On Saturday, amid the loud report of 30,000 rounds of ammo going off, a simple Veterans Day message is being delivered by a retired Green Beret.
At a time of increasing veteran unemployment, which will only be exacerbated by looming cuts in the numbers of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, perhaps the best way to help veterans is to help them help themselves.
“If you want to support veterans, help them start a business,” says Scott Neil, who retired in 2010 as the senior enlisted advisor to the director of U.S. Special Operation Command Interagency Task Force after 25 years as a Green Beret. “Mentor them. Instead of giving veterans a handout, the best way to help is to enable them and buy their products.”
Neil’s version of that ideal will be rolled out at Shooters World in Tampa, where his popular Shooting with SOF event is morphing into Shooting with Operator to help launch Operator, his new venture.
Created to use the experience he and other retired commandos picked up during their years of service, Operator has three main missions: test and evaluate action/adventure-oriented products, create a line of products, and produce action/adventure-oriented events such as Shooting with Operator.
Operator’s “Mission Ready” program will likely launch in January, says Neil.
For a $200 fee, former commandos will field test and evaluate everything from ammunition to clothing to camping accessories, under the same harsh conditions (minus enemy attacks) that the operators experienced during their deployments around the globe.
Companies whose products pass the test will see several benefits, says Neil.
The commando community is tight-knit and largely still active, and word travels fast. And one of the things that makes U.S. Special Operations Command special is its ability to purchase its own special operations-specific goods and services.
While there are no official links to the command, no endorsements or any official connections, another thing that makes the command special is that it relies heavily on bottom-up innovation and input from those who use the equipment it buys.
“If a product is really that good, we would want to do a couple things,” says Neil. “One, use contacts inside of Socom and tell them that this is a pretty good piece of kit and create strategic partnerships.”
Even if that doesn’t happen, the Mission Ready seal of approval, says Neil, is a sign that a product withstood the test, which should give it an edge in the marketplace. And that’s probably the largest potential audience.
“We are not only focused on getting into Socom,” he says. “We will test products for hiking and camping.”
While many companies like North Face Columbia Sportswear and others do their own testing, Neil says Operator will have an edge.
“Because of the operator,” he says. “You’ve got some of the highest-performing athletes in the entire world, who conducted training and missions in the most extreme environments. Unlike a sports person, our lives depend on it.”
And if something does not make the cut?
“We will send out an honest evaluation,” he says, again pointing out the fact that the last thing operators want is something that doesn’t work as promised.
The company will offer its own line of products called Survive Any Situation, says Neil.
“It will be a series of small kits with essential items, whether it be for outdoor survival or office or home, that will also come with a free app and online video presentation by an actual operator that shows you how to use each and every one of those items.”
Shooting with Operator, in which teams of participants shoot state-of-the-art weapons systems with commando legends, will kick off the company’s events arm, which will eventually include physical challenges to highlight mental, physical and leadership skills — think scavenger hunt meets Tough Mudder — and survival seminars.
Ten percent of the company’s proceeds will be devoted to the military charity work Neil has been doing.
A portion of the proceeds of the Shooting with Operator event, for instance, benefits selected charities that serve the Special Operations community.
The event will be held Saturday at Shooters World, 116 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. immediately followed by an after-party hosted by Elder Automotive Group, 320 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa, along with Kearney Foundation Golf Classic at the Avila Golf Club.
Registration for Shooting with Operator is required. For more information, call (407) 276-6789, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit shootingwithsof.com.
Saturday is going to be a busy day as the Veterans Day festivities continue.
Ride For The Fallen is an all-day event honoring Army Spc. Corey Kowall and all those who died in service to their country.
Opening ceremonies and brunch will be 9 a.m. to noon at Beef O’Brady’s, 205 Apollo Beach Blvd., No. 108, Apollo Beach.
That’s followed by a Memorial Ride For The Fallen to Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 U.S. 301 S., Tampa.
After the motorcycle ride, there will be a GI Joe parachute drop at the park, then a poker run from the park to AMVETS Post 44, 5521 State Road 60 E., Plant City.
For more information, contact Kelly Kowall at (813) 321-0880 or visit ride4fallen.org.
For those who like old ships, the SS American Victory, one of only four operational merchant steamships in the U.S., will have its semi-annual fundraising cruise Saturday to raise money to keep it afloat.
Built in 1945, the ship served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and is recognized in the National Register of Historic Places.
The cruise, which departs from 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa, at 11 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m., will celebrate the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country. Big-Band era style entertainment will be provided by BeDazzled with Bonnie Gray.
The cruise costs $99 for adults, $69 for military/veterans and $49 for children 4-12.
Tickets available at ticketweb.com, by calling 1-866-468-7630 or (813) 228-8766, or aboard the ship.
One soldier died in Afghanistan last week.
Sgt. 1st Class Forrest W. Robertson, 35, of Westmoreland, Kan., died Nov. 3, in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Fort Stewart, Ga.
There have now been 2,277 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.