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.
I still remember what was playing on my iPod as the helicopter lifted off the helipad of the Iraqi Old Ministry of Defense compound: Smile Empty Soul’s “Silhouettes.” It was the summer of 2007, and I was leaving the White Falcons and Blue Spaders behind and heading home after serving as a joint terminal attack controller with those units. The smells, the heat, the sounds of choppers, UAVs, and fast movers — all of it was too normal to me by that point. Baghdad had become home for a while.
To get out of the military and do anything is not easy. There’s an adjustment period — a time for learning how to be a civilian again. Few employers beyond the realm of law enforcement would consider a mastery of Battle Drills one through eight a “valuable” skill set, and knife hands and showing up to work in a pair of Ranger panties typically don’t go over well at the office. But to get out of the military and build six successful companies, while also producing and starring in a hit independent film — that sort of success turns that entire narrative on its head. Mat Best, president of Article 15 Clothing, did just that, and fast. After five deployments with the Army, and a stint as a CIA contractor, the former Ranger rose to become one of the most influential post-9/11 veterans outside of politics. And he’s only 29. What’s his secret to success? That’s a question for another time. Right now, let’s just focus on the good stuff.