on the right path, especially if taking those actions is not popular with others. You can build your personal courage by daily standing up for and acting upon the things that you know are honorable.
“The Army Values,” US Army, https://www.army.mil/values/.
PUT IT ON THE LINE
BATTLES EXPOSE HUMAN BEINGS at our best and our worst. It almost goes without saying that the human capacity for destruction, violence, evil, and greed is on full display on any battlefield during war. But those of us who have actually been on the front lines are often blessed to have witnessed acts of profound sacrifice, heroism, and bravery. That is one of the reasons that I believe I have had the best job in the world. I am proud to have served as an Army Ranger and grateful to have spent a good part of my professional life protecting and defending America. It has been an honor to fight in battle for my country, and it is a privilege to bear witness to the sacrifices of American warriors.
People sometimes ask why a person would volunteer to risk his or her own life, over and over again. For me, the answer involves patriotism, love of my country and my fellow man, and gratitude for the blessings of my citizenship. I grew up believing that the United States was the greatest, most powerful nation in the world. Like many Americans, I used to take many of the rights and freedoms established in the Constitution for granted. But once I began deploying, I came to appreciate the comforts of home and to see that the threats to our freedom are real. That is why I am still willing to lay down my life today. It seems to me that a lot of the people who are feeling so grim about the state of our nation today are still taking our rights for granted.
When I tune in to the news these days, it seems like the United States has never been more divided. The criticism changes depending on who is slinging it—liberals or conservatives, Republicans or Democrats. But the overall feeling is one of angry pessimism. Political campaigns are negative, Congress is polarized, everyone is watching their own biased news source, and it looks like some people—and maybe whole nations—are trying to exploit our honest differences and foment dissatisfaction with democracy altogether.
But we aren’t as divided as the media would have us believe. I have been traveling across the United States for a good part of the past few years, and I’ve connected with a lot of people who care about this magnificent country and our future. We have a lot in common. When we unplug from the news, most of us get along just fine, despite our differences. Of course we have problems. Of course the United States has problems. But Americans also have a lot of shared values, and I believe that many of our problems would seem less intractable if more of us would recommit to truly living by a few key, common values.
When soldiers enter the Army now, they are taught that there are seven core Army Values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Everyone in the Army is supposed to commit the values, and the principles behind them, to memory. To help us do that, the Army even created a mnemonic: LDRSHIP. These principles are the standards that all soldiers are supposed to live by, both on and off duty.
The Army Values are basic principles that, if followed, can help recruits become good soldiers with honorable careers. I’d argue that those values also characterize a good human being. The Army Values should be familiar to all of us. The Army didn’t make up concepts like loyalty, integrity, and respect. But how often do we truly think about what they mean? How often do we live by them? How many of us truly prioritize the principles expressed in the Army Values in our own lives and consciously make them part of our own decision-making? And how often do we really live those values without expecting anything in return?
VALUES IN ACTION
My life was profoundly changed on September 11, 2012, when I spent more than thirteen hours on the ground as part of the CIA Annex security team, which responded to the terrorist attack on the US State Department Special Mission and the Annex, a nearby CIA station in Benghazi, Libya.
Our team of six former military special operators (Marines Dave “Boone” Benton, Mark “Oz” Geist, and John “Tig” Tiegen; Navy SEALs Jack Silva and Tyrone “Rone” Woods; and me, the Lone Ranger) had been hired to provide security for American diplomats and CIA agents working in Benghazi. Each man on our team had been deploying as either a serviceman or contractor for at least ten years, and we had each logged significant time in the Middle East. Our team kept in regular contact with the Special Mission, which we called the consulate, and we shared radios with them, but we did not have a directive to protect their staff.
When terrorists attacked the Special Mission compound, our team was initially told to stand down and to wait for local forces to arrive to handle the situation. But American lives were at risk, so our team acted against orders and fought all night, against tremendous odds, retaking the compound and defending attacks on the Annex.
By the time we returned to the United States about two weeks later, that day’s events had already become politicized. As we saw the events we participated in mischaracterized by others for political purposes, I and the four other surviving members of our team became frustrated and angry.
Four Americans died during the attack: Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. Tyrone and Glen, in particular, were our brothers. My teammates and I called them Rone and Bub. We felt that their sacrifice required us to bear witness to the circumstances that led to their deaths. With the help of journalist Mitchell Zuckoff, we set the record straight by telling our story, as witnesses, in the book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi (Hachette Book Group, 2014).
