The morning of March 19, 2003, marked the beginning of the Iraq War that would eventually lead to devastating loss for both countries. With its roots in the first Persian Gulf War, some argue that the Iraq/U.S. conflict was inevitable, while others consider it an unnecessary war.
After dictator Saddam Hussein’s refusal to abandon Iraq in 2003, U.S. and allied forces launched a full-scale attack. What followed were years of American occupation, a large number of Iraqi and American casualties, and a growing tide of opposition to the seemingly unending war. The Iraq War spanned nearly the entirety of two presidential administrations in the United States, leading to shifting strategies and new technologies. Eventually, the Obama administration withdrew the final troops in 2011, but the long years of warfare continue to affect the Iraqi nation. These Iraq War books recount, analyze, and revisit the effects and experiences of a war that some have deemed preventable.
(The Feminist Press at CUNY)
1. Dreaming of Baghdad
By Haifa Zangana
A humane approach to Middle Eastern affairs, Dreaming of Baghdad is a hauntingly beautiful memoir that will leave you with a new perspective on the “War on Terror”. We follow Haifa Zangana’s experience as a political activist during Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq. She — along with a small group who resisted Saddam’s rule — was eventually captured and imprisoned at Abu Ghraib.
There is a stark illumination on the psychological disturbances experienced by individuals under dictatorship. Zangana is brutally honest when retelling her story of exile and incarceration; she experienced the agonizing loss of friends and comrades through torture and death in prison. A first-hand account that shifts between time, place, and subjectivity to comment on how the trauma of power and war affect our memory.
2. Packed for the Wrong Trip
By W. Zach Griffith
The relatively unknown prison at Abu Ghraib garnered global attention once photos of the abuses inflicted on prisoners were released. Abu Ghraib quickly became the focal point of a worldwide scandal. Just a few months after the photographs were released, the 152nd Field Artillery Battalion of the Maine National Guard arrived to serve as guards. Originally trained and meant to serve in Afghanistan, the soldiers were deeply unprepared for the scrutiny they would receive and the attacks they would soon endure. The group of citizen-soldiers were forced to rely on each other in order to survive one of the darkest prisons in the world and change it for the better.
(Open Road + Grove/Atlantic)
3. The Finish
By Mark Bowden
Get inside the political choices that brought down Osama bin Laden. Bowden’s narrative takes the reader all the way back to President Clinton’s administration to discover the many seemingly minor actions that allowed al-Qaeda to grow. After Bin Laden’s terrorist organization wreaked havoc through the 1990s and early 2000s, taking him down became a top priority for foreign intelligence services around the world.
4. Why We Lost
By Daniel P. Bolger
Firsthand experience and understanding brings a new perspective to American actions in the Iraq War. With a career as an army general that spanned over 35 years, Daniel Bolger provides a candid look into U.S. led campaigns with an insider look into the meetings, strategies, and key players of the war.
Bolger’s main argument is that we lost the Iraq War because the American forces never knew who they were truly fighting. As Bolger puts it, “Every man shot by U.S. soldiers wore civilian clothes. If he had an AK-47, was he getting ready to shoot you or merely defending his family? If he was talking on a cell phone, was he tipping off the insurgency or setting off an IED, or was he phoning his wife?”
(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)
5. The Iraq War: The Military Offensive, from Victory in 21 Days to the Insurgent Aftermath
By John Keegan
His background as a military historian with extensive knowledge on warfare gives Keegan’s discussion a refreshing, objective perspective. Keegan collated a well-detailed look into Iraqi history, from its origins in the Ottoman Empire to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The Iraq War, despite its broad title, primarily recounts the 21-day invasion by the United States and allies that removed Hussein from power. As an explanation of the factors that led to the war, this is an unmissable resource.
(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)
6. The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan
By J. Kael Weston
This powerful 2016 book examines the relationship between warfare and diplomacy. Like many of the other authors on this list, Weston had an inside look into the U.S. government during the Iraq War. Weston was a State Department official — serving over seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weston uses this experience to show both the war and his own personal journey throughout the narrative. As a firsthand witness, he saw the sacrifice and casualties caused by a devastating war. The book follows Weston as he visits families, memorials, and the grave sites of 31 soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 — an operation he personally ordered. This deeply affecting tale reckons with Weston’s and the country’s actions in Iraq.
7. Run to the Sound of the Guns: The True Story of an American Ranger at War in Afghanistan and Iraq
By Nicholas Moore
This eyewitness account of the Iraq War is presented through a series of vignettes as Nicholas Moore recounts the development of the Ranger Regiment. He chronicles the challenges troops had to face and adapt to while hunting for Iraq’s Most Wanted. Serving in an elite special operations unit, Moore was intimately involved in the war on terror, spending over a decade with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.
Moore discusses the search and rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and the devastating loss of the Chinook helicopter crash, which killed 38 men and one military working dog. Moore sees the events both as a soldier and as a husband and father who nearly lost his life in a global war against terrorism.
(Random House Publishing Group)
8. The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq
By Bing West
This is a straightforward recapitulation of the Iraq War that reconfigures the reader’s understanding of the long-lasting conflict. Whatever your political stance, West puts it all under the microscope and leaves you questioning what you thought you knew. From the United States’s entrance into the war to the brink of defeat in 2006, to the unimaginable turnaround in 2007, West criticizes the Bush administration and Army generals as he travels between the Pentagon and Ramadi. In the end, West asks us to reflect on our mistakes to avoid repeating history.
This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.
In its journey to improve the lives of veterans through health care research and innovation, VA recently reached a major milestone with enrollment of its 750,000th veteran partner in the Million Veteran Program (MVP) — a national, voluntary research initiative that helps VA study how genes affect the health of veterans.
The milestone, which was reached April 18, 2019, is the result of years of outreach, recruitment and enrollment efforts to help to bring precision medicine to the forefront of VA health care.
“While having 750,000 Veteran partners is a momentous achievement, there is still much work to be done,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “MVP is on track to continue the march to 1 million veteran partners and beyond in the next few years.”
From its first enrollees in 2011, the program has successfully expanded into one of the largest, most robust research cohorts of its kind in the world. MVP was designed to help researchers understand how genes affect health and illness. Having a better knowledge of a person’s genetic makeup may help to prevent illness and improve treatment of disease.
The enrollment milestone is significant because as more participants enroll, researchers have a more representative sample of the entire veteran population to help improve health care for everyone. Enrollees in the program include veterans from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. MVP also has the largest representation of minorities of any genomic cohort in the U.S.
