When you first join the military you’re wrapped in the warm and shiny glow of motivation. You hum cadences to yourself as you leave the barracks. You wear your dog tags under your tucked-in polo shirt while out in town, and you enthusiastically render a crisp salute to second lieutenants walking by. That sunny disposition doesn’t survive for long. Within a year or two, you likely go out of your way to avoid passing officers and can be found hanging out on the catwalk sipping a cold beer 15 minutes after getting off work, as you hurl insults at the dumb eager-eyed boots below you on the first deck.

Your motivation has cooled and its comforting glow has faded, in much the same way that warm urine turns to cold ick after pissing your pants, leaving you miserable and regretting your life choices. You’ve now entered the belligerent stage of your military career, and here you will stay until you reenlist, or more than likely, get out.

For those who know this experience all too well: Stand up and be recognized. There are finally military awards made just for you:

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Star device signifies multiple awards. (Blue Falcon Awards)

Started by Kevin Bradford, the Blue Falcon Awards shop includes rank insignia, uniform badges, decorations, and challenge coins which range in price from $10 to $30. Even the company’s name — a euphemism for “buddy fucker” — speaks to the junior enlisted angst that is the beating heart and soul of military culture.

And it makes sense, given that its creator is a Marine veteran.

In 2003, Bradford join the Marines on a whim, in part because at 19, he was in need of a change, and also because the Navy recruiting office was closed.

“When I woke up that morning I had no idea I was going to enlist,” he said, adding that he went open contract — a bold strategy, Cotton — and ended up as a flight mechanic stationed in Okinawa where he worked on KC-130s.

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Kevin Bradford. (Courtesy photo)

The idea for Blue Falcon Awards first took hold in 2007 as Bradford entered that strange limbo phase just before EASing. You know, that short window of time when you’ve officially dropped your pack, and your command doesn’t know what to do with you, but they’re too stubborn to let you just hang out in the barracks so you have to come to work anyway.

Bradford spent most of those days killing time, but his mind kept coming back to the same kinds of ideas, he said.

“You know, your lance corporal cross rifles, they call them mosquito wings,” he recalled. “And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘hey that’d be pretty dope. I bet they’d sell.’ I did the math and there were a lot of lance corporals, and if you actually made it, that would be something.”

And, well, it turns out he was right:

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You could sport these on your collar and none would be the wiser. (Blue Falcon Awards)

As is often the case, Bradford’s transition wasn’t as smooth as he had hoped.

“Life intervenes,” he said. But after a few stuttering starts and stops, during which he juggled multiple jobs and attended business school, the idea finally got off the ground in 2016.

“So the first three medals that I made, was the NJP medal, the Third Class PFT medal, and the Expert Janitor Medal,” Bradford said. Next came the badges, from Rifle Jedi to Rifle Unq’d — Marine slang for those who fail to qualify on the range.

“It’s the perfect gift you didn’t know you needed,” he said.

Much of the humor on the site caters to the junior enlisted and skews toward Marine Corps culture, but that’s part of its charm. Blue Falcon Awards manages to toe that fine line between being snarky without taking a shit on someone’s service. It’s the difference between talking trash and complaining about a shared experience or hardship — the way current and former Marines will bitch endlessly about the Corps, but will immediately lose their minds if someone outside of that community tries to weigh in.

For example, consider Blue Falcon Award’s Marine rank insignia, one of which features crossed broomsticks — an in-the-know reference to how every Marine is a rifleman janitor.

“Once I realized that the mop and broom chevrons were funny, I realized, there are other funny ones that you could do,” Bradford said. “There are endless possibilities you can actually bring to life, the subculture that people joke about on a daily basis.”

And it’s not surprising considering that pride and belligerence often go hand-in-hand with military service, especially among junior enlisted who’ve attended far too many award ceremonies where higher-ups received bronze stars for doing their jobs, while the rank and file get handed a certificate and sent back to the office to field day. 

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Finally, awards we actually want. (Blue Falcon Awards)

Since then, Blue Falcon Awards’ products have been featured by military-centric social media pages like Pop Smoke and Goons_Up, he said. And to stay authentic Bradford (who’s now been out longer than he was in) says he’s turned to active duty personnel to get their insights on his wares.

“And, you know, I thought they were hilarious,” he said of the ideas and suggestions he’s recieved from active duty personnel. “I think these are funny to me, so they’ve got to be funny to them, you know? And I figured the more authentic I make them, the more detail and time I put into making them, it would just add that much more value to it.”

The end result is a collection of parody awards and gag gifts that manage to capture the spirit of disgruntled rank and file life, and the boundless gallows humor that makes it all bearable.