Our brave military members have courageously defended our freedoms since the founding of our nation. Many continue to use their specialized training as private contractors, serving alongside our armed forces in critical support roles and combat zones....
Our brave military members have courageously defended our freedoms since the founding of our nation. Many continue to use their specialized training as private contractors, serving alongside our armed forces in critical support roles and combat zones. What happens if they are injured or killed? Who helps them and their families? In this episode, Linda interviews Mark Geist, a Marine veteran and former law enforcement officer who also served as a security contractor in Benghazi, Libya. Mark co-authored the best-selling book, 13 Hours: The Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, and is founder of the Shadow Warriors Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the needs of military contractors who are wounded or killed while serving our country. Listen to hear Mark’s compelling story and learn how you can support our nation’s heroes.
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Linda: Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of The Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen, your host and the author of Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck and the creator of The Breakroom Economics online course. The book, the course, and the entire podcast library can be found on prosperity101.com.
I seek to connect boardroom to breakroom and policy to paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement and retention, and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society.
Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit prosperity101.com. Thank you for joining us today. As we approach and remember the anniversary of the multiple terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11th, 2001, and as we remember the horrific attacks on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012, we are reminded that leadership matters and elections have consequences. Today, we grieve as we see terror unfolding in Afghanistan.
Today, I want to honor the brave men and women, the patriots and their families who have worked to defend our country and our freedoms across the globe. My guest today is Mark Geist. He and his wife Krystal are the founders of Shadow Warriors Project. They have committed their lives to benefiting American people. Mark served our country in the Marine Corps for 12 years and continued on to serve the American people as a special operative contractor, where he worked in the most dangerous places on the globe.
He returned home wounded and broken, leaving the pieces of their lives scattered. After a full recovery, Mark and Krystal are back at what they do best, helping Americans in their efforts with the Shadow Warriors Project. Mark, thank you so much for being here with us. Thank you for working to defend our country. Thank you for taking time and energy, resources to found this beautiful organization. Welcome and we'd love to hear more about your story.
Mark Geist: Well, thank you so much for having me. I think it's just the way we are. Me and Krystal, it's just that sense of being a part of something bigger than ourselves and that sense of service that we've always had. One that drove me to being in the Marine Corps and also serving in law enforcement and every other aspect that I've served. When I was laying in the hospital in Walter Reed after Benghazi, I realized how little care and support there is out there for private security contractors and their families.
Going through what we did meet, it was kind of where the idea developed was when I was laying in bed at Walter Reed. We talked it over. After I finally got to come home somewhere around mid-October, that's when we just started doing everything we could and reaching out to people to see what it takes to start a 501(c)(3). We've never done
that before, so it was kind of a whole new endeavor in itself just getting it going. And luckily, because of what happened, there was plenty of people who wanted to help and joined with that.
It was really kind of heartwarming that at that point, it's something that I think really helped me get through a lot of my injuries as well, because it gave me focus and gave me a purpose again. That's what we decided to do is for the warriors themselves is give them their purpose back and redo that through making sure that their families are taken care of, that they don't have to worry about their bills.
For the first three months, if somebody is severely injured or if a spouse is killed, because that's the time when you shouldn't have to worry about whether you've got that covered or not. What it is is that private security contractors, we have a workman's comp policy. Workman's comp policy, it changes a little bit every year, but it maxes out roughly around $5,500 a month right now. Though as contractors, especially the security contracting world, we got paid rather well. But my pay went from making about $160,000 a year to $60,000 a year overnight.
It's not even just overnight because your pay gets stopped. The day I left the country I was working in, my pay stops even though I'm in the hospital for another six to eight weeks. All of those little struggles kind of mount up and it's the paperwork to get that done. We thought of, okay, let's get the government involved and let's try to change it. We can do that. And while the problem with that is the federal government... I mean, in 240 some odd years, I don't think they've ever fixed anything or at least not done it well.
We figured it's better to just handle it ourselves. I mean, through donations and having that platform that the Lord had given me by keeping me alive, it allowed me to bring some recognition and understanding to what these families have gone through.
Linda: That is so amazing. I really salute you and Krystal, because taking your own hardship and turning it into a way to serve others is really exemplary, and it's something that we should all strive to do. But I would like you to just, if you could, for the listeners who have no idea what it means to be a contractor. I mean, so many people that are veterans often, especially during war time, maybe their time of service is done or whatever, but they can be a private contractor to go back in and support our military.
A lot of people don't even know that this happens. I heard you on a podcast recently. That's how I was informed about your organization. I was so touched when you said there are organizations out there that do try to support military members and their families. If a military member is killed or injured, there's people who will build houses or pay off mortgages and things. But for the contractors who are no longer a part of active duty or reserve military, there's no one.