Research using MVP data is already underway with several studies, including efforts focused on understanding the genetics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), diabetes, heart disease, suicide prevention and other topics. Several significant research findings have already been published in high-impact scientific journals. The knowledge gained from research can eventually lead to better treatments and preventive measures for many common illnesses, especially those common among combat veterans, such as PTSD.
MVP will continue to grow its informatics infrastructure and expand its partner base, to include veterans beyond those enrolled in VA care. VA is also working on a collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) to make MVP enrollment available to DoD beneficiaries, including active-duty service members.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
One of America’s longest Middle East deployments has been taking place since 1981. This is part of the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Peninsula, which helps implement the 1979 Camp David Accords – the peace treaty negotiated by then-President Jimmy Carter between Egypt and Israel.
According to the State Department, the U.S. brokered the historic accords in 1978, with the peace treaty taking effect the following year. While that treaty is best known for the billions of dollars in military aid it has provided Egypt and Israel over the years, what is not as well known is the fact that a peacekeeping force was also established to keep the two sides at bay.
A Texas Guard soldier shoots during the Task Force Sinai quarterly competition. (National Guard photo)
According to the MFO’s web site, the peacekeeping force was supposed to come from the United Nations, but that organization couldn’t get a Security Council Resolution approved. Israel and Egypt had to get together in 1981 to work out an alternative arrangement. The MFO was born out of those negotiations.
The United States provides the largest contingent of troops to this 1,365-person force. The American contingent usually includes an infantry battalion (either National Guard or active component) that serves a 9-month tour. The United States also provides a support battalion to back up not only its infantry battalion, but the troops from 11 other countries as well, including Australia, Canada, and Uruguay.
Colombia and Fiji provide the second- and third-largest contingents, respectively.
There have been fatalities during this mission. In 2007, according to a report by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, a DHC-6 Twin Otter crashed while trying to make an emergency landing. All eight personnel on board were killed.
In 1985, 250 personnel from the 101st Airborne Division were killed while returning from their tour, according to a Montreal Gazette report.
There comes a time in every Marine’s life when they must join the varsity team known as The Fleet. The first few weeks are an exciting time of formations, picking up cigarette buds, and hazing training. The fleet is a Machiavellian jungle of NJPs, promotions, and broken promises that will make you want to deploy at a moment’s notice.
A healthy dose of pessimism is key to survival in your first unit because you’re not in a movie; this is a war machine, and you’re an essential cog. You’re where the metal meets the meat. Keep that motivation, though, you’re going to need it.
Here’s what you should not do when you arrive at your first infantry unit.
The easiest way to annoy everyone around you is to make jokes using a drill instructor’s voice. Do not assume that it will inspire some sense of brotherhood because all Marines go to boot camp. Wrong. Everyone has their own stories, and they will let you know how much easier you had it. The more experienced Marines have been in some serious combat, and, by comparison, you’re just a baby.
No one likes a B.O.O.T. (barely out of training) Marine, and you’re just going to have to accept that. It’s part of the culture; it’s part of maturing into a warfighter, it’s what you signed up for. When you’re alone with your peers, it’s fine to talk about what you went through, but knowing your audience will save you an untold amount of stress in an already stressful work environment.
Marines are proud — it’s on the recruitment poster — that doesn’t mean you should exclusively buy Eagle, Globe, and Anchor t-shirts. Diversify your wardrobe because it’s one of the few things that will allow you to hold onto what some psychologists describe as a “personality.”
Everyone around you can potentiality be in combat with you, and it’s a lot easier to risk life and limb for someone you like. If the man to your left or your right is doing something wrong, fix them, but do not ever snitch. You will be ostracized, given the worst assignments, and when they’re done with your disloyal carcass, you’ll be pushing papers at headquarters. HQ will also know that you’re a stool pigeon and will continue to treat you accordingly. The stigma has been known to last for years, Marine. One of the Infantry’s cardinal rules is to re-calibrate a misguided Marine’s moral compass through intense physical training but do not ruin their career.
It’s called taking care of your own.
It’s free real estate
Do not get in trouble before your first deployment
Keep your nose just as clean as your inspection uniforms. Every three years, an enlisted Marine will receive a Good Conduct Medal to add to their stack. While it is not necessarily easy to obtain due to barracks parties or dares gone wrong, it is not so taxing that it’s insurmountable. Getting in trouble will hold you back from promotions in a highly competitive MOS. If you don’t want to call that window-licking-moron that came with you from the school of infantry corporal, do not get drunk and embarrass yourself.
The Marine Corps Institute is a self-learning platform that adds points to the Marine promotion system known as a cutting score. It offers courses that teach about combat procedures and tactical knowledge of weapon systems. Some are easier than others, and there’s no reason for a fresh Marine to not do them. It will set you apart from your peers in the eyes of the leadership, and it makes the platoon look better on paper.
Every quarter, battalion HQ evaluates the progress each line company is making towards promoting their Marines. A Marine working on his or her MCIs will be spared working parties by their seniors because it is in their best interest as well. Although junior Marines will not witness Staff NCOs and officers brag or trash talk about each other’s platoons, this is another point they can bring up in Command and Staff meetings stating that their platoon should have the honor of leading the assault in training and in combat.
First published in the mid-1980s, “The Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy quickly rose from obscurity to national bestseller lists, with even then-President Ronald Reagan calling it “my kind of yarn.”
In 1990, the book was made into a blockbuster movie starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin.
The hit novel tells the tale of a next-generation Soviet ballistic missile submarine — the eponymous Red October — going rogue with both the United States and the Soviet Union racing against time to find the missing sub.
While the Soviet Union, to the best of our knowledge, never had a submarine and its crew attempt to defect to the West during the Cold War, it did have two very similar incidents — both of which served as the inspiration for this famous book.
In 1961, a young Soviet Navy captain by the name of Jonas Pleskys steered his vessel, a barge turned into a submarine tender, away from a charted course to Estonia in a successful attempt to defect to Sweden.
This Lithuanian-born naval officer, a graduate of the Leningrad Naval Academy, was thoroughly dissatisfied with life in the USSR, finding it corrupt and cruel.
According to Marion Boyle’s book, “Search for Freedom: The Man from Red October,” Pleskys planned his defection in advance, reaching port and protective custody in Gotland, Sweden, before the Soviet Navy was able to stop him.
In absence, the Soviet military sentenced the captain to death, though they would never have the opportunity to carry out the execution.
The CIA later hid Pleskys in South America before moving him to the US, where he lived out the rest of his years.
