The State of the Ranger Up Union, Year 2
Ranger Up has been online for two years now and we cannot believe how fast the time has gone! As we were sitting around talking about it the other night, it occurred to me that we hadn’t really taken the time to let you – our loyal customers and supporters – know how things are going and what our plans are for the future.
For us, this really isn’t a job. That probably sounds a bit cliché, but we really want everyone out there to know that we love doing this. We absolutely love it.
Yes, we are a business. Yes, businesses make money. We’ll never be embarrassed by that fact. But money isn’t even close to our primary motivation for doing Ranger Up.
Why we started and who we are:
We joke around a lot at Ranger Up about a great many things – one thing in particular is about how we started this company. Since the site began in September of 2006, we have had the “hot tub” story posted. This story is absolutely true. What we left out, however; was the backdrop to this – and that is that we wanted to celebrate the military in our own way – in a manner that was truly genuine.
I’m about to tell you a bit about a few of the key guys behind Ranger Up. I’m going to give you a bunch of information – and I mean a lot. For most of you this will be entirely too much information, and if so, please skip to the subtitle “Our Vision”, but we’ve received enough email asking about who the heck we are that I’ve included it, so here goes:
When we came up with the idea for this company, I had recently left the Ranger Training Brigade after serving as an infantryman for my entire adult life. I am the oldest son of an Italian immigrant who came to the states when he was eight years old. He was naturalized and volunteered for Vietnam. Though he was Air Force, through an assortment of odd events that could only happen during that war, he ended up serving with the Special Forces. I don’t know all of what he did – only that he is well regarded by the men he served with – the things I’ve pieced together about his service come from funny stories he tells that have nothing to do with conflict or the occasional tidbit that I learn when he has had one too many glasses of red wine (a rare occasion in sharp contrast to my affinity for spirits). Upon leaving the military, he served as a civilian government officer in the Navy for thirty years. My earliest memories are of the Naval Base in Naples, Italy.
When I was fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to serve in the military myself – specifically in the Army. Despite having been an NCO, my dad turned me towards West Point, which gave me the best and worst four years of my life. I graduated and became an infantry officer. I was a standard-issue infantryman – there is nothing special about me. I am not remotely a hero like our fighters Tim Kennedy and Brian Stann, nor will I ever claim to be. I simply loved my guys and did the best I could to be a good leader to them. I make no claim to success – you would have to ask them.
I left the Army because I met the right girl (one who could tolerate me and my never-ending string of antics) and didn’t want to be a Major (nothing wrong with Majors, of course, I just didn’t want to be one). Having no idea what I wanted to do outside the military, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into what some would consider a prestigious graduate school. This was the first time in my life that I had ever truly been away from the military community. It instantly occurred to me that the civilian world, and certainly the elitist world that I was now visiting, was a vastly different place.
I was treated as a bit of a sideshow – not out of hostility, but ignorance – I was the military guy. I was hit with every stereotype possible – one of my main hobbies, mixed martial arts – did nothing to help me in this regard. Routinely people would make reference to me killing people, even though this is something they had no knowledge of and something I would never speak with them about anyway. Many assumed that military life was simple – that any idiot could do it. Candidly, they didn’t understand the complexity of leading men in dangerous situations. To them we were just robots who followed orders – their experience in advertising, finance, and the like was clearly infinitely more complex.
As many of you who have read any of our stories knows, I have kind of a big personality. My theory was that as people would get to know me, their stereotypes about the military would change. On the contrary, as they realized I was not an automaton droid, they just assumed that I was an anomaly and just didn’t fit into the military mold.
While I liked my new friends, and truly value several friendships from that experience, the majority of the people I encountered were much more “gray” than my brothers and sisters in arms. I missed the days of taking someone’s word at face value, and of assessing a man based on his actions – his ability to deliver and contribute to the team – and not by his connections, oratory skills, race, religion, etc. I also was constantly aggravated by the fact that a majority of the people I encountered were emphatically certain that they knew the situation on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan better than I did, despite my continual lifeline to those places from my brothers at arms.
In no way am I making a generalization about civilians. In fact, I cannot count the number of times that generous men and women have thanked me for my service, and at the heart of it, what make the U.S. special is that we are citizen-soldiers, and not lifetime military. But it was made plain to me that there is a growing segment of the population that has no connection to the military and thus forms conclusions based on little or no evidence. Their stereotypes and condescending behavior added up to a growing level of frustration for me.
In an effort to alleviate some of my aggravation, I volunteered to help the local ROTC, teaching Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force cadets and midshipmen the Army Combatives System and discussing small unit tactics in an effort to get them ready for their future as leaders in the War on Terror.