Filmmaker Michael Bay made our book into a movie of the same name. You can read our book, or watch the movie, to understand the story of September 11, 2012; I’m not going to rehash it here. But the process of telling this particular story set me on a new path, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be on it.
I was trained in the military to be part of a giant machine. On a mission, I am just one small part of the highly coordinated and choreographed efforts of what might literally be thousands of people, most of whom I do not know and who don’t know me. But we are counting on each other, and we know we can depend on each person to do his or her job.
Promoting 13 Hours seemed, in certain ways, to be antithetical to the way I had been trained. Sometimes it was painful and exhausting to tell the story of that night, and a part of me felt like I was drawing attention to myself, saying, “Look at me, look at us, look at what we did.” That felt uncomfortable. It still feels uncomfortable, but this new path requires that people hear and see me, and that is something I have to accept. My mission is always to accept and excel, to the best of my abilities.
I had good reasons for wanting people to know about the events depicted in 13 Hours. Our team wanted to correct the historical record and to draw attention to the heroic sacrifices of Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who laid down their lives for their country.
One thing I have come to realize is that being challenged is usually uncomfortable. I believe that God gave me a new challenge and set me on a path to fight a different battle after Benghazi. I am a man of faith. I accept that wherever I find myself in life is where God wants me to be. I do not have to like where I am, but I trust that God has me there for a purpose. I believe that it is up to me to figure out God’s purpose in any particular situation, whether it is to learn a lesson or to be of service.
For the last few years, I have been doing more than telling my story: I’ve been listening to other people’s stories. And I’ve come to understand that we are all fighting battles and that we can all learn from each other and lean on each other to survive them.
I am grateful for having been able to share my story, and the true story of my teammates in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, but the same social media tools that have helped me do that have also frustrated me. I’m not just talking about being attacked by members of the media or politicians who are serving their own agenda or passionate folks with alternate views. That comes with the territory when you threaten someone else’s world view. I accept opposition. But I feel disappointed by a lot of social media. Sometimes, as I scroll along online, I imagine everyone hollering, “Look at me! Look at what I did today!” That’s not why I want to be on social media. That’s not what I want to read on social media.
I wish that more of us could connect through stories that inspire us, and just work at making ourselves better every day and not worry about who sees us, who likes our pictures, or how many people send us direct messages.
There are plenty of people out in the real world overcoming incredible obstacles. It’s no surprise that a lot of them are veterans and patriots, men and women who have been willing to put their lives on the line for our country. If anyone is paying any attention to me, I’d like to steer them to some new stories. There are people out there who have done more than I and who have endured more than I, and they have wisdom to share. You are going to read about some of them in these pages. Maybe one particular story will resonate with you.
We can also learn something by seeing what heroic people have in common: the ability to move forward against any obstacles. They never quit.
I want to commemorate my lost brothers and to keep history honest, but I never want to be the guy who just sits around and tells war stories. That might sound funny, because telling my war stories has kept me busy for the last few years now. I’m humbled by the people who want to hear what I have to say, and I’m inspired by many of the experiences other people have shared with me in return. I’m grateful for the work I’m doing, but it’s not the work I set out to do. I was trained to fight, defend, and protect people. If I could enter a time machine and return to the front lines, I would go back in a heartbeat. Many civilians do a double take when I tell them that I wish I could deploy again. Most veterans understand.
SAFETY AND LUCK
The United States is still a safe country. Walk around. Even our toughest neighborhoods are safer, cleaner, and more secure than most of the places where I have deployed (you’ll read about some of them shortly). It is relatively safe to send our kids to school. It is front page news when there is violence in our stores or offices. We can drive to work and to the store in the first place because most of us have the opportunity to make money and to live well.
Our water and our air are relatively clean, and when there is a problem with those resources, we can raise holy hell about it and expect our governments and utilities to respond. Most people do not think of these aspects of our lives as luxuries. And maybe no one should have to consider them luxuries. But we shouldn’t take them for granted, either.
A CLOSE CALL NEAR LITTLE ASSASSIN’S GATE
The guys who were contracting and doing logistical work in Iraq in 2003, at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, started out wearing gear made by 5.11 Tactical, a company that specializes in field equipment for law enforcement and public safety officials.
They drove around in light armored trucks, looking like the Americans they were. Many of them got hammered. A local guy might have been walking down the street with an AK-47, have seen a contractor’s vehicle approaching, and just like that, our guys would become a target of opportunity.
By the time I got there, in the summer of 2004, we had figured out that if you were not clandestine, you needed to be seriously kitted up in order to walk around Baghdad with any degree of safety.