Years later, in the mid-1970s, a second (and considerably more embarrassing) incident involving a Soviet Navy vessel — a brand new Krivak class frigate named “Storozhevoy” — proved to be the second event that would factor into the making of “The Hunt for Red October.”
The ship’s political officer, Valery Sablin, seized control of the ship while it was berthed in a Soviet naval port, imprisoning the captain and many of the ship’s officers in compartments belowdecks. Quickly sailing the frigate out of port, Sablin aimed the ship’s bow towards Northern Europe.
With visions of Pleskys’ earlier defection flashing through their minds, Soviet brass deployed half of their Baltic Fleet immediately upon learning of their newest warship going missing and Sablin’s intentions.
Over 60 maritime patrol and attack aircraft were deployed to find and stop the Storozhevoy… and if it came to it, sink the frigate with its entire crew aboard.
According to former Storozhevoy officer Boris Gindin in his co-written autobiography, “Mutiny,” the frigate was never meant to fall into American hands. Sablin was loyal to the Soviet Union to the very end — he just wasn’t a fan of the corruption of the Soviet government, and saw their actions as a major departure from Leninism and “true communism.”
Instead, the disillusioned political officer wanted to sail the frigate to Leningrad (now known as Saint Petersburg), where he would moor the Storozhevoy alongside an old museum ship, the cruiser Aurora, and would then broadcast a message to the Soviet people with the hopes of revealing the government’s corruption, and with sparking a second communist revolution to retake the country.
As it turns out, the Soviet military wasn’t having any of that, and within a matter of hours, the Storozhevoy was found and hailed. Now less than 50 miles from Swedish territorial waters (though that wasn’t the ship’s destination), the frigate continued to sail on without heeding calls to stop.
The order was given to sink the ship.
Attack aircraft began strafing the ship with their cannons, obliterating the bridge of the Storozhevoy while pockmarking the rest of the gray warship with bullet holes. Bombs were dropped near the rogue ship, and soon, it became evident that the ship’s steering and propulsion was damaged to the point that the vessel could not go any further – it was dead in the water.
However, the Baltic Fleet had already closed in, and began firing warning shots from their deck guns. In a matter of minutes, Soviet naval commandos boarded the vessel and arrested the 200-strong crew of the Storozhevoy, regardless of who was and wasn’t involved in the mutiny.
As it turns out, during the ship’s escape from port, a number of its officers and crew, previously imprisoned for resisting the mutiny, had escaped captivity and overpowered Sablin and his bridge crew.
In true Soviet style, the incident was hushed up quickly, with Sablin facing a firing squad for treason against the Soviet Union. The Storozhevoy was quietly repaired in dockyard, repainted and sent back out to the fleet. By the end of the 1990s, the frigate was pulled from service and sold overseas to the wreckers.
In the early 1980s, a 37 year-old insurance salesman by the name of Tom Clancy Jr. came across the Storozhevoy’s tale in the US Naval Academy’s archives while doing research for his first novel.
Later making contact with Jonas Pleskys, and inspired by his and the Storozhevoy’s short-lived adventure, Clancy penned “The Hunt for Red October” soon afterwards, with the novel hitting bookshelves in 1984, a resounding success.
China and Russia say their radars and detection systems can see US stealth fighters, but Western experts expect American fifth-generation fighters like Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to dominate for decades.
US rivals have been fielding tougher anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, including modern, next-level air defenses, designed to weaken the penetrating power of advanced US air assets, especially American stealth fighters and bombers.
The reality is that US fifth-generation fighters are large pieces of metal. They are not invisible, and they can be seen at certain points on the electromagnetic spectrum. Russia and China have both developed capabilities that could allow them to detect a stealthy US aircraft. Still, stealth fighters remain an invaluable part of the US arsenal.
“Countries buying [the F-35] know it’s going to be the winner for decades,” Rebecca Grant, a national security analyst and the author of “The Radar Game: Understanding Stealth and Aircraft Survivability,” told Business Insider.
A Marine F-35B Lightning II.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
“The beauty of fifth-gen,” Grant explained, is “it relies on more than one type of technology. It isn’t fragile, and you can’t shatter it with one breakthrough.”
China, like the Soviets before them, has been looking at long-range, long-wave radars. An over-the-horizon radar with this type of capability is referred to as China’s “first line of defense.”
This type of radar can detect stealthy aircraft. The drawbacks, however, are the low resolution and lack of a real-time target-grade track, which make it difficult to cue in missiles to kill the incoming fighters, Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told BI.
China is also extending its air defense capabilities out to sea with its newer, more advanced warships, as well as working to improve the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars on Chinese aircraft.
The country is also pushing for breakthroughs in infrared in addition to more theoretical research, such as exotic quantum radars and entangled photons.
An F-22 Raptor.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Justin Hodge)
“I see China working hard to erode some of the advantages by improving their own capabilities and the way they operate, but fifth-gen still presents a very tough challenge for China to counter,” Grant told BI, adding that “even if China improves in one area, there are still advantages that go with the whole fifth-gen package.”
“It’s pretty much exactly the same for the Russians,” she said. “There’s not a magic breakthrough technology that’s going to make stealth obsolete overnight.”
That’s not to say it can’t be done. The US is, according to The National Interest, looking at a combination of long-wave infrared search and tracking systems, high-speed data networking, and algorithms for advanced multi-point sensor fusion. All of that takes time to develop and integrate into a country’s force.
Russia is currently developing the S-500 surface-to-air missile system, which the country claims will have the ability to intercept stealth aircraft, something the weapon’s predecessors have struggled to do. It’s impossible to know how the system will actually perform until its fielded.
Grant explained that American stealth assets remain very powerful signaling tools. Potential adversaries, she pointed out, “don’t know where it’s going to be. They can’t detect it the same way. There is an element of uncertainty.”
Earlier this year, the US deployed B-2 Spirit bombers to Hawaii to train alongside F-22s. The US military said in a statement at the time that the move showed the world “that the B-2 is on watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week ready to protect our country and its allies.”
Both China and Russia are developing their own fifth-generation fighters. They include the Chinese J-20 and the Russian Su-57, each of which has its own merits but still trails behind US programs. The Chinese military is also developing the H-20 stealth bomber.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The grassy hill surrounding the arena is packed full of spectators and family members. The emcee calls out a dancer’s name; there’s movement in the crowd. The competitor makes it into the arena, throws out his hoops for his sequence.
Upon the dancer’s cue, the drum starts singing. Bells on his ankles sing in time with each beat of the drum and each step he makes.
He has five minutes to convey a story, using small hoops as his medium to paint each scene, as part of the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held in Phoenix in 2018.