In my conversations with these students, I realized that while they were not ostracized for their service as they would have been in the 60s, they were questioned as to why they would waste their “talents” on the military. Again, aggravation set in.
I had now firmly developed a chip on my shoulder.
I shared my frustrations with my brothers in arms from my recently previous life – spanning the regular army and special operations communities – and arrived at the conclusion that I was going to do something for the guys – I just wasn’t sure what yet. But we definitely needed a place to call our own, and I was going to build it.
Brad is an anomaly in every sense of the word. You either love Brad or you want to kill him. Oftentimes you love Brad and want to kill him.
Universally, the guys at Ranger Up know that if Ranger Up ever makes the national news media for something horrific, it will probably be because of something Brad says or does. He has no filter. That’s why we keep him in a box.
Everyone has a friend that they joke about being absurd. Brad is that guy for us. To put it in perspective, after he was acting like “himself” to his girlfriend one day, she kicked several holes through his apartment walls. The average guy in this situation chooses one of two courses of action – either 1) Breaks up with the girl or 2) realizes he really messed up and apologizes. Brad assessed the damage, asked for payment, as well as a deposit for future damages to be returned if they break up and she has not caused more damage.
Regardless of his Bradness, he loves soldiers, can drink his weight in alcohol, and does a great job running our operations from the box we keep him in. We couldn’t do it without him.
I met Brad in the gym one day when I was wearing an old Army PT shirt. He and his friend Dennis were heading up the ROTC group at the university and wondered if I had served. We did the traditional badge, tab, unit, etc. exchange and combatives came up. They asked me if there was someone I knew that could teach some of their guys. As luck would have it, I am a big Army Combatives guy. I’m not a ninja like Tim Kennedy by any stretch of the imagination, but I have done Judo, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing, and Army Combatives pretty much since I was eleven years old, so I don’t suck either. I volunteered.
As I got to know the crew, I noticed Brad always had on some form of humorous shirt that was either extremely funny or horribly inappropriate. I laughed almost every time. Come to find out, he made these shirts himself. I mentioned that I wished there were military shirts with some humor to them and he answered that if I designed a couple, he’d make them for me.
I think you can see where this is going.
Brad is still an Army Infantryman and is heading out for a “trip” shortly, so we will limit any additional information about him at this time, but needless to say, while sitting in the magical hot tub that night surrounded by nurses, Brad and I decided to launch a pro-military website that would sell apparel. Now we needed to fill in the details.
Garrett, or G$ as we call him is our lone non-veteran. G$ is a patriotic civilian whose father served as an Army Sniper and whose grandfather served as a German artilleryman.
Brad met Garrett in Atlanta as he was leaving Fort Benning one weekend and visiting a friend. Garrett had drawn something on a napkin and apparently Brad thought he did it really well. Brad asked him if he could design shirts. He could.
Next thing you know he had knocked out our first 15 shirts and Garrett was the newest member of the Ranger Up team. It takes a special guy to work with us, because we really are pains in the ass, and Garrett has been instrumental in making Ranger Up successful. He expanded his duties (pretty much on his own – Sua Sponte!) and now runs Ranger Up’s marketing and advertising as well.
Garrett would also like everyone to know he is the biggest Georgia Tech fan in the world.
So we launched the website on 8 September 2006 and sat back and waited for all the shirts to sell – after all we had emailed everyone we knew – it would go military-wide overnight!
And we waited.
Apparently, the internet is kind of big and stuff. We needed to get the shirts in front of people at bases and posts, and for that we needed a sales guy.
Dave and I have known each other for about 15 years. Together we did West Point, the infantry basic course, Ranger School, we served in the same first unit together, deployed together, drank together – you get the picture. When he dropped me a line in November of 2006, Dave was a Special Forces Team leader and a member of a 7th Group Dive Team. He had made the decision to leave the military to attend school and wanted to help out with Ranger Up.
He became our sales guy and suddenly Ranger Up was at Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, Fort Jackson, Camp Lejeune, and Norfolk Naval Base. We were officially on the map!
Dave gave us a solid fifteen months of his life working his ass off in sales, and decided to move on to, in this case, less green pastures (sorry – I am puntastic today). Although Dave no longer works with us day-to-day, he still spends a lot of time helping with shirt design and promotion. Not unlike the mafia, we really don’t ever let people leave.
We obviously needed to replace Dave as he had been such a valuable member of our team, but before that, I want to talk about one of Dave’s biggest accomplishments – finding Tim Kennedy.
SSG Tim Kennedy
We met Tim Kennedy when we were running Operation GRIM, an effort to raise awareness and money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Dave had contacted TEAM ROC looking for a fighter for a photo shoot and we were referred to Tim Kennedy.