If you could explain the role of a contractor and how that works, but then just how important it is for these contractors who suffer like you did to be supported by organizations like you have.
Mark Geist: Well, let me start with a little bit of history about private security contractors or private military contractors in the US, because a lot of people think that's something new that came within the last 20 years of combat. If you really look back at study history, George Washington, when he was the general of the army, hired a British general to come train the troops. They started hiring people to come train the troops, and they were really the first private military contractors.
Private military contracting has been a part of every war that we've ever been involved in, and they're also involved in a lot of the peace time activities as well, just not on the front lines and we don't hear about it as much. Currently in Afghanistan, there's on average 2.9 contractors for every one soldier or sailor, marine, or air force for the military person. When they tell us we have 2,500 soldiers or 2,500 military personnel on the ground, well, we really have another 75. That's at least 10,000.
The reason we don't have 10,000 military is that contractor takes over that job. We sourced that out to private companies and to individuals to work in those jobs and replace that person that would be in the military because it allows this to... Though we get paid a little bit better than in the military, sometimes a lot better depending on your job, you don't have that long-term commitment. Like myself, I work on average two to three months, and then I would come home for a month or two.
Well, the only time I got paid was when I was in the country I was contracted to work for. If I got paid $500 a day or $700 a day, when I left, I had two or three months where I didn't have pay and I didn't have that security of having that long-term employment. I didn't have the security of all of those support services that are there, family support services, medical, dental, all of that that you don't get as a contractor. That's a little bit of the history and a little bit where they're at now.
Since 2001, we've had on average approximately 5,000 contractors killed in probably 60 different countries in the war on terror, and we've had close to another 30,000 injured. Now, thinking about those numbers, that's equivalent to what we've had in the military in both wars, both Iraq and Afghanistan. There's nobody there to take care of them other than a workman's comp policy, and that's what really kind of drove us to figuring out how to get this taken care of.
Linda: Shadow Warriors Project just seems like such an amazing organization to be able to support these contractors and their families. Can you tell us more about what Shadow Warriors Project does for the injured or struggling contractor/veteran who comes back?
Mark Geist: Well, first thing we do, once we can get into contact with them, our first responsibility for us is to make sure that they have everything they need. One, primarily from a monetary standpoint. Because when you have the loss of a loved one or you have a loved doing who you can't get to because you don't have the money now to get to the hospital where he's at, or the spouse is at home and has two or three kids and can't afford to be at the hospital all the time because now overnight she becomes the breadwinner, our first responsibility for us is to make sure that they don't have to worry about their bills for the first three months.
We really want to take care of that first. Because during that time, they need to heal. They need to come together as a family, and they need to then decide which direction they're going to go after that. And that's after those first three months we kind of step in. We work with financial planners. We sit down.
We get them linked up with somebody that they can talk to determine what they need to do next, because your life is going to change completely than any path that you ever thought if your spouse is either killed or you have someone who's severely injured and dealing with all of the disabilities that come with that.
Linda: Well, I know that beyond the financial support, you provide so many other ways of supporting. Could you tell the listeners about the K9 Project?
Mark Geist: Initially, we just focused on the private military contractors, and then we started a K9 program where I'm working with an organization called Baden K-9 they have been breeding and training high-end German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Dutch Shepherds for about 50 years. They trained the dogs working with us to get them ready to be service dogs for whatever ailment that may be needed, and then we introduce a dog into that family. We started out with the contractors and now we've actually expanded it out to all military personnel.
It's open to anybody that's a combat veteran over the last 20 years and combat veterans in the future that are dealing with any type of ailment that they need a service dog. For us, it's a big... Because we only use a certain dog and there's a reason for it because of the genetics and the stability within that genetic line of that animal makes it really easier to train and understand how that dog is going to react.
But anything from any injury, from PTS to any disability, where if you're in a wheelchair, you need somebody to help pick up stuff, there's a lot of aspects that come into that. One of the keys to the whole program with the K9 program as well as we also introduce all the combat veterans to Christ as well. That's an important part of the healing process in our eyes.
Linda: I was just going to ask you about that, because that is a truly important part of, like you said, the healing process, but I know that that is really the foundation that lead you and Krystal to founding Shadow Warriors Project. Your faith is important to you, the way you serve others through that faith in Jesus Christ. Could you give us a couple of examples of lives that have been really touched and changed through your work with Shadow Warriors Project?