“The competition opens everyone’s eyes to the Native American culture,” said Timothy Clouser, the museum’s facilities director and a Navy veteran. “I find it very fascinating how each dancer puts their own artistic expression in their dance and story they are trying to convey. Not one dance is the same.”
Brian Hammill, an Army veteran of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a previous World Hoop Dance champion, competed in Phoenix. He uses his dancing to help bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and non-natives, sharing his culture everywhere he goes.
“As native people, we don’t give gifts of objects because an object goes away, but we give the gift of a song, or a dance,” Hammill said. “When you do that, if you give somebody a song, and you tell them, ‘Every time you sing this song, you tell the story,’ or ‘Every time you do this dance, you tell the story and you give it away,’ that dance will last forever. That’s how this hoop dance carries on; it’s given from one person to the next.”
Army veteran Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation applies face paint before grand entry at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 10, 2018.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
The hoop dance is different than other Native American dances, such as powwow dancing. Powwows are inter-tribal celebrations of Native American culture. Tribal affiliation doesn’t matter, nor does what region someone is from. It doesn’t even matter if someone is native or non-native.
Powwow dancing consists of at least six categories. Men’s categories include the fancy dance, grass dance and traditional dance. Women’s categories are the fancy dance, jingle dress and traditional dance.
The hoop dance regalia is minimal compared to that of the powwow dances. Typically, a hoop dancer will wear a shirt, breechcloth, side drops, sheep skin, bells (or deer hooves) and moccasins. The colors and designs are specific to each person. The hoops are small and vary in size, typically depending on the height of the dancer. Sometimes they have designs on them, again, specific to each dancer.
“Traditionally, the hoops were made out of willow, depending on where the tribe was located,” Hammill said. “I make mine out of a very exotic wood called plastic.”
The hoop dance has different origin stories with a common thread that it originated in the Southwest. To some native nations, the hoop dance is a healing dance, Hammill said. A hoop would traditionally be passed over an afflicted person, then the dancer would break that hoop and never use it again.
“Basically, it was a way of taking away all that pain or sickness away,” Hammill said. “That’s not done in public. There is also a story of the children, the Taos Pueblo children. It is said that the children saw this ceremony taking place and began to emulate what they saw. Instead of telling the kids, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ the adults encouraged them. They began to sing songs for them. They took what was a prayer and made it something the kids could do. So, basically, the dance changed, it evolved.
“In the north, it tells of a warrior’s journey,” he continued. “As you see these hoops come together, they start to make formations. You’ll see the eagle, the butterfly, the warrior on the battlefield defending his family, the clouds in the sky.”
Each person, he explained, will see that dance in a different way, interpret the story differently. There are hundreds of hoop dance stories, but each one revolves around the sacred circle of life.
“The significance of the hoops is that it represents the circle of life. There’s no beginning and no ending,” Hammill said. “We are taught that each and every one of us — doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin — we are all created equal in that sacred hoop.”
Another part of Hammill’s culture that he lives every day is the tradition of service.
“The way I was always taught is, as a native person, we are always here to serve the people,” he said.
U.S. Army veteran, Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation, competes at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona on Feb. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
“We serve them by cooking and providing food for them. We teach them, or protect them. One of the greatest things I was always taught that we do, is we put ourselves in harm’s way to protect our families and our identity. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, I felt I needed to do.”
Hammill enlisted in the Army while still in high school. He went to basic training during the summer between his junior and senior years, and went on active duty after graduation.
“It’s just something that we do,” he said. “You’ll find that throughout the United States, there are a higher percentage of native veterans per capita than any other race.”
While he was stationed in South Korea, one of his first sergeants learned that he had danced while growing up, and asked Hammill to share his culture with everyone. He performed the men’s fancy dance for his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of these soldiers weren’t exposed to different cultures, so he had me do one of my first presentations there,” he said. “I called my dad in Wisconsin, and he shipped all of my dance regalia to me. I started doing presentations for the people I was stationed with, and in different areas throughout the Korean theater. That’s where I really got the passion to share the story, and I found out how important it is.”
Hammill was introduced to the hoop dance prior to his transition out of the military in 1994. Back then, he would travel about 120 miles from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Livingston, Texas, where he performed and danced with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
“A good friend of mine, Gillman Abbey, basically gave me this hoop dance,” he said. “He told me the story. He told me every time I dance, to always make sure I share the story, and give the dance.”
He said the hoop dance helped him heal from his time in service. Still brand new to hoop dancing, Hammill actually competed in the World Hoop Dance Championship for the first time about six months after he got out of the military.
“I was 24, in the adult division,” he said. “I remember I was scared because this is a huge competition. Some of the dancers I’m still dancing with today pulled me aside, said to me, ‘Hey, you’re doing good. Let me show you some different moves. Let me help you.’ I’ll never forget that because that’s what really kept me coming back. Being here, feeling that hoop and how it affects people, it keeps me coming back. It took me a long time, about 15 years, until I won my first world title. I moved to the senior division and won four more. But it’s a family. It really is something we all have in common.”
It might surprise the casual student of history to learn that the United States was not alone in supporting South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. America’s traditional list of allies joined us in trying to contain the spread of Communism in South East Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia. Each one of them brought the pain to the enemy in their own way.
South Koreans were so zealous in their fight against Communism that everyone else actually had to restrain them at times. Aside from the powerful bombing campaigns, America employed precision special operations units, which North Vietnamese called “the men with green faces.” It was the Australians they feared most, however.
At any given moment, everything would be fine and then, suddenly, you’d see all your men killed in the blink of an eye. That’s how they knew the Aussies were in the area.
Even though Aussies had been in Vietnam since 1962, the Australian Special Air Service Regiment first arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 with the mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance patrols in the dense Vietnamese jungles.
They were so effective in the field, the NVA called the Australians the “Ghosts of the Jungle.” They even provided instructors to the United States’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol school. They would operate on 24-hour missions in the areas surrounding friendly bases.
Small fire teams of four to six men moved much more slowly than any other unit, even other special operations units. But once in contact with the enemy, the Australians unleashed a barrage of fire, designed to make the enemy believe there were more men on the opposing side than there really were.
The slow, quiet movement and hellish raking fire the Australians brought to the NVA and VC made them the most feared enemy unit in the areas of South Vietnam. Even the most quiet VC infiltrators could easily walk into a devastating Aussie ambush.
An SASR patrol during Operation Coburg, South Vietnam 1968.
