People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” —George Orwell
Living a life of service to one’s country and people and holding true to warrior values of courage and sacrifice are what make Americans great.
These are the characteristics that define the fighting man who come to mind when I think of the professional I had the privilege of interviewing. He goes by the name, “DB,” and was a member of the six-man annex security team based in Benghazi. DB is a quiet professional, and he agreed to his first-ever interview (with me) since the incident for World of Firepower magazine. He first took us through his history of service and then provided his thoughts on the movie, 13 Hours, how his six-man unit was so successful, his personal training regiment and equipment, and the current state of terrorism affairs.
Firepower: Let’s start with an overview of your operational history.
DB: I have a combined 23 years serving in specialized teams and leadership roles in the military, law enforcement, private security and the intelligence community. I have held many positions on various teams from assaulter, sniper, breacher, tactical medic, team leader, as well as numerous instructor positions from explosive entry to SWAT.
FP: What drew you to service initially, and why did you choose the Marines?
DB: I was drawn to the Marines because of its warrior class culture, esprit de corps, fighting history, discipline, current mission and, of course, the best dress uniform in all of the military! I was also drawn to the service for my belief that my life wasn’t my own to live selfishly, but to serve, protect, fight for and help others in need. It may sound corny, but it is very true, even today.
FP: How did you get started as a government independent security contractor (IC)? Then, take us through what landed you in protective operations at this level.
DB: As far as IC work goes, I was fortunate enough to be among a group of some of the first guys to start the State Department’s DSS High Threat Security program in several high-threat environments after 9/11. I started as just a “trunk monkey” and went on to build the Counter Assault Team/Tactical Emergency Medical Support Team, ending as detail leader for specialized teams, which included Counter Assault Team (CAT), Quick Response Force (QRF), Designated Marksman (DM) and Advance Teams.
“ … my life wasn’t my own to live selfishly, but to serve, protect, fight for and help others in need.”
I worked as a lead close-quarter battle (CQB) instructor for a friendly nation’s national counter-assault team and assistant instructor for its counter-sniper program and, finally, protective security operations in the intelligence community.
FP: What are your thoughts on the movie, 13 Hours? Did they do a good job of capturing what happened on the ground?
DB: I thought the movie did a good job of compressing 13 hours of events and raw emotion into two hours. The scenes gave the audience a sense of being there and feeling what we guys were going through. The actors playing the team nailed their characters’ personalities and mannerisms and really gave the audience a sense of the brotherhood we had on the ground in Benghazi—and as you know, like many of our teams share in different theaters of operation.
FP: Readers will be curious about the mindset it takes to succeed in those circumstances. Plus, how do you stay engaged during the course of the firefight?
DB: During the chaos of the firefight, there is a great deal of focus, because this was not the first rodeo for the GRS (global response staff) team. You are focused on accomplishing the task and not letting the guys down, as well as your family. There is also the fact that we cannot let some jihadist win, because showing weakness in American power has global ramifications. To keep it simple though, it comes down to training.
“There is also the fact we cannot let some jihadist win, because showing weakness in American power has global ramifications.”
FP: Take us through some of the combat principles that allowed a six-man team success against a larger force and explain how the team retook and secured the state compound and defended the annex.
DB: The team was successful against a numerically bigger force because of our superior use of basic small-unit tactics. The team used speed, surprise, aggressive action, security, small-unit leadership, individual movement techniques and initiative-based tactics to retake and temporarily secure the U.S. Special Mission Compound. Later at the annex, the team effectively used cover and concealment, interlocking sectors of fire, effective use of night vision/NODS, team communication, fire discipline and basic marksmanship.
You have to remember that while this was a large force we were battling, they were not a cohesive force. Most of them likely had not trained together, and many had never faced a capable opponent in previous attacks in eastern Libya. So, we aren’t talking about Superman vs. Batman here. We had superior training to the attackers.
FP: How do you strategize so quickly under circumstances like that? Is it critical for everyone to be on the same page? What if they are not?
DB: Everyone in our program is rigorously vetted; I have seen guys from elite units get cut for not meeting training standards. Typically, guys are on the same page when it comes to our standard operating procedures (SOPs); it’s rare to come across someone who is not. Part of what allowed us to be successful comprised strategy and preparation. We had an established crisis plan in place for such attacks. Templates for positions were built, fields of fire were set, and the plan was rehearsed and drilled countless times by past/rotating team members prior to the attacks. It comes down to two principles: initiative-based tactics (IBT) and commander’s intent.
IBT breaks down to this: 1.) Eliminate all threats; 2.) Cover all immediate danger areas; and 3.) Protect your buddy. Without training, this would fall apart.
“ … this was a large force we were battling … [but] they were not a cohesive force. So, we aren’t talking about Superman vs. Batman here. We had superior training to the attackers.”
Commander’s intent has to do with understanding and communicating the objective and ensuring there is always a level of leadership in control. In terms of that night in Benghazi, we looked to each other for that leadership, because every man on the team was an asset.
FP: For those who do not know, explain why leadership was opposed to you taking action. Did it have anything to do with jurisdiction?
DB: It had nothing to do with jurisdiction. There was a level of incompetence, as well as fear of the rescue mission failing and having to answer for additional loss of U.S. lives. Up until this point, there had also been several instances in which we were not permitted to deploy as a QRF when called for assistance in Benghazi. Not being permitted to go that night was not a surprise to any of our team. Leadership was hoping to persuade “Feb 17” (“Feb 17” refers to a local militia—17 February Martyrs Brigade—that was developed during the Libyan Revolution) to handle the rescue to avoid sending us in. “Feb 17” was already at the Special Mission Compound as an armed quick response force. But they fled the area during the initial attack, leaving the State Department without any protection. Throughout the night, “Feb 17” refused to provide any assistance that was of operational value; it just underlines the fact that the best way to protect and save Americans is with Americans.
