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The Ranger Way
Living the Code On and Off the Battlefield
By Kris Paronto
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Thousands of people have heard Kris “Tanto” Paronto speak about his experiences in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. But before he was a security contractor, Tanto was a US Army Ranger from 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment. In The Ranger Way, Tanto shares stories from his training experiences that played a role in his team’s heroic response in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Being a Ranger is, by design, not for everyone, but anyone can use the expectations and techniques of Ranger culture to achieve personal victory. Tanto shows you how to define your mission, set goals that are in alignment with your values, and develop a battle plan that will maximize your chances of success. You will learn why you should never quit and why that is different from never failing. Tanto uses his experiences in Basic and Ranger Training to explore how to deal with mistakes and disappointment like a leader, accept responsibility, and turn every obstacle into an opportunity for growth. You will learn why service and sacrifice will help you succeed-and how the power of humility, strength, faith, and brotherhood will sustain you on the road to accomplishing your mission.
THE BATTLE FOR YOUR BEST LIFE
Battles can be beautiful. I mean that literally. It's hard to explain that to people who have never been in one. When I am looking at a firefight through night vision goggles, I can see tracers, which are rounds that burn. The color depends on the size of the round: if it's from a PKM or an AK-47, it might look green or maybe orange, and the explosions streak trails in the distance like the most spectacular light show I've ever seen. If there is heavy fire, the landscape pulses with fluorescent color. There is a snapping sound like someone cracking a whip over and over again. Those are high-velocity rounds breaking the sound barrier as they careen by my head. Snapsnapsnap. When mortars and rockets hit, the impact momentarily blinds my vision, and then, as it clears, I can see particles that are like charged and heated pixie dust, glowing as they rain down. I have watched all this while I felt the heat of a blazing fire as I moved toward it. My brothers and I did move toward it, striding into the chaos with absolute focus, and I was not afraid.
I was not thinking that it was the worst moment of my life. My adrenaline was surging, my world was opening up, and I might even have been thinking that this was one of the best, most important moments of my life. Because I was surrounded by my brothers, whom I trust. Because I was about to fight, which was what I had been trained to do. Every drill, every rotation, every moment of my training had prepared me for this. I was having what some scientists call a flow experience. The battle required my complete sensory involvement and the total integration of my skills and consciousness in order to complete my mission. And the mission, in battle, is always meaningful, because whatever else it might be about, lives are on the line. I am fighting for my brothers.
I am honored to have been able to fight in battle for my brothers and for my country. I was part of the CIA Annex security team that responded to the terrorist attack on the US Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. For more than thirteen hours that night, our team of six fought the enemy to save lives and assets. Some people are surprised when I tell them that I consider Benghazi to be one of the greatest nights of my life. That I'd go back to Benghazi in a heartbeat; you don't need to ask me twice. Just tell me where my airplane's at, I am guaranteed to be there. September 11, 2012, was a tragic night in many ways. Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen "Bub" Doherty died that night putting themselves in harm's way on behalf of our country. Mark "Oz" Geist and David Ubben were severely wounded. And I know that the families of the men we fought that night mourned their dead and wounded, too. It was a dangerous mess. But if I were needed, I'd be happy to go back.
People make a mistake when they think happiness is about being relaxed, kicking back over barbecue and a beer. Don't get me wrong, that can be good, and my friends will tell you that I've had plenty of days like that. A bunch of those days can be part of a good life. But the satisfaction and pride that are earned through truly optimal experiences come from being challenged, working hard, and putting your training to the test in service of a goal you care about. I'm not going to lie; sometimes that hurts while it's happening. You've got to be tough and believe that the hurt will be worth it.
Happiness comes from being tested and accomplishing your mission. That's why I'd always go back into battle. You get tested there. And you get inspired, seeing the selfless service all around you down range. I've spent the last couple years traveling around this country as a civilian, and I know it's harder to see that here at home. It's harder to see it in Washington, D.C., that's for sure. But you can create the feelings that come from optimal experience and selfless service for yourself, and you can inspire others to do the same. That's what this book is about. It's about my life and about your taking control of your own life and fighting your own battles. But it's also about understanding that we never know what the impact of our actions is going to be. That is one of the reasons you can't ever give up.
