In celebration of the U.S. Marine Corps’ 242nd birthday and in honor of Veterans’ Day, the Marine Corps Veterans of Western Kansas hosted Mark “Oz” Geist, Marine Corps veteran and co-author of the book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” as part of Friday's Veterans Day activities at Garden City Community College.
Geist, who spoke at the Dennis Perryman Athletic Complex on the GCCC campus, is a native of Rocky Ford, Colo., and one of six men who defied orders to “stand down” and wait until given a direct order before going in to save American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya.
When a call came in from the U.S. consulate that evening, begging for help as it was being overrun with heavily armed Libyan militia, the team geared up and left their annex to defend the consulate. While Stevens was killed in the attack, the group did save the lives of 27 Americans who were trapped inside the embassy’s compound.
Geist walked the crowd of about 200 students, faculty, staff, administrators and townspeople through the events of that night and filled in many of the blanks not addressed in the book and movie.
“It’s not a story that needed to be told because of the politics,” Geist said. “It’s a story that needs to be told because the American people need to know there are men and women out there who will sacrifice their lives for this country.”
For Garden City High School sophomore Reegan Landgraf, 16, the speech rounded out her Jobs for American Graduates (JAG) class’ study of the Benghazi incident.
“We had watched the movie in class and had group discussions on it, but it was really neat to see, hear and meet someone who was actually there. It was a cool learning experience,” Landgraf said.
Geist addressed the importance of students and young adults not letting others define who they are, knowing what is the right thing to do and doing it. Geist believes America has been in an appeasement cycle for too long, creating the appearance of being unable to make definitive foreign policy decisions and is concerned too much about offending other countries.
“Awesome. That’s all I can really say about his talk today,” said Dayton Quint, 19, and a GCCC student. “I come from a long line of men in my family who have served in the military, so it was an honor for me to listen to a real American hero.”
When asked during the question-and-answer segment if it was difficult for him to relive the experience over and over by telling the Benghazi story, Geist said, “It’s especially difficult for military men to talk about their experiences. For me, it’s cathartic. When speaking with vets, I really encourage them to talk about what they went through, get it out in the open. But I’ve also come to the point in my life where these speaking engagements are helping me transition to work with men in their Christian faith and learning to live and lead a faith-based life. I’m really drawn to that type of work and see a big need for it.”
For Vietnam veteran John White, 70, of Garden City, listening to Geist was both an affirmation and an education.
“I’m really hoping kids will start finding out what’s going on in this country and what’s at stake,” White said. “As a helicopter pilot from ’69-’70 in Nam, I’ve seen what price was paid by a lot of men to keep America free. I hope they learn from hearing speakers like Mark Geist, and how important it is to support those who are willing to sacrifice their lives so all of us can have freedom.”