CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – When Islamic militants attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, American Mark "Oz" Geist didn't hesitate to help, knowing full well he might never come home alive.
All he knew is that other Americans were in danger – including the ambassador – and that his job and his calling was to serve and to protect them.
"My thought was, 'What can I do to save other people? What can I do to make a difference in their lives?' That's just the way I'm built," Geist, who was working as a security contractor, told the Christian Examiner
This weekend a movie about the attack on the Benghazi compound opens in theaters. Called "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi," it tells the story from the perspective of Geist and his fellow contractors and is based on the book "13 Hours," for which Geist served as a co-author. The film is rated R for language, strong combat violence, and bloody images.
Militants killed the ambassador and three other people that night, but Geist survived. Two of his fellow contractors were among the dead.
Still, their work helped save the lives of more than 25 Americans.
God clearly was with him, Geist says.
"He's not done with me, because I should have died that night," Geist said. "There were three mortars that went off within 15 feet of me, and any one of those should have killed me. He has a better purpose and a bigger purpose, and that's why I'm still here."
Geist, who sustained severe injuries from the attack, spoke with the Christian Examiner about the attack and his spiritual walk.
Following is a transcript, edited for clarity:
Christian Examiner: You had served 12 years in the Marines and were working in Colorado when you got into contractor work. What made you want to do that?
Mark "Oz" Geist: Like a lot of people, after 9/11, I just felt I had to get back in the game. I had been chief of police (in Fowler, Col.) and I had left that job and started my own business as a private investigator / bail bondsman. During that, I worked with some of the worst of our society and it didn't give me the fulfillment and brotherhood, because I was working on my own. I wasn't serving a higher purpose. Guys join the military for a lot of various reasons, but one of the underlying ones is they love the service of that bigger cause. You always feel drawn back to that – the brotherhood.
CE: When you went to Libya, did you sense that this was going to be the most dangerous place you had been to in the world?
Geist: No. There were a couple of places that I felt a whole lot less safe than Benghazi. When I was out on the town in Benghazi, if I was at a coffee shop, most of the people were thankful we were there – that we had ousted Gaddafi. Now, they didn't know exactly who we were. They thought we were just Westerners. They would come up and say, "Thanks for what you have done." You would feel the undertone (of danger), though, from the fact that there were several militias around and were always vying for control. One militia controlled the seaport and another one the airport.
CE: On the night of Sept. 11, 2012, attack, how long had you been in Benghazi serving as a contractor?
Geist: Roughly 30-45 days.
CE: What was going through your mind when you learned that the ambassador was in danger and the compound was under attack?
Geist: I was out on a dinner date, and I got a call from [fellow contractor] Rone, and he said "You need to get back to the [CIA] annex. There's something going on." So we jumped in our car and turned on the radio, and that's when we started hearing about what was going on.
CE: Did you know how dangerous it was? Did you sense your life was in danger?
Geist: I don't know whether I actually had the conscience thought of, "Oh no, I'm going to be in danger," because that's not who I am. My thought was, "What can I do to save other people? What can I do to make a difference in their lives?" That's just the way I'm built.
CE: Tell us about your faith background and how God guided you during those hours and during that battle.
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Geist: I was blessed to be raised in a strong Christian home. We were Methodists, and I sang in the children's choir. I had a wonderful youth pastor and a couple that made a significant impact on my life. That built the foundation that I could always get through whatever happened. I've always had that foundation in God and in Jesus Christ. On that night in particular ... I've just always known that He's there all the time. I know that God's there with me and He's going to get me through whatever. It's in His hands. For me, His will is to serve other people and to help them, because I know I can do that. And he gives me the strength to do that. He's not done with me, because I should have died that night. There were three mortars that went off within 15 feet of me, and any one of those should have killed me. He has a better purpose and a bigger purpose, and that's why I'm still here.
CE: But you were willing to die that night and you could have entered eternity.
Geist: It's not something that crossed my mind. I've given my life to the Lord, and whatever happens, happens. My life is a hair in width to eternity. That night, it was my will to live and to get through everything. It's accepting the fact that, yes, you may die, but I don't consciously think about that that. But I knew I could live and I could make a difference in other peoples' lives.
CE: What can America do to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, anywhere in the world?
Geist: The simple thing is listen to the people on the ground. If they need something, give it to them. If it costs money, spend it.