Chris Rangel, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, founded and runs UNDR Industries, which was born in his barracks room in between deployments. UNDR manufactures custom jerseys, active wear and equipment for paintball. The company has been in business since 2007 and has grown exponentially in the past decade.
Rangel left USMC service in 2014, after serving with 1/7, 2/8, MARSOC and Marine Security Forces in the infantry. Rangel has been playing paintball for nearly 30 years since his childhood. UNDR has evolved into further fields such as fishing and shooting sports. They also make tents, banners and promotional materials.
Enjoy this Q&A with Chris Rangel of UNDR Industries and Veteran Militia Paintball
WATM: What inspired you to start your own company?
Being a broke PFC and needing money. Paintball has always been expensive and we found a niche making goggle straps. You gotta wear your goggles at all times when you're playing paintball. Making goggle straps was an easy way to make money to fulfill the addiction of playing paintball. The company has grown into what it is today based on that simple concept.
WATM: Can you tell us about Veteran Militia?
In the 2015-2016 timeframe, a close friend and fellow Marine, Travis Kerr, was driving home one night. He had an epiphany about veteran suicide and its inherent negativity. He believed we needed to do something on our level to bring awareness to it. Find something to bring guys together, veterans who are disenfranchised and don't know where to turn. We're not old enough to be keyed into the American Legion. We want to do something on our level to give veterans a space to hang out and confide in one another. One of the toughest things is getting veterans to talk. We got 35 veterans from all over the country to show up to the World Cup, which is a grand finale event. None of us really knew each other and we all got together to play paintball. We had a great time. From that event onward, we have now grown into nearly 2700 members. We get together monthly all over the country to play paintball.
We just started fishing last season and mountain biking club. Whatever guys want to do is what we are focusing on and a place where guys can go and talk. If veterans have any issues, we immediately focus on helping them and have a good success rate, even in mental health crises. We have been able to get them the help they need. We act as a brother's keeper. We have helped guys get off that dark ledge and recover. Many of them have attributed our group as a key factor in coming down off the ledge and being able to find people close to them. We have guys that will go out on hikes.
I write a lot, some poetry, and post it in different places on our pages. It shows the guys it is okay to have challenges. I have dealt with being ostracized before when openly discussing issues. I wasn't able to go back after three back to back to back deployments from 2003 to 2006. I try to use the platform to get guys to talk about not being okay. It's okay to talk about your feelings. It's okay to express things you don't understand. I post my poetry to get it out in some form or fashion. We have opportunities for guys to post as well. My goal is to get them to be part of the community as who they are without having to change anything. It's good. I am just a regular grunt, nothing special. I feel obligated to do this for them. From being a platoon sergeant to leaving the Marine Corps, we have the responsibility to support each other.
We do have women in the groups as well. It is a smaller percentage, similar to how it is in the military, but women do participate, too. We have veterans from the Canadian, Australian and European military services. We had members of the French Foreign Legion partner with us at one of the World Cup events. We have an international reach. Where else would you see the FFL show up on a random Saturday to play paintball and join us?
WATM: What has been your most fulfilling aspect of running UNDR and Veteran Militia?
The biggest thing is watching it grow and I love empowering other guys. Like, "Hey, I want to do that!" and then my response is, "Alright, dude, here's the resources." Go forth. Do great things. In the military, especially the Marine Corps, everyone is a leader from the PFC to the general. The tools are given to them to succeed. Putting the power into their hands is one of the most rewarding things. I can guide the ship but at the end of the day, it is all of us. I try to present that every day, so it's not Chris and Travis's show; it's 2700 like-minded individuals' show. Give everyone an opportunity to do something. Empowering a small team leads to further branching off points and further empowered leadership through the ranks. The company UNDR Industries is self-funded and does not take donations. It is all grassroots at the end of the day.
WATM: Do you have any closing thoughts?
Let people know about the suicide and crisis hotline at 988. If you are having a mental health crisis, they are there 24/7, 365. Don't feel isolated and don't feel guilty trying to understand the way that you feel. That's one of the hardest things for us to do. Our machismo, bravado or pride gets in the way of us getting help. Every day I see a veteran suicide and I always wonder what if someone sat him down and said, "How can I help?" None of us want to be a burden in uniform, but when we step away, and take that shield off, we can seek help. It's okay if you are not okay. Seek mental health assistance and don't be afraid to ask.
If you want to join Veteran Militia it is VM Paintball Group on Facebook. See the more in-depth YouTube podcast with Chris on The Samurai Pulse.