Never quit. You're going to be hearing a lot in this book about lessons I learned while training to become an Army Ranger in the 75th Ranger Regiment. "Never quit" is a big one. You never know what the outcome of your decisions might be. Your actions might do something positive for someone else, not just you. You might even save somebody's life. Bub Doherty died a hero in Benghazi because he never gave up. Bub, along with three other GRS guys and two Delta Force operators, rented a private plane, on their own, to get to us from Tripoli, without help from Washington or the US Africa Command in Germany. We had no US air assets that night: the US outpost in Benghazi was not heavily staffed, and there were no US troops near us on alert for the anniversary of September 11, 2001. The Pentagon apparently did not know about the attack until an hour after it happened, and US assets were not in an immediate state of readiness to help. The plane that Bub's team chartered is how they got into Benghazi and how our injured got out. When Bub was flying in from Tripoli with his team, he didn't know that he was going to save lives that night or lose his own. But that plane is how my brothers Oz and Dave got the medical attention they needed when they were bleeding out in the morning. Bub's action, and his never-quit attitude, saved their lives. But I'm getting ahead of that story; I'll come back to it.
It's hard to tell the story of Benghazi. I am sincere when I say that battles can be beautiful and amazing, but that doesn't mean I like reliving the experience or talking about watching my brothers die. That might sound odd, since it seems as though talking about it is a big part of what I've been doing for the last few years. And I have a confession to make: I hate social media. I hate getting on Twitter. I hate arguing with people about the politics of our story. But I use those outlets when I have to because I can't let the story of Benghazi die. Heroes die only when their stories are forgotten. Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty are heroes; they sacrificed everything that night. Some politicians don't see it that way. It's not necessarily political: people on both sides of the aisle have gotten things wrong. If you let the wrongs go unanswered and let the media distortions spin out of control, those guys will die all over again. I will not let that happen. And if that means I have to go on Twitter and tag CNN and MSNBC or anyone in the media when they get it wrong, I'm going to do it. When you see someone saying something that denies what you as an eyewitness know to be the truth, you must speak up. Sometimes the truth hurts. If the truth hurts your political aspirations, that's how it goes. If the truth offends you or does not seem politically correct, get over it. It's not about politics. Benghazi, for me, is about heroism, faith, sacrifice, brotherhood, and God. What the truth of our story means for you, after you hear it, might be different. But it's so important that you hear it.
And if it means I tell the story over and over, to anyone who can hear me, I'm going to keep talking. I'm more grateful than I can say for all the people who listen. If you're reading this book, then that's you, too, and I thank you. If you are a veteran reading this, I'm grateful for your service and happy that you're home. If you have ever felt misunderstood, left behind, or stuck in civilian life, I think I know what it feels like, and I hope you'll find something helpful in these pages.
Ranger training is designed to push you to your physical and mental limits and then make you hurt some more, so that you can learn how to keep working in punishing situations. Training to be a Ranger means confronting a series of physically demanding goals and tasks that increase in intensity every day. Ranger candidates are constantly scrutinized and assessed while they perform those tasks, usually in a state of sleep deprivation and hunger and frequently in unfriendly weather conditions. Sleep, food, and good weather may all be hard to come by in combat, so learning how to do without optimal conditions on the front is a key component of all special forces training. As you'll be learning in these pages, Ranger training can be flat out miserable. Being a Ranger, or training for any kind of special ops unit, is, by design, not for everyone. Using the principles of Ranger leadership and culture doesn't mean that you need to militarize your life. There is no need for most of us to train to be combat ready.
But we're all fighting our own battles, and you can use my experience and some of the principles, expectations, and techniques of Ranger training to help create your own battle rhythm and achieve victory, whatever that means to you. We all go through our own version of a battlefield. You want to do your reconnaissance, and train and prepare as hard as you can, but then you can relinquish control and let go to God. You can't control every situation in life and certainly not in combat. The action I've described on my battlefield is an extreme example, but you can experience that vividness and grace in your own life. It is all about finding your purpose, taking action, and being where you were meant to be.