FP: What do you remember most about the incident?
DB: I remember everything about that night. But here is something that stands out: Tanto and I were positioned on building #2 (Northeast). We had the largest field of fire, which was nearly 180 degrees. Our position was elevated with good cover and concealment, and we were also on night vision. About 50 yards away from our position, we observed a guy stalk his way in front of one of the homes where we knew a family lived. They had two children between the ages of 8 and 12. We watched as he loaded and fired an RPG rocket in our direction. That happened multiple times throughout the night. But we had decided not to return fire in that direction, because we did not want to jeopardize the family inside. We were able to do this because of our position of advantage. Then, surreal things come to mind, like a grocery store across from the Special Mission Compound that was open for business during the firefight. It was just another day in Libya for these people. Some of these oddities we experienced are revealed in the movie.
FP: Were you frustrated by the lack of help from the U.S. military?
DB: Absolutely, yes; we were very frustrated. Throughout the night, we were told a squadron was en route to our position. Also, we were made to believe air support was coming, and our leaders did not have the dignity to tell us it had not even been requested. There was a DOD ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) “bird” on station about an hour into the attacks watching everything unfold in real time. We attempted to use it to determine when the next assault would be coming, but we had very little communication with those running the feed. Requests we had made to our team leader for the ISR were never actually passed up to the DOD from our base. So the ISR was not a tactical advantage to our team due to communication failures.
“ … we were made to believe air support was coming, and our leaders did not have the dignity to tell us it had not even been requested.”
When we received reinforcements from the Tripoli team, I was surprised to see only two additional Special Mission Unit guys (not the squadron that was expected). Our team departed Benghazi on a C130 that Libya provided, and Libyans were the pilots. We did not see American faces until we returned to Tripoli.
FP: After going through such an incident, many would consider themselves at the top of the food chain in the tactical community. Do you still attend tactical training courses? Take us through some of your current training methodology.
DB: I attempt to train as much as I can, attending outside training as often as possible from commercial instructors and state tactical associations, in addition to all work-mandated training.
I break down my individual training with dry practice using the SIRT pistol and bolt one day followed by live fire the next day and MMA in a weapons-based environment the next day. This is a three-day training cycle I do before I go back to duty, and the rest of my time is dedicated to my family. I actively compete in USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) at least monthly, which has greatly improved my shooting and strategy.
FP: Many people have dissected the battle that lasted 13 hours. As an operator, tell us about the need for functional fitness, as well as the development of combat mindset.
DB: I don’t think you can be tactically effective without the proper mindset, basic trauma skills, habitual weapons manipulation skills, basic marksmanship, understanding of the proper use of tactics, basic combative skills and a base level of physical fitness. Functional fitness is a must in our environment, and that must include proper nutrition. But, too often, we want the latest gear and weapons and let our fitness suffer. You don’t need to be a gym rat, but at least do some type of dedicated functional fitness three times a week or invest in a kettlebell and engage in active physical hobbies such as BJJ (Brazilian jiu-jitsu), USPSA, hiking, rock climbing, biking, paddle boarding, kayaking, etc.
FP: Many get caught up in the need to have the latest equipment offerings and never really master what they have. What are your thoughts on kit, and how do you view investing in new equipment?
DB: As far as gear goes, I think we are at a point where the gear is as good as it can get in terms of weight, application, durability and comfort. We should focus more on tactical competencies. Tac-lights are smaller and brighter, red dots basically run forever on one battery, there are red dots on concealed-carry pistols, there are modular holsters than can be used for concealment or assault, and body armor is twice as light and can stop more threats than armor 20 years ago. I am all for searching to find any edge we can to give the good guys an advantage, but at this point, I think you should invest in a good kit that fits your mission profile or daily needs and just train in and with it—instead of chasing the latest and greatest gear or weapon. Competency with, and comfort in, your gear will keep you the safest when the shit hits the fan.
FP: What is your assessment of the current state of counter-terrorism affairs in the United States?
DB: We will see an increase in inspired terrorist attacks domestically as more supporters answer the call to jihad. U.S. law enforcement on the street level needs to identify and effectively deal with single and multiple active-shooter scenarios, stop these assaults and quickly provide aid to the wounded. SWAT teams will need to be full-time with funding and training to be competent, and they must be focused on the ability to be inserted in high-risk areas or sporting events. They must be able to go from no profile—blending in and observing—to high profile, in order to deal with the threat effectively. Fire rescue and medical services need to be able to handle mass shootings and blast injuries. The average American citizen needs to be aware of his surroundings and be able to identify and seek effective cover or safety in a terrorist attack. I don’t believe every American should be armed, but every American should have the choice to be legally armed. If they choose so, they should seek out the appropriate training to be proficient in the safe and effective use of the concealed defensive firearm, understanding when it is tactically sound to respond to a threat.
FP: Is there anything you would like to add?
DB: Politics aside, it is important to remember two of my security team members, Glen “Bub” Doherty and Tyrone “Rone” Woods, lost their lives, along with other great men, such as Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith. While all the details might never come to light, remember that warriors are always working behind the scenes, even when our nation is technically not at war, in order to safeguard the life all Americans enjoy.
Since the beginning of this specialized unit, there have been six courageous men killed in action, and I am proud to call all of them brothers.
About the Author
Danny “Gator” Pritbor, who runs Firebase Combat Studies Group, is a regular contributor to World of Firepower and Tactical World magazines.
When: September 11, 2012
Overview: Islamic militants attacked an American diplomatic compound
Deaths: Three Americans
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2016 print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.