It is challenging to think of other people when you are uncomfortable, trying to maintain situational awareness, and trying to protect yourself. For example, in the summer of 2005, I was working at a checkpoint at one of the bridges on Haifa Street, a two-mile stretch of road in downtown Baghdad that divides largely Sunni neighborhoods from largely Shia neighborhoods. It was hotter than I imagine hell to be. Our checkpoint was near what we called Little Assassin’s Gate, just outside the Green Zone. We were protecting the acting ambassador to Iraq, Deputy Chief of Mission James Jeffries, who was a high-value target to any terrorist operating in the area. We were trying to protect and get him into the safe zone, which required locking down specific areas and blocking intersections so that our guys could roll through. My team was charged with locking down this intersection. The intersection was dangerous under normal circumstances, but on that day there were reports of sniper fire targeting our area from across the bridge, where a huge building was under construction.
I was trying to control this area, but the motorcade we were waiting for was running behind. As we waited, I acted as a traffic cop amid the controlled chaos: the traffic was backing up, the drivers were getting pissed, and there was sniper fire I had to be aware of across the Tigris River near a bridge we called Bridge Number Two.
I was letting cars go through whenever I was sure they were not carrying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). You can usually spot those cars because their suspension systems don’t hold bombs well and they are weighed down real low, similar to low riders you might see in parts of East Los Angeles. In addition, they rarely carry passengers, just a driver.
I was paying attention to these kinds of details and trying to get Iraqis through who didn’t appear to be a threat. I also had to be conscious of the other contractors who rolled up. Terrorists tended to target US, British, and Australian contractors, who were especially vulnerable if they were being held at a checkpoint, so I had to worry about moving them through as quickly as possible.
All of a sudden, I looked up and saw a guy standing in that building under construction, which was approximately seventy-five meters away, pointing a PKM, a Russian-made, belt-fed machine gun, right at my head. Time seemed to stand still for a second, and I felt like he saw me, like he knew he had me. He smiled and he winked. He didn’t shoot. To this day, I don’t know if he was a good guy or a bad guy. He could have been someone working security for the construction site he was standing in. I thought, “Holy shit, I just died.” I knew I got lucky right there.
PICK YOUR BATTLES
Bad, scary, unfair things happen every day, all over the world. They might even be happening to you. Everyone is fighting a battle, and each of us has a unique story. It doesn’t matter whether your problems are your fault. You can’t let them best you. Many of us have a tendency to overthink our problems. We worry about all kinds of things that are not under our control, while neglecting the many things that we can control.
It is a normal instinct to want to feel good or even just to avoid pain and stress. Unfortunately, many Americans choose to chase away tough feelings with unproductive behavior. Too many of us become angry, drink or do drugs, spend money we don’t have, eat too much, cheat on our partners, or do other risky things as a way of distracting ourselves from the stress of life.
Those so-called coping mechanisms distort your values and hold you back. I don’t care if you want to call those behaviors demons or bad impulses, and it is your personal business if you want to try to understand why you are drawn to one vice instead of another. Too many Americans choose to live in a state of fear or regret instead of striving to be the best version of themselves. The truth is that whatever time you spend blaming yourself or feeling sorry for yourself is going to be time wasted. I’m sympathetic, because I’ve lost sight of my values and my best self more than once.
Everyone gets stuck. Everyone gets scared. The worst thing that you can do is let that fear paralyze you. Your worst actions and mistakes do not need to define you and they do not need to trap you. You are just a person who has lost touch with core values. You can choose to turn things around by making different choices, choices that are guided by values that make sense. It might be challenging. Change is hard. If it were easy, more people would do it, right?
It helps if you know who you are and what you want. Knowing that you need to change is important, but it’s not usually enough. Making big, lasting changes requires patience, powerful motivation, effort, dedication, and guts. Having values to fall back on will help. If you are having a moment of doubt, it helps to have a set of fail-safe values that you can rely on, a kind of map to help you navigate the landscape of your own life. The specific circumstances you are facing might be out of your control, but the way you respond to those circumstances is 100 percent up to you. By the way, that includes what you decide to believe about and expect for yourself.
Life can be tough. The guys you are going to read about in this book are tougher. You can use their stories, and the Army Values they exemplify, to figure out how to hang tough when you are fighting your own battles. Soldiers need to be resilient; they need to be able to improvise and adapt in order to defeat an enemy. But this book is not just for soldiers.