You might get hurt along the way. We all hurt, and the principles behind Ranger training can be used by anyone to help you endure and overcome the hard times to achieve your goals. It doesn't matter whether your goals are physical, personal, or professional. It doesn't matter what kind of physical shape you're in, how old you are, or if you're a man or a woman. If you are willing to be honest with yourself and put in the work, you can become stronger, tougher, more disciplined, more resilient, and more confident; you can be of service to your community, be better under pressure, and, I'm betting, be happier too.
Anybody can do anything. My call sign as a GRS operator is "Tanto," and if you follow me on social media, you know that that "anybody can do anything" is a famous "Tantoism." I'm no philosopher, but if I had to drill down to my core beliefs, one of them is: you have no idea what you're capable of until you are tested. You have to allow yourself to be tested. If the circumstances of your life aren't already doing it for you, you have to push yourself and let others push you. That means that you are going to be uncomfortable and sometimes in pain, that you are sometimes going to be challenged, afraid, bone tired, and at your wits' end. You're going to want to give up if you're doing it right. But if you don't quit on yourself, you will find that you are capable of more than you ever thought you could be. Every time you don't quit, you will prime yourself to want more, to become stronger, faster, smarter, better. Other people will respond to your best self and your willingness to be challenged. And you will know the satisfaction, the gratitude, and the inner peace that come from giving life your best shot.
But first you have to define your mission, which means setting goals. Consciously setting a goal will give you concrete focus and motivation. And successful goal setting requires doing a hard, cold assessment of where you're at and what you want. Because goals that are in alignment with your purpose are the ones that you will be most likely to achieve. Goals that are in alignment with your values will keep you committed when things are tough. To set good goals, you need to understand who you are. When you have a clear vision for yourself that is in line with your values, your strengths and weaknesses, and your dreams, you'll find that pursuing the vision is just as valuable as actually achieving it.
This isn't going to be smooth sailing. But you know that already, right? You need to find the right goals and the right form of motivation, for you. That looks different for each of us and might change over time, depending on what's going on. You've got to stay flexible, humble, and curious, learn from your mistakes, and be brave.
If anything about my story helps you hang on and inspires you to make some positive change in your own life, it will make me feel even more blessed and grateful that I haven't quit. You shouldn't, either. You are capable of more than you know.
BE WILLING TO SACRIFICE
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.
If you know me as "Tanto," you probably know that I was part of the CIA Annex security team that responded to the terrorist attack on the US Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. Our team of six were all former military special operators, and we used everything we had to fight back against the enemy for more than thirteen hours. You probably became familiar with our ordeal from the extensive media coverage that followed or the book 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, written by Mitchell Zuckoff and the five surviving members of our team.
But before I became known as Tanto, the private security contractor, I was Kris Paronto, Army Ranger with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. As a private security contractor, I have deployed in South America, Central America, the Middle East, and North Africa. I served four years in the US Army and an additional four years in the US Army National Guard, reaching the rank of sergeant and becoming a commissioned officer before being medically discharged in 2003. In response to the events of September 11, 2001, the US government began to use private security contractors along with full-time CIA security staffers overseas. Private security contractors are normally former military special operators like me. We were eventually designated as Global Response Staff (GRS) by the US government, and since 2004, our main task has continued to be to conduct low-profile security in high-threat environments throughout the world.
Our team of six former military men (two Navy SEALs, three Marines, and the Lone Ranger) had been hired to provide security and protect American diplomats and CIA agents working in Benghazi. On September 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the US State Department Special Mission Compound and the Annex, a nearby CIA station. Our team took action, retaking the compound and defending attacks on the Annex throughout the night, despite initially being told to stand down and warned that it was outside the scope of our duty. We fought to protect the Americans stationed there, our assets, and one another.
The public interest in those thirteen hours that our team spent in Benghazi has changed all of our lives. Some of the people who are interested in the story want to use it for their own partisan goals. I don't like that, but I understand it. The hostility of radical Islam to US interests is the defining national security challenge of our time, and the events in Benghazi are part of that story. All our team can do is share our perspective from the ground. We wanted to make sure the story of the events on the night of September 11, 2012, got told on our terms. Four Americans died that night: Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. Their deaths demand that we continue to set the record straight. I continued to do that after the publication of our book and the movie that Michael Bay directed based on our story. Talking about that night, and hearing the questions and comments from all the good people who have cared to listen, made me realize that some people are interested in understanding why we never quit and why we were all willing to act against our orders and risk the ultimate sacrifice in that situation. I began to reflect on the way our story unfolded, the reasons we were able to act as effectively as we did, and how my training and experiences might have contributed to my own performance at that critical moment.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
At 9:32, the consulate called the Annex for help because it was under attack. I know you might read elsewhere that the attack started at 9:42, but I looked at my watch when we got the radio call and feel clear about it having been 9:32. Our security team was at the Annex, which was about three-quarters of a mile to a mile away from the consulate, depending on how you traveled there.