(Australian Defense Ministry)
Each Aussie SASR unit operated with an attached New Zealand SAS trooper and each of the three “Sabre” squadrons did, at least, a one-year tour in Vietnam, operating throughout Phuoc Tuy province as well as in Bien Hoa, Long Khanh, and Binh Tuy provinces. They also deployed with American Special Forces and Navy SEALs throughout the country.
The Australian SASR first came in contact with the enemy in May, 1966, when they met a Viet Cong force in the area around Nui Dat. It did not go well for the VC. From there, the Aussies spread their recon patrol range by several kilometers. By the end of their time in Vietnam, the unit performed 1,200 combat patrols with one killed in action, one dead from wounds, three accidentally killed, one missing, and one death from illness. Another 28 men were wounded in action.
Before leaving in 1971, the ANZACs killed 600 enemy troops, the highest kill ratio of the entire war.
Former Army Ranger and West Point grad Matthew ‘Griff’ Griffin isn’t your average vet entrepreneur. He came up with the notion of building something of value when he was serving in Afghanistan during the early phases of the war, way before there was much of a logistics footprint in place. He saw that the Afghan people were in need of more than protection from the Taliban. They needed basic goods and services.
“I saw Afghanistan as a place to leverage the power of small business owners making a difference,” Griff said. “The region could benefit from more micro loans and fewer armored vehicles.”
When Griff left active duty he returned to Kabul doing some clinic work, but beyond that he wanted to find a way to assist with the country’s stability by creating a manufacturing base, starting with a single factory he stumbled across on the east side of the capital. The factory had the infrastructure; it was just a matter of what to manufacture.
As he was leaving the factory he found a flip flop on the floor — it was unique and a little funky, the kind of design Griff thought might resonate with fashion-minded millennials. He held it up and asked the factory manager if he could make them, and the Afghan local said sure. Combat Flip Flops was born.
Griff and his brother procured the materials from a far eastern supplier and got everything set up, but they’d no sooner returned to the U.S. than they were informed that the factory was shutting down — a casualty of the volatile socio-economic climate of Afghanistan. But the brothers were undeterred, plus they had a lot of money wrapped up in the materials sitting in the factory in Kabul.
Without any U.S. military assistance — the most effective way to operate, according to Griff — they went back in on a private spec ops mission of sorts, one designed to salvage what they could from their investment and work that had been accomplished already.
“We rented a ‘Bongo’ truck and packed the inventory of flip flops into bags designed to hold opium,” Griff said. “We were riding around the streets of Kabul trying to look inconspicuous, two white guys sitting on a pile of opium bags.”
They stored the 2,000-some pairs of flip flops in a warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul, and as they did a closer inspection of their wares they realized that the quality was such that they couldn’t be sold. They wound up giving all of them away to needy Afghans, which was better than nothing but not up to the standards of Griff’s vision.
They found another factory, and once again secured a supplier (and paid for it using Griff’s credit card), and this time failure came even faster and the factory closed down before any materials for the order of 4,000 pairs had been shipped. It was time for a more dramatic pivot in the business plan.
“We wound up taking the guerrilla manufacturing route and assembling the sandals in my garage in Washington state,” Griff said.
The company’s potential big break came in the form of a phone call from one of the producers at ABC’s “Shark Tank” TV show. Griff and a couple of his co-workers will appear on the episode scheduled to air on February 5. (Check your local listings.)
“We’re stoked to bring the Combat Flip Flops mission to the tank,” Griff’ said. “Every Shark has the ability to expand the mission, inspire new recruits to join the Unarmed Forces, and manufacture peace through trade. Over the past few years, we’ve survived deadly encounters to create an opportunity like this. Attack Dogs. Raging Bulls. If we need to jump in the water with Sharks, then it’s time to grab the mask and fins.”
“We’ve all seen and heard Shark Tank success stories,” Donald Lee, Combat Flip Flops’ CMO and co-founder, added. “We set our minds to getting on the show and in true Ranger fashion, we accomplished the objective. We hope this is the catalyst our company needs to provide large scale, peaceful, sustainable change in areas of conflict.”
In 2015, Combat Flip Flops’ sales increased 150 percent over the previous year. In keeping with Griff’s original corporate vision, the company donated funds for schools to educate Afghan girls and cleared 1,533 square meters of land mines in Laos, which keeps the local population — especially children — safer.
Griff has leveraged his service academy pedigree and military experience in incredibly productive ways. His entrepreneurial sense and — even more importantly — his worldview defies most veteran stereotypes and associated bogus narratives. His outlook and drive are distinctly that of the Post 9-11 warfighter — “the next greatest generation.”
Combat Flip Flop’s mission statement captures it:
To create peaceful, forward-thinking opportunities for self-determined entrepreneurs affected by conflict. Our willingness to take bold risks, community connection, and distinct designs communicate, “Business, Not Bullets”– flipping the view on how wars are won. Through persistence, respect, and creativity, we empower the mindful consumer to manufacture peace through trade.
The Defense Ministry in Moscow says that a Russian air strike in Syria has killed 12 Al-Nusra Front field commanders and gravely wounded the group’s leader.
The air strike was launched after Russia’s military intelligence obtained the time and place of a gathering of the Al-Nusra Front leaders, among them its chief, Abu Muhammad al-Golani, on October 3, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on October 4.
Jabhat al-Nusra, or Al-Nusra Front, was the name of a militant group that was described as Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria. In 2016, it shed its status as Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and changed its name to the Fateh al-Sham Front.
Since 2017, it is a predominant part of a coalition of militant factions called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
“As a result of the strike, the Nusra Front leader, Abu Muhammad al-Golani, sustained numerous shrapnel wounds and, having lost an arm, is in a critical condition, according to information from several independent sources,” Konashenkov said.
He added that 12 of the group’s field commanders were killed, together with around 50 guards. The information could not be independently confirmed.
Russia has backed President Bashar al-Assad’s government throughout the more than six-year war in Syria, and stepped up its involvement by launching a campaign of air strikes in September 2015. It has also increased its military presence on the ground.
While the Pentagon has questioned the need for a dedicated Space Force, the U.S. is already a signatory to multiple space treaties that spell out its obligations in the final frontier. And there are already a number of missions being done by other forces that would clearly be the purview of an independent Space Force.
Here are nine things the Space Force must do — and two things it can’t.
They probably won’t need so many graphical overlays to do it, though.
Protect American satellites
American satellites are one of the most important parts of modern, digital infrastructure. They’re also extremely vulnerable. They’re under constant threat of striking debris that’s already flying through orbit and China and Russia both have demonstrated the capabilities to bring one down at any time.
