If you've spent much time online checking out videos or posts on veteran-themed social media pages and websites, there's a pretty good chance you're familiar with Mat Best. Over the past several years, the former Army Ranger and defense contractor has leveraged his military experiences into a wildly successful career as an online entertainer, co-creator of the veteran-made zombie flick Range 15, and the co-founder of three popular military-themed companies (Black Rifle Coffee, Leadslingers Whiskey, and Article 15 Clothing), to boot.
Now, Best is adding “author” to a list of titles that include: operator, entrepreneur, coffee aficionado, apparel designer, actor, comedian, whiskey distiller, and master of parody rap battles.
As the title suggests, the memoir pairs his signature style — a heavy dose of sarcasm and gallows humor, balanced by the occasional moment of sincerity and solemnity — as he writes about his upbringing; his decision to enlist in the Army; his four deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan as part of 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment; the five years he spent working as a contractor after the military; and his (somewhat rocky) transition from mil-life to the civilian world, as he set out to co-found and run a string of veteran-focused businesses.
And, considering the memoir is coming from a guy whose most viewed YouTube video is a mash-up of every vet stereotype known to man, the book is likely to have you laughing your ass off, while your civilian partner or spouse stares at you like you're a lunatic.
Task & Purpose took a few minutes to chat with Best about his upcoming book, Thank You For My Service; why he wrote it (seriously, nobody reads); and what he hopes readers will get out of it.
This article has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Task & Purpose: So, Mat, you run a few successful companies, have a massive social media following, made a movie — why'd you write a book?
Mat Best: For me the book was a way of saying, “Okay, the world knows me as this guy who makes three-minute irreverent, cocky skits.” How do I give people a more inside look at my story, where I came from, where I grew up, and then give them a more visceral sense of understanding who Mat is, rather than just the two to three minute skits on the internet.
Task & Purpose: Why did you choose Thank You For My Service as the title?
Mat Best Yeah. So the title section changed a few times. The first one ever was “Freedom the F**k On,” and I spent 17 months in DoD review, and I saw books like The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k, and there were all these cuss words and I was like “I don't really want a cuss word in my book title anymore.” And “Freedom On” was just kind of weak.
It was actually Jarred Taylor and I sitting in the San Antonio Airport, and I'm like, “Man, what if I call my book something like “Don't Thank Me For My Service” or something like that?” As a play on words and we came up with Thank You For My Service.
Moreover, I just love serving my country, as a contractor and in Ranger battalion, and I think there's this mass narrative out there that when someone serves their country they're a victim afterward. And because they've been to war we should pity and feel sorry for them.
That wasn't my case with service. I absolutely loved it and enjoyed it and taxpayers paid me to jump out of planes and ride around in helicopters, so I was just very thankful for the opportunity to serve my country. I love my country and I just wanted to put that into a kind of funny title.
Task & Purpose: Briefly describe what the book is about.
Mat Best: The book is a memoir and it really tells everything from me growing up and seeing my brothers graduate Marine Corps boot camp together right after 9/11 happened. It's a really crazy story. All the way into me becoming a fire team leader with Ranger battalion and telling some of these really crazy war stories, then to me being a contractor, and starting a YouTube channel and getting a pretty big following, and then all the lessons learned as far as business, and all of that.
It's not like your standard military book where it all leads up to one story about one crazy operation. There are a few really intense war stories in this book, but I wanted to give people kind of a shotgun seat to me, but also be able to hear about war and contracting and business in kind of a satirical sense and with the comedic storytelling that I have.
Task & Purpose: Is it satire?
Mat Best: I say it in the book, but I feel that a lot of military books out there are so dry, man. They read like this: “An enemy combatant presented himself from 15 meters away. I engaged with two rounds into the chest. My training took over.”
You know? And it's like, I get it, but man, I was a 22-year-old fire team leader and that's not really how we joked and talked in the team room.
There's a lot of macabre humor that goes along with being in war and going out on direct action raids every single night, and I really wanted that to be a part of the book, about having to piss on your friend in Ranger School because he's so freak'n cold.
Those are the stories that people are terrified to tell for some reason, but I wanted to give an authentic look into what it's like, and the reality of it is that it's usually just a bunch of guys and gals in a very small unit that are just surviving together, and with that, comes a lot of unique experiences. I was very transparent with all of that stuff.
It's a lot of what I experienced in my life, but told in my style of comedy. I didn't want to just write about shooting people all day, so the war stories I tell are really funny circumstances of me being frustrated. But there are serious war stories, you know. We took a lot of casualties on an operation one night and I write that in a very straight tone about how that kind of reformatted and changed my perspective of life.
Task & Purpose: What's the importance of balancing the realities of combat with those moments of humor?
Mat Best: I think that I tell a few pretty dark stories in this book and my hope with that is for people who have never experienced war to realize the severity of sending young men and women to combat.
Hollywood romanticizes combat. It's not fun — people are dying and losing life, limb, and eyesight. And I think once our American culture loses sight that there's still men and women right now fighting overseas and going through this stuff, then we're failing as a country to support our service members.
Secondly, with the comedy aspect, I've seen so much feedback over the years from the community that they needed an outlet, they needed someone to have this style and sense of humor that they have, and so I wanted to put that in the book, so that past, present, and future generations can read it and go, “Holy crap; this guy's kinda crazy; but man I never thought I could laugh about that.”
And hopefully that can give them insight, so they can be appreciative of the crazy stuff they saw and kind of laugh through it.
Task & Purpose: What do people not understand about the nature of SOF?
Mat Best: Special operations is a very small community, but I think, also, we kind of enamored with special operations, but we can never forget about normal conventional forces.
They're doing the majority of the legwork, man. They're the ones sitting on FOBs for a year getting mortared every day. I think we have kind of this elitist thing sometimes, where it's all about special operations and I don't think that's the case you know?
I think everybody puts special operations guys up on this hero level, and that's not the case at all, they're just normal people who are willing to do extraordinary things.
Task & Purpose What do you want readers to learn from Thank You For My Service?
Mat Best: I wanted to talk a lot about my transition when I got out of the military. I was pretty much a raging alcoholic, depressed, and I put it all out there. I wanted to share a story that might help other people that are going to transition out of the military or are in that place right now, like: “Guys, there's a light forward. I'm a stupid idiot infantryman that hit rock bottom after the military, but somehow pulled myself out with a support system to go serve in a different capacity.”
I want people to have that takeaway, that you can go chase your dreams and be successful. What I've lacked in intelligence, I've just made up for with hard work, and put the time in. I want people to have that takeaway, that they can do whatever they want in life, because if i can do it, they can do it.
And lastly, I just want them to laugh their asses off.