Those of you that know mixed martial arts know who Tim Kennedy is. Those of you that don’t are about to be impressed. The short version is that Tim was ranked 9th in the world when he joined the Army in 2001. A college graduate, he joined after September 11th and elected to try to qualify as a member of the Army Special Forces.
To say he was successful in that capacity is a gross understatement. Tim is one of the most elite soldiers in the U.S. Army and has been awarded the bronze star for valor. Special Operations soldiers train nonstop, and Tim’s commitment was steadfast. While the calls kept coming for fights, Tim accepted them only when they did not interfere with his Army training. While Tim hates to be called a part-time fighter, he does not remotely get the same amount of time that most fighters receive for martial arts training and still has amassed a 9-2 record in mixed martial arts against some of the toughest fighters in the sport.
More importantly, Tim is a phenomenal human being. It took only one day of interacting with him to know that he was the kind of guy you trusted emphatically. Where one would expect He-man-like arrogance, we found a mild-mannered, respectful, funny guy who we couldn’t help but like. His wife is even cooler (sorry Tim).
We asked him to join the team and head up the new Ranger Up MMA apparel line when his twin roles as Professional Fighter and Professional Soldier didn’t get in the way.
Tim is the face (and mind) of Ranger Up’s MMA program, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. There is no fighter that better represents all that is good about the Armed Forces than Tim, and we’re honored that he’s chosen to be a part of our team.
If Tim is reading this, he is probably tired of reading about himself, which brings us full circle to Dave’s departure. We needed a new sales guy, and we needed one now. As luck would have it, the winner of our first writing contest had done a great job for about 3 months and was looking for more responsibility…
I’m letting Tom write his own bio, because well…his ego requires it. Tom is a louder, shorter, and somewhat uglier version of me, so we of course find each other very amusing.
Few things might signify the company’s growth and change like me being an everyday part of Ranger Up. I didn’t get to sit in the hot tub with hot nurses and come up with the initial vision of the company; and your average 2nd grader has more artistic talent than I do. I’m the new guy.
I’m the first child in two generations to serve in the military. My grandfathers and great uncles served, but no one in my father’s generation, and it is unlikely anyone else of my generation will. I’m also the oldest of four kids and like Nick my last name is distinctly Italian. Growing up, my father would work 14 or 15-hour workdays as a heavy equipment operator to make sure that my family had enough. My mom worked just as hard to raise the four of us the right way and go to school at night. Of all the things I learned from my parents their work ethic is what I’m the most thankful for.
As long as I can remember I had wanted to be a solider. As a little kid growing up in Chicagoland I would run around the yard with a stick as a rifle and a cardboard box as my binos. By the time high school rolled around I knew I wanted to be an Army Ranger. I wanted to be one so badly that the first time I walked into my recruiter’s office at 17 I sat down, looked him in the eyes, and said, “I’m Tom and I want an Airborne, infantry, R.I.P. (ranger indoctrination program) contract.” My parents and family begged me to go to college. I wanted no part of that. I wanted to set my own terms, so on my 18th birthday, barely 8 hours into my adult life I enlisted with that R.I.P. contract.
In five years on active duty I spent all my time with the 75th Ranger Regiment. In 2002 I deployed to Afghanistan with 2nd Ranger Battalion. Like Nick I wasn’t a hero. I was just one of the 1,000s of vets who went overseas, did their job and were lucky enough to come back home. After hurting my shoulder on a training operation badly enough that I would need surgery on it I was sent to Regimental Headquarters, who I deployed back to Afghanistan with in 2004.
I got home from that second tour of duty in mid-June of 2004. August 11th, 2004 I was off active duty, August 26th I was sitting in an 8am microeconomics class. I suffered through my first year of college, hating every minute of it. In that first semester I got kicked out of class (before it even started) because I asked my Professor, who had her PhD in women’s studies from Berkeley, how she was doing. I only wish I was making that up.
Later that first year I got into a drawn out shouting match during a lecture with 300+ students in attendance with my teacher, who has his PhD specializing in the French military during the reign of Louis the 14th (again I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to), during a class entitled “War and Society 1815-Present” about current urban warfare tactics after he told me that I “had a very narrow view” of what was going on in Afghanistan and Iraq and that I “wasn’t as knowledgeable as [I] think [I am]” about how an urban op works. And that was just my first year.
My junior year a Muay Thai and MMA gym opened up near campus and I had a new outlet to vent my frustration and annoyance. I had always loved combatives in the Rangers and had been watching the UFC shows at a local bar thoughout college, but now I was hooked on the sport. This love of MMA led me to becoming friends with Matt Cava at fiveouncesofpain.com. After a suggestion from Matt, I sent Nick the Jessie Ventura story. You-the fans-voted, and I was part of the Ranger Up team.