A Space Force would likely be tasked with building countermeasures to protect these valuable assets. Oncoming missiles could be confused with jamming or brought down with lasers — but lasers can also serve as an offensive weapon against enemy satellites. Additionally, some spacefaring nations, including the U.S., are developing technologies that could allow them to seize enemy satellites and steer them into danger.
Tactical battles in space sound complicated.
(U.S. Air Force)
Identify enemy killer satellites and template attacks against them
Speaking of which, the Space Force will likely need intelligence assets to identify satellites with offensive capabilities and template ways to neutralize them quickly in a space war. Satellites could be the U-boats of a future conflict, and the best way to stop them before they can hide amidst the space junk is to take them out at the first sign of conflict.
Satellites are expensive. And hard to make. And worse to replace.
(U.S. Air Force)
Ensure plans for the replacement constellations are viable
But there’s no way that American defenses could stop all — or likely even the majority of — attacks. Luckily, DARPA and other agencies are already testing potential ways to rapidly rebuild capabilities after an attack.
They’ve tested launching moderate-sized satellites from F-16s as well as sending up rockets with many small satellites that work together to achieve their mission, creating a dispersed network that’s harder to defeat.
(Graphic by U.S. Air Force)
Figure out how to destroy space debris
We mentioned space debris earlier — and it’s important for a few reasons. First, it’s a constant threat to satellites. But more importantly for strategic planners, most methods of quickly destroying an enemy’s satellite constellation will create thousands (if not millions) of pieces of debris that could eventually destroy other satellites in orbit, including those of the attacking nation.
So, to create a credible threat of using force against other nations’ satellites, the U.S. will need a plan for destroying any space debris it creates. The most pragmatic solution is to create weapons that can kill satellites without creating debris, like the lasers and killbots. But those same lasers and killbots could be used to clear out debris after satellites are killed with missiles.
China has proposed a “space broom,” armed with a weak laser that could clear debris (and, purely coincidentally, might also be used to destroy satellites).
Air Force graphics are as complicated as Army graphics. I wonder if everyone thought it was the graphics that decided who got the Space Force? (You win this round, Air Force).
(U.S. Air Force)
Protect American industry in space
The U.S. military branches are often called to protect national interests. Among those national interests is business — and business in space is likely to be massive in the near future, from private space companies teasing the possibility of tourism to asteroid mining to zero-gravity manufacturing.
Of course, building the infrastructure to do these things in space will be expensive and extremely challenging. To make sure that America can still gather resources and manufacture specialized goods — and that the military and government can buy those goods and resources — the Space Force will be tasked with protecting American interests in space.
There is little standardized equipment between different space agencies, though Russia does share some matching equipment thanks to their access to Space Shuttle schematics when overhauling the Soviet space program. The Space Force will likely have to figure out ways to rescue astronauts and civilians in space despite equipment differences.
Yeah, you guys can hitch a ride. Did you bring your own spacesuit or do you need a loaner?
(Photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ian Dudley)
Provide orbital rides for other branches
While the Marine Corps has already done some preliminary work on how to move its Marines via orbit, little planning exists for the nitty gritty details of moving troops through space. All of the branches will likely develop some tools for moving personnel, but Congress will likely demand that the branches prevent unnecessary redundancy — like how the Army has its own boats, planes, and helicopters, but has to get most of its rides from the Navy and Air Force.
The Space Force will be the pre-eminent branch in space, and will likely need the spaceports and shuttles to match.
Learn to steer (or at least divert) asteroids
Currently, NASA has the lead on detecting near-Earth objects and preventing collisions, but the military generally gets the bigger budget and, as they say, “with great funds comes great responsibility.”
Of course, the Space Force won’t be all shuttle pilots and flight attendants — the admin folks will have a lot of paperwork to do, too. Another U.S. space treaty obligates America to provide details of every object it launches into space as well as every person who enters space.
All of those details that get passed when personnel enter or leave a country will also have to get passed when they enter or leave space, necessitating an admin corps who join the space force exclusively to pass paperwork.
If you think that makes the Space Force more boring, just wait until you see the things they, by treaty, aren’t allowed to do.
Super sexy — but also not allowed to be based on the Moon.
(U.S. Air Force)
No carrying weapons of mass destruction
The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 bans any spacefaring nation from putting weapons of mass destruction in orbit or basing them on celestial bodies, like the Moon. So, no Space Marines with nuclear missiles in orbit. Rockets, bullets, and lasers? Maybe.
Nukes? No way. Gotta leave those back on Earth.
No building military bases on celestial bodies
Even worse news for Space Force personnel: They can’t have any dedicated military bases on celestial objects either, also due to that same Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The U.S. will need to renegotiate the treaty, build more space stations, or keep nearly all Space Force personnel on Earth, only sending them up for short missions.
Fine, we’ll admit it. Soldiers do sometimes get jealous of airmen. Not because of their warfighting prowess, which is acceptable at best. And not because of their uniforms — oh, you’re finally switching out those ridiculous stripes for OCPs? Congrats.
No, in addition to them getting respect and fair treatment from their leadership, they also get all the perks. You know, like these six things:
Air Force food. Fresh ingredients. Healthy options. Disgusting.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Emily Kenney)
It’s common knowledge that the best food on a joint Army-Air Force base is almost always in the Air Force dining facility. And, when the Air Force runs a major terminal on a base, they’ll often have a 24-hour DFAC. They can often eat better at 3 a.m. than the Army can during a standard meal.
All so a bunch of paper-pushers and wrench-turners (and the occasional pilot) are happy.
An Air Force barracks in Germany. Snotty bastards.
(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Joshua Joseph Magbanua)
Actually, they don’t even call them “barracks” anymore. Officially, airmen live in “dorms” now, some of which have theater and game rooms, and most of which have free WiFi. Meanwhile, the Army usually has access to internet, but there’s usually only one option on base, and you can bet that geographic monopoly limits their give-a-damn when people complain.
So, yeah, single life in one service is demonstrably better than the other. So much so that the Air Force offers…
…money for living in Army conditions
Yeah, the Air Force gives their dudes’ money if they have to reside in “unfit quarters” — which applies to airmen in Army living spaces. This author trained in a multi-service school run by the Army. The Air Force got the best barracks at the school, but were the only service that got money every month for having to live in such decrepit conditions.
Decrepit conditions that the other four branches just had to deal with.
These airmen are travelling to Germany. Notice how they’re happy? Wish the Army had that.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Watson-Kirwin)
Actual international travel
Sure, Marines and Navy get to travel the world, too, but the Air Force gets preferred slots during Space-A travel, getting first dibs on open seats anywhere that an Air Force plane is already flying. And their bases are truly international, with lots of slots open across the planet. Folks who get a job on an airplane could see a few countries in a single week.
