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Ranger vet and online entertainer Mat Best on his sincerely sarcastic memoir: 'Thank You For My Service'
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.
In October 2015, six U.S. military veterans descended on an abandoned college campus two hours east of Los Angeles for what would prove to be one of the most challenging missions of their lives. They were armed with a script, some experience shooting low-budget YouTube videos, $1.1 million raised for the production on Indiegogo, and not much else. In fact, none of them had ever made a movie before. They were t-shirt vendors from two competing military-themed apparel companies, Ranger Up and Article 15. The project was aptly dubbed ‘Range 15.’ Their goal: to produce and star in the most bizarre, disgusting, irreverent zombie apocalypse spoof in the history of the genre.
Anyone who’s ever been to basic training knows that the relationship between trainers and trainees is strictly lopsided: The drill instructor screams orders, and the new recruits follow them. There’s no small talk. No in-between. So when Sgt. 1st Class Vincent Vargas, a drill instructor in the U.S. Army Reserve, recently found himself being addressed as “Rocco,” his nickname, by one of the privates in his charge, he was, understandably, caught off guard.
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.