Mark Geist: I'm in New Jersey right now and we have a young Marine veteran who got blown up overseas. Probably 60 to 70% of his body was burnt. He's lost most of his fingers, and he's going to be getting a service dog and honored in front of approximately 35, 40,000 people here in New Jersey at Barefoot Country Music Fest. It's that passing on that purpose. Because when we give a service dog to a veteran, it's not just the end of that relationship, because we treat it like an adoption of a child. I mean, we do a home visit.
We want to make sure that before we invest 20, $30,000 in, one, getting a service dog to that veteran, keeping that training up, that it's going to be a long-term thing and it's the right thing for the whole family. But then we also bring the veteran back as part of that over the next year and teach him if he wants to have that dog trained in search and rescue or in narcotics detection or any type of set work or search and rescue, whatever it may be, we'll help them get trained further into that with the dog and the handler.
So then they go back to the community and they'd become a bigger part of that community again. And it gives them their purpose back. It's like handing the Marine his sword again so he can go back into battle, but his battle now is to help his local community and be an asset instead of being a hindrance or at least in their mind being a hindrance.
Linda: Well, that's a wonderful way to give them back a sense of independence and self-respect and just that feeling of worthiness when we can work and contribute. That's a great, great project there that I hope people will support, and we'll make sure to give the website at the end. I know that you have really seen some compelling things in your own life. You have really touched battle and have been injured yourself. Could you tell us a little bit more about your own experiences?
Mark Geist: The one that's most prominent that everybody knows about obviously is Benghazi on September 11th, 2011 to 12. Really my injuries came on the 12th. It was about, I mean, 5:00 in the morning, about 11 minutes after when the final attack happened. It was a very complex attack with RPGs, AK-47s, indirect fire. And on that rooftop that night, I had Ty and Glen who were next to me. And when we had three 81 millimeter mortars land within about 15 to 20 feet of all three of us, the blast had went through me and killed Ty on the first one, and then the next mortar had killed Glen.
And then the third one hit again, and that's the first one where I really felt any pain. But I got shrapnel from all three of them, the first one about severed my arm off. Eventually we found about 20 to 25 holes in me. I'm going to always have problems from those injuries. I don't have much feeling in my left hand. Luckily, the doctors were able to save it, because I really didn't think that I would have it when I woke up after the first surgery, which ironically was in a Libyan hospital by Libyan doctors.
Linda: That's incredible. Right? Well, I really want to encourage the listeners to go to your website, which could you give them the address of your website?
Mark Geist: Yeah, it's shadowwarriorsproject.org and you can find out more about us there.
Linda: Right. There is just such a compelling video of... I watched the video again right before we started speaking and I was moved to tears. I thought I would be doing this interview in tears, but it really walks through the timeline of the attacks in Benghazi. I'm confident that there are people listening, who might've been young children at that time, really weren't paying attention to what had happened, not only on 9/11/2001, but really what happened in Benghazi. As we know, the media often sensors the real news of what happens.
And unless you're really looking for it, sometimes the American people don't really get to see things the way they really are. I really appreciate the video you have on your website is so compelling and it's gripping in the sense that it puts you right there. What would you tell the leaders in America today as we face this tragedy in Afghanistan and we look at our standing on the world stage, with your experiences overseas and your long-term deployment with the military, what would you say?
Mark Geist: Not to get too far into the politics, but voting matters. Making sure your voice is heard and making sure that it's based on true facts and information that's not just something fed through the industrial media complex.
Linda: Well said.
Mark Geist: It's unfortunate that we have politicians that have been around for 30, 40, 50 years serving and they can't figure it out. They don't want to listen because they've now become bigger and better, almost no more than every... They look down on the average person. We got to remind people that our politicians are in place. When we go to vote, we need to make sure it's... And it's not about left or right. It's about what's right. Because you can be correct in something and still be wrong.
But if you're right and it's done for the right reasons, for the moral reasons that we have for truth and honesty and integrity and courage, if our decisions are made for those purposes and understanding that it's for the people, then I think we'd come out on the right side of things.
Linda: You mentioned the industrial media complex. I was thinking how the industrial media complex protects the industrial military complex. It's really a shame that the American people really don't always get the truth. We do have to seek it. So to the listeners, I would say this podcast is a good start, right? But go to Shadow Warriors Project. Listen to the other interviews that mark has been on in different podcasts or radio, television interviews.
Pay attention to other veteran organizations and find out what is really happening say on the ground in Afghanistan right now. Do not depend on one or two or three sources of media to give you the full answer. Really look, and then ask yourself, did you contribute to this tragedy? Did you contribute to this tragedy by who you voted for or by your apathetic response to voting? Sometimes in America we have become so complacent and so used to having freedom that we forget what it's like to lose it.