But the Army has relatively few international bases, and it takes a spot of luck to actually get a billet in Korea, Germany, Italy, or somewhere else cool. Most soldiers will train stateside, deploy to the Middle East and Africa, rinse and repeat.
These guys aren’t even holding rifles. Disgusting.
(U.S. Air Force Kemberly Groue)
Training and experience that translates to the civilian world
The Air Force is basically a corporation, and their training and job duties reflect that fact. While the Army is busy focusing on warfighting skills, like land nav and rifle marksmanship, the Air Force focuses on things employers care about, like professional conduct in office jobs, air control towers, and terminals.
CEOs don’t care if a soldier can shoot the wings off of a fly, because that’s not something businesses do. But they do care whether you can write an email without calling anyone f*cker. Too bad, soldiers.
Ryan Hall at the Community College of the Air Force. Yes. The Air Force has its own college.
(U.S. Air Force)
Community college built into the service
Ugh, but the worst is that whole Community-College-of-the-Air-Force thing. Yes, it’s an actual community college. And yes, it helps airmen get actual degrees — usually associate degrees in applied sciences. Army training gets you, at best, some elective credits in a real degree program.
But the Air Force kids get actual college credits and a whole community college to help them turn those credits into degrees.
Oh, well. At least all the branches get the G.I. Bill.
My first impression is that Mat Best is the kind of guy you want to party with. Or at the very least take a shot with. Whether it’s bikini snaps, whiskey or coffee, you can tell within seconds of meeting Mat that he is all about living life to the fullest. For real.
The former Ranger turned contractor is the internet icon behind Article 15 clothing, Leadslingers Whiskey, and most recently Black Rifle Coffee Company. But that’s just the beginning of Mat’s second act. He’s walking into the WATM office as the author of his newly released memoir, Thank You For My Service, and he has something powerful to say to us all…(spoiler alert).
For the first time, Mat’s taken down some walls and opened himself up in his book in a way that even his business partners have never seen. He’s honest. He’s vulnerable, and even better he’s embraced the awkward. Especially when it comes to the most cliche statement in the history of veterans, “Thank you for your service.” A statement that has been awkward and fallen flat to so many veterans is now Mat’s source of strength.
As we mic up for the interview, I am just beginning to realize that my initial impressions don’t even scratch the surface of Mat’s world. This is man and warrior who has garnered billions of views across the internet with his hilarious videos, yet, his humour is the tool that has lifted him from tragedy. This is a very different Mat than we have seen on Youtube or Instagram and for damn sure I am going to listen to what he has to say.
WATM: Can you give us a brief intro about you?
Mat Best:My name is Mat Best. I am an internet influencer. I hate that, just kidding. My name is Mat Best, and I’m the co-founder of Black Rifle Coffee.
WATM: Are you a Navy Seal?
Mat Best: I am not a Navy Seal, although I am taking tips from their hairstylists.
WATM: So if you’re not a Navy Seal, why’d you write a book?
Mat Best:I thought we have to get the message out about the amazing individuals of the 75th Ranger Regiment, which is where I came from and grew up. So that’s the story I wanted to tell.
WATM: I love it. All right, Good.
Mat Best:You were happy with that one. He was like, “I gotta hit the Navy Seal jokes.”
WATM: I didn’t even write that joke but yes, it makes me happy. Ok, let’s go back to when you’re in the Army. What kind of soldier would you say you were?
Mat Best: I would say that I was the team room jokester, but then took my job very serious, and I would like to think of myself as an absolute professional while I’m doing my job.
WATM: Is there anything you’ve learned, especially being in the Ranger Regiment, that’s helped you in business and now writing a book?
Mat Best: Absolutely. I think being in the military, specifically the Ranger Regiment, you consistently solve complex problems. It’s you and your buddies on the ground and you’re presented with all these crazy situations, and you can’t ask for help. It’s up to you and the team to execute and follow through with the mission plan. And I think that is so attributable to business, because no one tells you what to do, what the right answer is. You’re just in a gunfight, and you got to fix it. And sometimes it’s ugly. And so, all those lessons learned in the military directly apply to business. And that’s why at Black Rifle, we try to hire so many veterans, because they come from such a diverse background, that they have so many applicable skills that a lot of civilians don’t have.
WATM: What do you think makes Black Rifle Coffee Company special compared to other companies?
Mat Best:Mainly, I would say what makes Black Rifle Coffee so special is our mission statement and our values. We’re very transparent with what we put out there, and we always say, “Vote with your dollar.” And I think it’s refreshing in American culture to know who you’re supporting when you purchase a good, and not only a good, but a very high quality good. So that’s what we take pride in. When you buy Black Rifle Coffee, you know what our mission statement is, and you know what we’re going to do.
WATM: Was there anything specifically from your time in uniform that transformed you into who you are today?
Mat Best:I’ve had a few tragedies with friends while deployed, and honestly, it just really gave me this profound perspective on life. That it’s insanely short, you never know when it’s going to end, and that only supported my goal to make people laugh, humor through horror. We have one shot at this life, there’s no dress rehearsal, let’s just live it to its fullest. And it’s okay to enjoy life. Have fun, laugh. We don’t know how long we’re going to be here. And so those experiences really helped develop me to who I am today, to not really sweat the small stuff. Let’s focus on the big stuff, health, well-being, and all that.
WATM: Did you ever get an article 15?
Mat Best:No. That’s why I laugh. People will say, “You started a company called Article 15 Clothing.” I’ve got a good conduct medal, man.
WATM: What did that transition look like for you?
Mat Best:Yeah, mainly when I got off active duty, I moved here to Los Angeles, and I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do. I went through a pretty deep and heavy transition and learned a lot about myself, what I wanted to do. Kind of regaining that sense of purpose and what I wanted to devote my life to, which subsequently made me be a contractor, because I really missed the team mentality and the brotherhood. For a while, I thought I really missed war, but what I really missed was the camaraderie and the brotherhood that was enveloped in that experience. And so, once I became a contractor, that made it very clear in my mind that this is what I want to do. I want to live in this community, and I want to provide value in this community.
WATM: How did you decide to go down this route of entrepreneurship, especially on video content and being an influencer?
Mat Best: I needed an outlet creatively. So I just started making YouTube videos to make five people laugh, and five turned to a thousand, a thousand turned to 100,000 and it kind of snowballed effect. And what I realized is that there was such a want and need for that style of content that hadn’t been done before. And it’s pretty cool to see a lot of other influencers in the military making people laugh, doing callback jokes to basic training, just creating that military experience so we can not relive it, but have those fond memories of service post-service.