I honestly couldn’t tell you when the moment was, but one day I’m writing Hero of the Week stories, and the next I’m helping out with shirt designs. Soon after that I’m doing sales and marketing; talking on the phone with business owners and MMA agents and all the while coming up with new ways to spread the Ranger Up gospel.
Ok, I am taking over again.
So now that brings us pretty much to where we are today. Tom is running full bore, and the team keeps growing. There is one other guy I want to mention in this message and that is Joe.
Joe is currently a MSG on a civil affairs team, and once was a long-time member of 2/75. He has been our biggest fan since day one and has become our PR guy. Joe has an unbelievable spirit and was cheering us on in the early days when the only people that knew about us were our friends, our moms, and Joe.
He also quite possibly may know every human being in the world. I’ve never been in a room with him where he hadn’t met every single human being there at least five times previously. This may be because he is also the biggest 5’9 guy I have ever seen in my life. If you want to get in shape or just feel bad about yourself, meet Joe.
One of the worst days in Ranger Up history was the day we found out Joe hit an IED. While Joe ultimately recovered with shrapnel in his arm and face, he lost two members of his team. Two days later he was back on patrol. Joe is the story you never hear about in the mainstream media and his strength makes us proud to have him as part of the Ranger up team and more proud to have worn the same uniform he does.
Ok, that does not even scratch the surface of the folks involved, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t thank Ron, a signalman going through OCS who helps us with operations or our hot intern Jenn and all the ROTC guys that have spent time folding shirts and affixing labels, but this is already really, really long.
Ranger Up’s Mission:
Provide the military, police, fire, and patriots with the best apparel and content anywhere in the world in order to support the troops in every way we can, both before and after their service, and ultimately dominate the globe.
1) Support the troops and our first responders, and promote our heroes.
2) Never stop listening to you, the Ranger Up faithful.
3) Never compromise our values.
4) Never back down in the face of anti-troop attacks.
5) Call attention to those that would aim to hurt our Armed Forces.
6) Support our fighters, both overseas and in the ring.
7) Donate more money to those who have given this nation so much already.
8) Add more writers.
9) Take more pictures of hot chicks.
10) Declare war on the moon. Seriously. We’re sick of it smirking at us every night when we look up. Is it waning or waxing? We’re not sure, but we do know it isn’t made out of cheese, and that bothers us.
How are we going to do it?
1) We have a new website coming at the end of the month. Our first website is great, but we outsourced the design. G$ did this one with tender loving care, and you’ll see the difference. You’ll now have an even better space to get all the funny stories, kick ass shirts, and destruction of hippies than ever before. Our goal is a 1 October launch.
2) We have a goal of one retailer selling Ranger Up per base around the world. We want you to be able to walk down the street and buy an RU shirt. We want to be where you are. This is Tom’s mission in life, and it is not an easy one. You have no idea how hard it is to get a retailer to try our stuff. They always ask why we don’t have skulls on our shirts.
3) Get the word out. Because it is so hard to convince retailers to try us, we need to go directly to the source. In a few weeks we will be asking for conscription of our biggest fans into the Ranger Up Militia. If you think you’re interested without even hearing about what it entails, write us at email@example.com. We believe we have the greatest fans in the world, and we are going to need your help.
4) Expand our line. You’re about to see Ranger Up add more products for the first time ever and add a lot more shirts. We’re doing it because you asked us to, and we value your comments.
5) Bring some Marines, Airmen, Sailors, Coastguardsmen, Cops, and Firemen on board the design and writing team. We know you are out there buying our stuff and reading our stories – help us out! We want to design shirts for everyone who serves in uniform and we want to be 100% certain that if it says “Ranger Up” on the shirt, you are going to be proud wear it.
At this point, you may be saying, “Ok, all of that is great, but what does that mean to me and why should I care?”
At the end of the day, when we picture success, it is being big enough that when you step off the airplane after 18 months in the sandbox, we’re there with wine, women, and song greeting you. We envision starting an endowment to increase opportunities for wounded soldiers. We want to be a loud voice calling for proper treatment of our national heroes. And yeah, we want to piss off a lot of hippies. In our perfect world we aren’t a clothing line or just guys who make t-shirts. We are an organization that helps our armed forces, police, fireman, and first responders by making sure they are never taken for granted – that warriors and defenders are given the respect they deserve.
We know this is a lofty task and we know it won’t be easy, but we also know that we’re a bunch of fired up soldiers with a mission and whole lot of energy, and we will not quit until we’ve achieved it.
We’re going to get there.
These have been the most fun two years of our lives, and they are because of your support. We can’t wait to see what happens in the next two.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.