The new Michael Bay movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi shows the events leading up to and during the attack on the U.S. Embassy on September 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. While not a documentary, the movie accurately portrays how U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith were killed as a result of a well-coordinated assault by Islamic militants that overwhelmed the diplomatic compound. Later that night, at a CIA annex about a mile away, two ex-Navy SEAL contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty, were also killed during a separate firefight against overwhelming forces equipped with heavy weapons, including RPGs and mortars.
The movie correctly depicts the actions of operators, both active-duty special operations warriors and CIA contract personnel along with a contingent of Libyan forces. This small band had to face an overwhelming force of professional and well-equipped assaulters. The desperate situation was exacerbated by a lack of prior security planning and a lack of reinforcements once the assault began.
The movie shows the challenges of the warriors, who quickly recognized beforehand that the security preparations for the visiting ambassador were woefully inadequate. Once the assault on the diplomatic outpost began, bureaucrats delayed the operators, insisting they were last resorts, not first responders. This allowed the assaulters to gain access to the diplomatic outpost, where they started fires that suffocated the ambassador and one other American.
But that is not the only story seen in the 144-minute movie. The movie has great, fully developed characters with some of the best actors playing the roles perfectly. Actors John Krasinski and James Badge Dale portray “Jack Silva” (a pseudonym) and Tyrone “Rone” Woods, both SEALs-turned-contractors; Toby Stephens plays former SEAL Glen “Bub” Doherty, Max Martini plays Mark “Oz” Geist, Pablo Schreiber plays Kris “Tanto” Paronto, Dominic Fumusa plays John “Tig” Tiegen and David Denman plays Dave “Boon” Benton. Most importantly, the actors were so thoroughly prepared that anyone watching the movie will stay with the plot and won’t be distracted by an on-screen operator fumbling through a scene using bad tactics, wrong weapons or incorrect skills. Each character looked like they owned the gear they wore and the weapons they used.
How did they accomplish this? Professional trainers and outfitters ensured that the on-screen operators looked convincing with competent gun handling skills. One of these trainers was my friend Harry Humphries, a decorated SEAL with over 200 combat operations under his belt, including running Phoenix Program PRUs and serving with Dick Marcinko in Vietnam. Harry has gone on to train thousands of operators with his Global Studies Group Inc. (GSGI), and now he works with directors such as Ridley Scott; Michael Bay, and Peter Berg to provide movies such as Black Hawk Down, The Kingdom, Lone Survivor and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
Michael Bay used the information of the operators, the guys on the ground in contact, as his focal point. Michael Bay does not shout it from a soapbox but lets the viewer make the correct realization that while American is the strongest country in the world, we certainly could have done better that night. Only the courage and professionalism of the few operators in the fight helped them save the lives of over 30 Americans.
The movie is as good or better than Black Hawk Down and even American Sniper. The operators act and speak like operators talking about home, their plans for the future and the fight they are in—or just dissing on each other, like when one member of the team gets some grief for going to war in shorts. The emotions displayed will make it tough for some to watch, but the loyalty to one another, the desire to stay in the fight and the unwavering mindset to gear up and head towards gunfire without hesitation make the movie more than a story. Michael Bay and Harry Humphries have turned 13 Hours into a testament to honor those among us who have left their families to take up weapons and fight against evil every day to keep us safe.