The Birth of the Professional Veteran

professional veteran
December 31, 2017  
Categories: Op-Eds

This article about a certain type of veteran was originally earlier this year — and it stoked a few fires (lots of ass-pain). It isn’t a condemnation of vetrepreneurs. You who are regulars here know where we stand on supporting any small business, much less vetrpreneurial efforts. We’ll be interested to see the response this gets. Oh, and please forgive any typos. It was written on a TI-994A with a sticky keyboard at one of the back tables at Nancy’s Squat’n’Gobble. You know the one – it has mumbly peg knife marks in it and one short leg, just like the redhead who usually works Sunday nights. Mad Duo

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The Birth of the Professional Veteran Revisited

John Darwin – originally published Sunday, February 12, 2017. Original comments have been left in place. 

There is an epidemic in the gun industry of “combat” veterans all fighting for their piece of the market. You can find these people at every trade show, on Youtube and popular blogs, and in every internet forum. They can’t finish a sentence without making a reference to how many kills they have or “that time in the sandbox”. Fortunately these people do not represent the veteran or SOF community as a whole and are simply a small, very vocal minority bent on self promotion.

In the NFL you have positions and skill players. Skill players are handed the ball more frequently, resulting in touchdowns and airtime on national TV. These men get all the endorsement and love of fans because of what they do, not what they say.

If you’ve served in the military you might know this; for those at home, let me explain something. There aren’t really “skill” players in the military. Some people vary in qualifications within a unit but when you go outside the wire you go out as one unit. If something goes down and you find yourself in a firefight, the whole unit is in the fight, all 14 – 50 guys. The whole unit has the same story, same experience. So what makes one guy get out of the service, sell out the unit, write a book, grow a beard, wear shmedium t-shirt, and sell his girl out on Instagram vs. the other 50 guys? Ego?….


[Source: Terminal Lance]

Within the industry there are many veterans who are truly professionals and conduct themselves as such. Their military record is long and distinguished, and yet is simply part of their resume, not the product they’re trying to sell you. There are three huge things that set these groups apart; time in plus levels of experience, differences in maturity and education, and level of ego or narcissism.


Time in plus levels of experience

On a football team there are the starters, the players with years of experience. There may be a couple rookies but for the most part these are the guys who lead the team. Then you have your second string and practice squad, who are also on the team. Their jersey has the same logo, they officially can say they were part of that franchise yet nobody will see them playing on Monday night football. Then there is the support crew: the water boys, strength coaches, and trainers, who all play an important role but never make it on to the field. The military has these levels too. Being a part of these units for a short period of time does not instantly give you a wealth of tactical experience, or make you Rambo.

New guys in any unit are just that, NEW, and require mentorship and guidance before they can contribute on the same level as the more experienced members. It takes multiple deployments overseas before a service member of any unit has the routine down and contributes more than he takes. Many young guys get whatever beret, scroll, or pin and think that validates themselves and decide to get out after their first enlistment without the experience to back the qualification they flaunt so openly.

A support person for a combat unit is a vital asset to the guys kicking in doors. Weapons maintenance, communications, on base medical aid, administrative support, fixing vehicles or doing base construction are all necessary for the mission, much like the trainers or equipment guys on the team. You don’t see trainers or equipment guys then going out to bars and telling girls they play for the local football team. Walking around SHOT Show you see hundreds of guys who look like they just jumped out of “Operators-R-Us”, yet when you ask a good number of them you find out they were “attached” to Ninja Commando Red Team, not actually an operator on it.

If a guy is 26 years old, has all of his limbs with no visible scars, has more pictures of himself in multi-cam after he left the service then he does of pics while he was in, there may be a reason.


Differences in Maturity and Education

The assumption that every operator can teach is a huge misconception. Would every NFL player would make a good coach? Another thing to look at is the number of coaches who never actually played professionally. Being operational is merely a part of the resume that can help a good shooting instructor. I’ve seen guys who were powder burning, hard charging operators who could not teach a kid to tie his shoes. Everyone wants to learn from the pipe hitter, but you may end up spending more time listening to him sell himself to you rather than teaching you anything.

Looking at the truly professional people in the industry, you find then constantly trying to push their limit and compete and increasing their base of knowledge to relay to students. A common comment I see on social media is typically something like “competition cannot replicate the two way range”; usually this comment comes from someone who looks like they would fit better on Jersey Shore in Multicam. The older, more experienced soldiers have taken the time to learn and continue to do so. You won’t hear “this is the only way to do it,” because they’ll say, “this is one way to accomplish it.”

As far as all the other Multicam boys, if they so loved the service, the rush, the boys, and kicking in doors so much, why did they get out after one enlistment?


Level of Ego or Narcissism.

A true American freedom fighter said to me once, “You will never own your beret, trident, or scroll. That is owned by those that paid the ultimate price wearing it. All you can do is either polish the reputation behind it, or tarnish it“.