And as we watched the videos of terrified mothers handing their babies over to soldiers over razor wire fence just so that they could be saved from the Taliban, we have to ask ourselves, what are we doing to protect America and American allies across the world? This is not a left or right problem. This is not a Republican or Democrat problem. This is not a Conservative or Liberal problem. This is a freedom problem. You mentioned before your faith. And for me too, my faith is the bedrock. And if I say, I want to know Christ and make him known.
But beyond that, to promote liberty and freedom throughout the world really. And that allows for other religions. It allows for religious freedom. It allows for us to share our faith, but it allows for economic freedom for prosperity. And that's what we need to protect here in America. Because those mothers who were handing their babies over, they knew that if they hand them over to American soldiers, they will find freedom. America still stands for freedom, and we need to protect that. So if people want to get in touch with you, how should they do so?
Mark Geist: Easiest way is either through shadowwarriorsproject.org, through the website, and our email there, which is email@example.com, or you can reach me through my website, which is markgeist.com. That's what I do that's not... Those are other events and things that I do and information and projects that I support that aren't necessarily within the purview of Shadow Warriors itself. One of those is right now that we're really supporting and putting our efforts in is trying to get people out of Afghanistan.
We're putting our full weight behind it. I'm putting my full weight behind it to do anything we can to help get a lot of the missionaries, a lot of the pastors that are serving over there. And a lot of them are Afghan nationals that are Christians that have been helping us and been there to help to bring Christ and to bring discipleship to a region that really needs it, that's been misled by the Taliban and the way they are. And just to show them that love that they need as well over there. But now they are some of the last people that are on the list to get out.
We're doing all we can to kind of push that forward to the top of the list and working on that. At our website, that's going to be through Shadow Warriors as well. If people want to help with that endeavor, please go to the website and help and donate or do whatever you can with that as well.
Linda: That is really helpful. It's so great to know that there are organizations working to help these people who are basically captives in this country. It's so heartbreaking to see what's happening there. You mentioned the Christians and I read accounts of different Christians who've already been murdered. They've been murdered in front of their families. The women have been raped. I know the Taliban has been going around putting night papers on the door where they basically mark the Christians. This should not happen.
It shouldn't happen anywhere in the world, but we want to do what we can to protect people to have the freedom to live their lives and to become the full potential that God created them to be. With the Shadow Warriors Project and being able to donate to it, this podcast, we often talk to employers about how to speak with their employees about these policy issues. I know that employers can give through their companies. You can give as individuals. But do you do anything to reach out and help do educational things?
Like maybe it would be something employers could help their employees understand through a lunch and learn or some information that Shadow Warriors Project could provide so employers could help educate their employees about the importance of the
work of such organizations, but also the sacrifice of our military men and women. And like you said, leadership matters, voting matters, elections have consequences, and we need to pay attention to protect our freedoms. What kind of things would you offer to them?
Mark Geist: We haven't pursued a lot of that, other than just providing information, like you said. But there's always something that we can do to help out. Like you said, you brought up some great ideas that are just going to generate with me. In education into those that are serving those, the sacrifices that other Americans made, talking about leadership, and things like that, that is one of the speaking things I talk a lot about is on my faith, on leadership. Because there's a big difference between management and leadership.
Management is about the individual. Leadership is about the people that work under you in essence, which is very much like discipleship. It's making it about everybody else. I like to talk about that and how that works into life on a regular basis, because we don't teach leadership to people anymore.
Linda: Servant Leadership. There's a lot of leadership gurus out there, but there's not as many servant leadership trainers. That's what Christ exemplified for us. So when we lead with a servant's heart, we can be more effective in our leadership. I thank you for leading with a servant's heart. You and Krystal both have such a heart for God and for others, and I thank you for what you're doing. You had mentioned that you really haven't worked with employers and things in the workplace so much, and you said that's a great idea.
So maybe there's a listener out there right now who would like to sponsor such an outreach. This could be very impactful. So if you are a business owner or someone with financial means that might be willing to sponsor a new outreach of Shadow Warriors Project, please get in touch with Mark and Krystal at shadowwarriorsproject.org. And anybody who's listening, please go to their website. Watch the video. You will not forget what you see, and it will inspire you to fight for freedom for the rest of your life.
We honor those who lost their lives, and we want to honor those who fought for freedom and fought to protect those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you, Mark, for your service to our country. Thank you for being here today, and it's just a pleasure. Thank you.
Mark Geist: Well, thank You for having me. Maybe we can work this into another one in the future.
Linda: That'd be great. I'd love to have you back and hear the updates about how the organization has grown. Let's see how we can expand this to help even more people. Thank you.
Mark Geist: Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.
Linda: You too. Thank you again for listening to the Prosperity 101 Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, share, and leave a great review. Don't forget to visit
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