All of us confront external enemies, but many times we also need to look at the enemy within. The Army Values document sets out principles that anyone can use to set the course for their own behavior. Sometimes it is painful to adhere to standards. But remember that pain is usually temporary and that you often have control over the way that you experience pain, which can make it easier to bear. If you can hold on, you will see that you can endure it and that you will be the better for it.
You get to choose. You can choose which values to prioritize. You get to choose whether to keep doing the same stuff you have been doing or to try something new. If the same old stuff hasn’t been working, maybe you should do something different. But that is up to you. You can rescue yourself and be the hero of your own life. You can become the person you want to be. And even if you don’t want to be in the Army, if you start to try to live your life according to Army Values, you’re going to improve your life. You might even inspire other people to make positive changes in their lives.
You know when you are doing the right thing. If you make people upset while you’re living the Army Values and doing the right thing, too bad. Hold your head high and stay the course. Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage: soldiers and first responders are willing to live and die by these values. You can too.
EMBRACING THE VALUES
My Benghazi experience is a story about six guys fighting with some serious disadvantages and overcoming some long odds. The politics of the events of September 11, 2012, got a lot of headlines, but the story went far beyond politics.
I have come to realize that the idea of our overcoming is an important part of the story. My story has resonated with many people because we all struggle. Every day, each one of us has to get up and move forward. Some days are harder than others. The truth is that life will eventually improve, but you have to take steps to make that happen—even if you can only take baby steps.
As simple as that sounds, I know it isn’t always easy. It is possible to take a step in the wrong direction, and it is possible to fall down. Moving forward requires that you get back up when you fall. In order to move forward, you need to stay focused on the present and on the future. Moving forward means not wasting your time getting mad about some perceived injustice that occurred in the past. Sometimes moving forward requires removing people from your life who are toxic or removing yourself from situations that bring you down. Moving forward means you will continually try to improve.
The guys you are going to read about in this book have faced some dramatic obstacles. Some of them are carrying scars on their bodies that let you know they have been challenged. It might be easier to understand a physical challenge than to appreciate one that is primarily mental or emotional. You can see someone who has lost his arm or watch a guy learn to walk again. You can’t see depression or anxiety. But those are real struggles, too. My confidence has been badly shaken, I’ve been scared, I have felt weak and full of self-doubt. But I did not quit.
You need to have clarity about your values. Once you have identified the values that are important to you, you can set goals and align your choices and your actions with your goals and your values. It’s that simple—and it’s that hard. Because it can be day to day, even moment to moment, and you have to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Values are the unifying web beneath those choices, and values are what will give you the motivation to keep moving toward your goal.
“Never quit” is one of my mantras. But in order to use “never quit,” you need to get started. Reflect on the Army Values, do an honest assessment of what you want and need to change, set goals that are meaningful to you, and go after it, piece by piece.
WORDS IN ACTION
YOU WON’T FIND ME, OR MOST of the guys in this book, sitting around a circle in everyday life, sharing stories from the front lines. I might not like to talk about my battles, but I do like to read war stories, especially ones from before my time. Charlie Rangers, by Don Ericson and John L. Rotundo (Random House, 1989), has long been one of my favorite books. My dad gave it to me. It is the story of men who served in the Vietnam War in companies that were attached to regular units, like the 101st Airborne Division or the 82nd Airborne.
These guys were basically out there fighting the Vietcong on their own. These Rangers faced incredible disadvantages, but they used their wits, their skills, and a fighting spirit, and they relied on each other to win. Charlie Rangers does not shy away from the gory details of battle. I remember being intrigued by the mechanics of military fighting when I read it. At that time, I thought that a person would die if he got shot at close range. Maybe I got that idea from movies—I don’t know. In Charlie Rangers there are several instances when Rangers continue to fight even after getting shot multiple times. That might have been the first time I got a hint of what the concept of “never quit” really means to a Ranger.
I grew up taking it for granted that you need to push through pain. My dad was a football coach at Adams State University, Brigham Young University, Oregon State University, and Colorado Mesa University. I grew up playing sports and attended Colorado Mesa University on a football scholarship. I thought that was pretty tough. I wouldn’t understand true pain until I became a Ranger. But I started to get a glimpse of real toughness in Charlie Rangers. These guys were bleeding from bullets and still fighting. They willingly put their lives on the line, over and over again, to execute their mission. I really believe that I first began to think about the word brotherhood while reading that book. Rangers develop brotherhood by bleeding together.
- Praise for The Ranger Way:
- On Sale
- Oct 22, 2019
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Center Street