There is a certain level of ego a person must have to claim a qualification as their own, and then write about how amazing they were while doing it to profit off its use, whether through name or even reputation. In football you have plenty of these people; the Kapernicks who were good for a short time, then decided to try rekindle their relevancy through a period of publicity stunts and name dropping.

Truly great people don’t need to scream about how great they were. They let their actions, hard work and reputation tell their story for them. Most people with stories worth telling downplay their part in the event instead of exaggerating or embellishing. Then in the industry we have those who start websites focused around SOF and tell other people’s stories, because theirs stopped being profitable, and now they need to steal others to continue on a gravy train of selling to the public.

What happened to being a quiet professional? One of the best guys in this industry was quoted as saying, “If people are coming to your classes, they know who you are. You don’t have to spend half the class convincing them they spent their money wisely. Give them what they paid for, quality instruction“. You don’t have to paint your civilian match rifle with “Danger, Veteran” and fake tick marks that probably are closer to the thousands of Instagram followers you have, rather than peers who would still go to war with you.

The market creates these people, the idol worship and blind following. These veterans rely on a having the qualifications as being enough, and force you to prove they lied about their exploits. It’s like the guy wearing a jersey in the bar who can’t go an hour without telling you about his time in the NFL, yet he barely made camp and never played in a game. People hold on to what they consider the peak of their life, and it scares them to let it go. The people whose stories they take, and reputation they tarnish, disown them and carry on quietly with their lives. For the true professionals, the respect of the people they worked with is enough, instead of the fake friendships they could pull by convincing people how special they are.

There are ways to be successful in this industry and not become disowned by the community you claim. The military offers you skills and traits that civilians just don’t have, and you can translate them to the business world. You have to offer a return on investment to companies as a tangible and measurable asset. It isn’t impossible. But it requires humility and the time to earn a good reputation through your own hard work and effort, instead of stealing what was really the work of an entire community instead.



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Joe Dawson

Joe Dawson

About the Author

Joe Dawson (formerly known as John Darwin) is a patched Minion who chose a career in the military after finding out that Tubby's Golden Lantern wasn't hiring full-time dancers. He scribes for a number of publications and consulted with everyone from industry heavyweights to local LEOs. Dawson, the HMFIC of Bruiser Industries, is a POST/FBI certified firearms instructor, sniper combat veteran of several deployments, an experienced breacher and dive officer, freefall qualified rope master, accomplished RSO (CQC, breacher, demo, vehicle, airborne, et al), and PSD driver. A retired Naval Special Warfare sailor, CPO (SOC) Dawson ran the NSW Sniper School the last 3 years of his career. He was a Platoon Lead Sniper, a Troop Lead Sniper, and a Team Lead Sniper while assigned to some West Coast formations, left DNA samples (read, "jerked off") on at least 4 continents, and also spent some time at SQT Land Warfare. Nowadays he writes, teaches, competes, and spends as much time as he possibly can with his young'uns getting his civilian on.


  1. Adam S. Taylor

    I’m one of a handful of veteran students attending a community college in a suburb of San Antonio. Cut-off ACU’s or not, we can always spot each other from quite a distance. However, that distance isn’t nearly as far off as most of us feel from our non-vet classmates.

    At 46, I couldn’t stand out more if I had roman candles shooting out my ass, veteran or not. A damn fine specimen for 46, but still. As for the younger guys I’ve met, they feel it too. We’re not whining or particularly bothered by it, but it is a real thing we see on campus everyday. I actually embrace it. I don’t want the questions and I damn sure don’t want to answer them. The other guys feel the same way. Most of the time, not always, but most of the time we always gravitate toward one another. I’ve been classed up with some guys that, yes, make us look bad with their mouths and attitudes. But there will always be ‘that guy’ regardless of your background.

    As for the young, civilian students…hmm. Over the course of four semesters I’ve experienced a spectrum of reactions ranging from ‘daddy worship’ to passive-aggressive revulsion. Those are the extremes. It’s the 90% mid-range of non-vet students that, although they have become completely predictable, confound me the most. Bottom line, I’ve made consistent observations of the 90% going to great pains to pretend we don’t exist. With every step we take on campus, barely any of them will make eye contact with us. Seriously, ever.

    I suppose their reasons vary for this reluctance to even acknowledge our presence, let alone interact with us unless forced to through group effort projects. Again, I prefer it this way. None of us here want to be anyone’s hero. We don’t want to be thanked for anything except making their hot sister climax. And we damn sure don’t want to hear some 19 year old boy-chick tell us how we’re all tools for the ‘corporate-military complex’ or any other irritating noise blaring from the gaping hole in their faces.

    Since I retired my life revolves around being a single dad with full-time, full custody of my teenage boys. Even if I had the time to give a fuck about the non-vet students’ biases (good or bad), I could search high and low and still not find a single a fuck to give.

    But there it is. It’s kind of fascinating to watch and I’ve made kind of a game with it now. No matter how friendly and open we are, even when greeting one of them with a sincere, ‘hi, how are you’, the fuckers will not make eye contact. If it were just me I would totally get it. I served longer than most of them were alive, so to them, I’m ancient. But they ‘alienate’ the younger guys too. That I don’t get.

