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.