When we got that call at 9:32 that night, saying "GRS, we need you in the team room now," I remember thinking "What did I do?" I wasn't the only one. My friend Dave "Boon" Benton asked me, "Tanto, what did you do now? Did you screw with someone today?" Sometimes I found the case officers pretentious and liked having a little fun at their expense. I had been deploying for ten years at that point, and I felt pretty free to mess around and joke with people. But I had been on good behavior, so I looked at Boon and meant it when I said, "I don't think I did anything."
Another call came on the radio about thirty seconds later, and it was intense. If you've been in the military or maybe in law enforcement, you know what I'm talking about when I say it was the kind of call that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Not because you're scared, not exactly, but because it's exciting. You're about to get some action. So when we got the second call that said "GRS, we need you in the team room now!" Boon and I looked at each other again. We had been together for ten years at that point—in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—and we could read each other's minds. He smiled at me, and I was thinking "Man, we're gonna do something fun tonight." We didn't realize, yet, that Americans were under attack.
We gathered our things and were headed toward the team room in Building C when the GRS team leader told us that the consulate was being overrun. We could hear gunfire and shouting in the distance. We were jocked up and ready to move five minutes after the initial call. We six contractors had all been in the Middle East for a few months before the attack, and we were a good team. Our Marines were Boon, a scout sniper with whom I had partnered before; Mark "Oz" Geist, a former police chief, and John "Tig" Tiegen, our two Navy SEALs were Jack Silva and Tyrone "Rone" Woods, and I was the only Ranger. Boon was my closest friend in Benghazi. I know it might sound odd to some of you military types to have a Ranger and a Marine be best friends, but it did happen. Jack and Rone had partnered together before as well. Tig had spent the most time in Libya. I had been there for about five months, part of that time in Tripoli. All of us had been deploying as either servicemen or contractors for at least ten years. We were an experienced team used to working in risky environments. If we are hired, it means the location is dangerous for case officers, so our postings are not in places like Jamaica or the Bahamas. But it is a rewarding job, and we had all continued to come back for more.
We were all in our late thirties or early forties, which is pretty old for combat. All of us had young children, too. Tig's wife had just had twins. Ty's wife just had baby Kai. I had a two-year-old. Jack had just found out that his wife was pregnant. All of us who wound up in this no-win, disadvantaged situation were new fathers. But not one of us would flinch. We might see things differently, but I believe it's because we had faith in one another, faith in God, and faith in the knowledge that we were all exactly where we were supposed to be.
Benghazi during the fall of 2012 was dangerous. Tripoli had been relatively safe, but Benghazi kind of felt like the Wild West. It reminded me of being in Iraq in 2004 but without the military presence. There was no reliable police force, there was limited intelligence, and you never knew if you could trust what you were getting. Islamist militias were in charge of the city. But September 11 was an ordinary day, for Benghazi. The consulate was calm. We called it the consulate; I think the government called it a Special Mission. The distinction between a US Mission or Special Mission and a consulate is important because a Temporary Mission Facility or a Special Mission Unit requires less security than a consulate. The US government treated our location in Benghazi as a temporary residential facility, which didn't require it to officially notify the Libyan government of its existence and exempted it from the facility and accountability standards a consulate requires. State Department personnel have testified that the status of the US Mission in Benghazi was unlike anything in their working memory.
It was a relatively quiet night. Nothing out of the ordinary was happening. We conducted normal operations all day until about nine that night, and there were no reports of any videos or any insurrections. We would have been told of any kind of unusual activity. I think the locals knew the Annex was there. If they saw Americans coming out of there every day, including Ambassador Stevens, they might not have known the buildings belonged to the CIA, but they would have known it was part of the US government.