    Any younger vets (early-mid 20’s) getting any of this in school? It’s not like I’m up the road a bit at UT Austin. I’d expect that and worse from those typically shrill hippies. I gotta give my brother his due respect, being a UT-A grad who went on to drop bombs from B-52’s like Lil’ Wayne dropping Benjamins at a strip club. Oh, and that BAMF who commanded JSOC was a UT-A grad as well and is now Chancellor of the University. O.K. they’re not all smelly hippies, but Austin is so liberal it has long been referred to as the San Fransisco of Texas. Go figure. I digress.

    Any younger guys feeling me on this phenomenon?

  2. Mellissia Schultz

    Thank you for sharing. I am a U.S.M.C. Veteran wife. I always look to read to understand my husbands world. P.S I LOVE Cargo shorts! I’m still laughing…. I am positive that my husband also farts in the bath tube…..

  3. Mike

    I’m on board, but with a twist. I’ll call you a dick for wearing your grunt style shirt but in the end of the day, as a veteran, you paid for the privilege to “sell-out” and piss off your brothers. You’re still a dick but I love you all the same. Make money anyway you’d like but it’s cheesy unless you share with your family……

  4. Echo583

    I like turtles. 🙂

  5. Clay Coleman

    Mom’s basement as f $$k!

  6. Jef Helo Airedale

    I think for the younger guys there’s confusion. I remember being a bit bearingless when I got out and they’re probably looking for a friendly shore to drop their anchor.

    Then you got guys like me.

    I got out in July ’91, right after the Gulf. So it’s been a whole hot minute since I was in. I try to avoid wearing camo cuz we made fun of guys when I was in that did it. They’d take old BDU trousers and cut them into shorts. We called those shorts “welfares” cuz they were too poor to buy any, but yall call them cargo shorts….yup, my generation not only invented head banging but also cargo shorts.

    …you’re welcome.

    All of this doesn’t mean I don’t like my loden green ballcap with the angry badger on it, I think it’s hilarious. And I grew this mustache in Nov 90 and this beard in ’98, so I’m not about to shave my shit. I’ve worn my snug black tshirts since high school in the 80’s when it looked good on Snake Plissken and I wear cargo pants cuz they’re more practical and comfortable than jeans to me.

    I also wear steel toe boots all the time, which is something I got from the flight deck that carried into my present life and HAS saved my toes more than once.

    Look…I already had to concede losing my cut-off denim shorts to the gay community, I’ll be damned if I’m gonna give up anything else just to ‘look’ or ‘not look’ a certain way.

    • Lisa

      As a civ, I enjoyed this article. But your reply cracked me up. You be you boo boo. I’m still laughing on giving up the denim shorts…

  7. Troy Lettieri

    4- 6- 8- 10- …20-years experience does not constitute “good” experience. No matter if you were in SOF or not. However, almost as bad as this epidemic is the other side of the coin… Law Enforcement “professionals” selling their skills. RLTW!/DOL!

  8. strych9

    A big part of this is the civilian world itself and how it treats veterans. My dad tells me about how Vets coming back from Vietnam were quite literally greeted by a crowd of people waiting to spit on them and call them names.

    There was a backlash to that 1960’s behavior but the pendulum has swung from hatred, past admiration and all the way to fandom.

    IMHO, it’s the same phenomena that drives stolen valor. Whenever respect is conferred automatically by status or perceived status rather than by earning it people will abuse the system that doles out the respect.

    • bossman89

      strych9, that never happened. Returning Vietnam combatants landed at military airports not civilian ones. And do you honestly think a vet would let some punk hippie spit on him? Look it up, not one reported incident of spitting happened.

  9. Dustin

    “Selfless service”

  10. Jason N.

    Who doesn’t love farting in the bathtub? It’s even better when it’s a bubble bath and the bubbles trap the smell so you can share it with others..

  11. Tim

    Of the myriad problems our nation is enduring, from cis-gendered freaks burning down our cities to islamist fascists and their democrat enablers, I just can’t find any room in my bigoted heart to muster hate for paunchy, bearded vets.

    They’re selling a ‘product’. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. Even better, stop selling it yourself.

    • Rob

      “Stop selling it yourself.”

      • Andrew

        No one said hate them. This article is as much a PSA to the community to check itself. Pro Veterans discredit and undermine the whole community. We have enough challenges.

        I used to lecture my Little Leaguers about humility. I would remind them after a win, “Act like you been there.”

    • James Christensen

      “Historically speaking, Democrats don’t enable Fascists, they enable Communists”. – Josef Stalin

    • bossman89

      Tim. You’re part of the whole “squaddie worship” problem. You have miltiary fandom syndrome so hard.

    • Tony

      Well, speaking as a paunchy bearded vet, and a Democrat., I can muster hate in my heart for your bigoted comment.

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