WATM: What do you think about the term ‘influencer?’
Mat Best:I think ‘influencer’ applies to certain people. I think influence means you have influence, you’re not just famous for posting a likable photo. And I think people are finding that out on Instagram, where they have followers, and they have certain engagement metrics, but they’re not able to influence a message or a culture or something like that. It’s a tricky term. Overused.
WATM: What do you feel when somebody says, “Hey Mat, thank you for your service?”
Mat Best: It’s a challenging question when people say, “Thank you for your service,” I think there is a sense of empathy and appreciation in the statement, but I think civilian culture has been so conditioned just to say that. Everybody wants to support veterans until it’s time to support veterans. I think a basic statement of, “Thank you for your service,” isn’t enough. Let’s go work on treatment of individuals that have moral grief and transition issues. Let’s actually impact people rather than just say that. And again, that’s my personal opinion. There are a lot of people out there that really appreciate that statement, but that’s why I named my book. “Thank You for My Service,” because I really, really appreciated being part of the community I was in special operations and doing the job. I mean, taxpayers let me go jump out of planes and fast rope out of helicopters. How cool is that?
WATM: So let’s get into the book, ‘Thank You For My Service.’ Why should we ‘thank YOU for your service?’
Mat Best:We shouldn’t thank me for my service. I want to thank you for your service and my service. No, I thought it was a funny play. Some people read it immediately and go, “Whoa, that’s super douchey.” And they go, “Oh, I get it. What he’s trying to say there.” So it was a play on that whole societal thing of people don’t know if they should thank veterans for their service. And most importantly, what an amazing experience for me to grow up. I would never even be close to the man I am today if I didn’t serve in such an amazing unit, like 75th ranger regiment. So I’m just proud of it, and I want to share that experience that I’m not a victim. It made me a better individual, even with all the stuff I saw. So I want to be a good steward of that community, and hopefully influence people to serve their country, serve their communities, and know that’s a powerful thing.
WATM: So is writing a book. Congrats man, that is a huge step and powerful.
Mat Best: Thank you. And it’s not in crayon. My book’s not in crayon, guys. This is a big moment.
WATM: Obviously, you put a lot of time into doing this.
Mat Best: I don’t think I ever really set out to write a book. It was never a part of that. I had not journal entries, but I guess you could say that I documented some of the worst times in my life, because I didn’t ever want to forget how crappy it felt. And so whenever I’m feeling down, I can look back at transitioning out of the military. I can look back at losing friends and being like, “This is why I’m here. This is what’s going to motivate me. Get off your suck. Wake up, let’s go f*cking work.” And so it really just transcribed into me talking to people, having influence, and people said, “I want to know Mat’s whole story.” And really for me, the only way to tell my entire story is to put it on paper. I mean you can do videos, you can chat about it, but a lot of people just see the extension of my personality through the entertainment and the skits that I do, which I fully enjoy. But that’s a singular perspective on my personality. So, kind of wanted to put it all in there, make people laugh, write something that no one else has ever seen in their life before, because it’s a completely different book than an average military book, that’s for sure.
WATM: In the book, you talk about how you’ve used humor as a way to get through some very tough points in your life. Are there specific instances in the book that [were] very powerful for you?
Mat Best:Yeah, I think that’s a loaded question, but it’s a good one. I think there’s certain aspects and stories in the book that you’ll see where humor, I applied humor in a very dark situation, where people were just trying to kill us, and now we’re cleaning up the aftermath, and you can tell people are a little shook up and rattled. So I just used humor to kind of offset that, get their head in the game, realize we’re here for a mission. This is really messed up. Because when do you expect ever to, as an individual, to just see people blowing up and body parts flying and shooting people? No one sets you up for that experience until it happens. You’ve got to combat it with humor a little bit. Still being a professional, obviously, but easing the moment, I would say.
WATM: Was there ever a moment you looked at the book and said, “I can’t believe I’m writing this right now?”
Mat Best:There were multiple times in the book, absolutely, where it was very challenging for me to relive a few things and I got kind of caught up and almost definitely pretty much cried a few times where I’m like, “I’ll set that down.” And there was definitely other times in the book where I had to go get a shot of whiskey or a glass of wine because I’m like, “I don’t want to be that open about this, you know? And I’m like, “But that’s how I make a good book. I have to be honest and transparent and show my struggles and my successes, because that’s what’s going to influence people to live their own quality of life.” If I just write this top level crap book that’s like, “Look at me, I served the country, I’m awesome. I do business,” what value does that bring?
WATM: We don’t want to give it all away. But do you think there’s something that maybe the audience doesn’t know that they’re going to find in this book?
Mat Best:For sure. Yeah. I put a lot in this book that no one’s ever known. To quote Evan Hafer, my business partner at Black Rifle Coffee, he said, “I didn’t want to read your book. I didn’t want to read it.” And I’m like, “Well, thanks for being honest, man.” He’s like, “Well, I’ve known you for six-plus years. I know your stories.” And then when he finally read it, he went, “Dude, I couldn’t put it down. It was so interesting, and I got to a see side of my friend I didn’t even know.”
WATM: Would you say you’re fully transitioned out? Do you feel like you’re a civilian at this point, or is there always going to be a part of you that’s related to the military?
Mat Best:At least now in the workings of Black Rifle, I’ll always be part of the military for sure. To say that I don’t go look back at old photos or old experiences and miss it and for some reason still wish I was deployed fighting a war when I have a beautiful wife and a successful business, it’s still in there. So it’s always there, and I’ll always be a part of the community for sure, because I just want to see it be successful.
WATM: You offer a lot, especially to veterans out there, but not always just the veterans. Is there any advice or things that you would love your followers or people that read the book to know that you really live by?
Mat Best: Yeah, I would say as far as the transition piece, it’d be proper planning prevents piss poor performance. You have to have a mission plan going into anything. It’s just like when you’re going to the grocery store, and you have kids, all right, I need the car seat. You’re planning, you’re in that planning phase. And I think what I didn’t do when I got out, I didn’t plan for anything. I’m like, “I’ll figure it out,” in my absolute stubborn ways. And that set me up for a nosedive. And so going forward, I’ve always tried to plan, plan for the worst, expect the best, kind of thing. I know I’m just saying catchphrases, but they actually are applicable if you follow them. I mean, anybody can read a Pinterest quote, right? But if you live it, that’s a different story.