John and Rone had driven right in front of the consulate on patrol at 9:00 p.m. and called Dave Ubben, the diplomatic security agent there, to see if they should stop by. They were told, "No, we're good." Our role was to protect CIA staff, so we did not have a direct role with the consulate. We shared radios with the consulate and kept in regular contact, but keeping an eye on it was more of a handshake arrangement. It was out of our normal scope of duties to protect it. But we would have helped anyone who asked us. If you need help, call us; we'll come get you. We would have done that for any Americans. I think that is how we all understood our jobs as a Ranger, Marine, or SEAL. But we were contractors, and when you are a contractor, there are repercussions for not following orders or going beyond your scope of duties.
For example, people don't realize that contractors are not directly insured by the government. We are insured by a third party through Defense Base Act (DBA) insurance. If we had died or been injured at the consulate, working outside our normal scope of duties, we would not have been covered by that insurance. So we could have had no medical insurance after an injury, our families could have received no life insurance payout if we died. We could have been fired, or we could have lost our security clearance. Not one of us discussed it at the time, but we were all aware of the risks we could face, in addition to death. But Americans were in trouble. Americans needed help, and we wanted to take action. But we were told to wait.
Our team was ready to go within five minutes of the initial call, but it sounded as though we would be facing a substantial force, so the GRS team leader told us to wait while he coordinated with a friendly local militia called 17 February Martyrs Brigade (17 Feb). We were double- and triple-checking our gear and waiting with our feet on the gas pedals of our cars for ten or fifteen minutes. The compound was less than a mile away; we could have walked there in the amount of time we spent waiting. It was tough because we could hear the State Department guys on the radio, and it was heartbreaking. We could hear Scott Wickland, and we could hear Alec Henderson, who was barricaded in the tactical operations center, watching his team get decimated on video screens and unable to do anything about it. He was saying "GRS, where are you? GRS, where are you at? GRS, we need you. GRS, we're taking heavy fire. GRS, you swore you'd get here." That one really hurt. Because we had sworn to help. We'd given our word.
I had approached our chief of base, Bob, and the team leader and asked them to request air support and other resources. They'd told me to hold up because 17 Feb might be able to handle the whole thing themselves. I was incredulous. American lives were on the line, and we were letting the initiative go while waiting to see if a foreign force (that I didn't consider particularly reliable) might come to the rescue? We could still hear the firefight. I was trying to maintain my composure. I prayed, "God, just give me strength. Give me strength to be patient. I want to burst out of this gate, but I know I have to listen to my leaders." But sometimes a moment comes when you have to stop listening to man's law and start listening to God's law. That moment came for us at about the fifteen-minute mark that night. I remember hearing Scott and Alec on the radio and looking at Tig. Tig had gotten out of his car and I could see him arguing with Bob. He was telling him that we had to go, that we were losing the initiative. Bob said we could not go. Tig got back into his car, and I asked "What's going on?" He told me, "Bob is saying we've got to stand down."
That stand-down order has become a political hot button. Some people on the news claim it didn't happen. I don't want to get into the politics around that, and I honestly feel it doesn't matter anymore. I think the truth about Benghazi has prevailed. If you want to take CNN's word over a Marine's, go right ahead. Me, I'll take the Marine's word one hundred percent of the time. We were told to stand down. And we continued to follow orders. That was what we had been trained to do. But we had also been trained to fight and to protect Americans at any cost. When we talked about it later, all the guys agreed that we had each begun to think that soon we might have to take the lead.
- "Kris 'Tanto' Paronto took his life of hard-earned experience, which ranges from long days as an aspiring Ranger to the cauldron of combat as a CIA contractor, and boiled it down into invaluable life and leadership principles. Whether you are in the boardroom or on the battlefield, this memoir will provide you a master class in how to succeed no matter how harrowing the situation may be."—Marty Skovlund, Jr., author of Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror
- "Tanto's book is proof that Rangers lead the way both in and out of the military. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their life."—Brandon Webb, former Navy SEAL sniper and New York Times bestselling author of The Red Circle
- "Kris Paronto epitomizes the courage, leadership, and discipline that selfless Americans who have fought for and defended freedom and liberty have exhibited from the founding of this nation to the present. Calling him my friend is gratifying."—David A. Clarke Jr., sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
- On Sale
- May 22, 2018
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Center Street