A man will go through challenges throughout his whole life, some will define him… Others will break him. Most of these tests are hard to measure, often they go unseen or unspoken. There is however one test amongst others that is measurable and for those those few who have undertaken it, the test will forever be a gauge for anything else they go through.
The process of becoming a Royal Marine is one of the toughest military courses in the world, It takes more than merely wanting it. When you think of Royal Marines, the advertising campaigns strike up images of cammed up, heavily armed Commandos moving silently through the jungle, only their head and rifle appearing from a pool of water with the mist rolling across the top or the less subtle spectacle of a landing craft hitting the surf and the Royal Marines pouring out to combat an unseen enemy.
The slogans of “Strength of Mind” and “99.9% need not apply” might have sounded like elitism to some, but the Royal Marines have earned the right to choose who they want in their Corps. The choosing itself takes 32 weeks of training and thats only once they’ve sorted the wheat from the chaff!
The Royal Marines don’t appear to make the same compromises as some of the other forces, even in their adverts you don’t tend to see the “This Is Belonging” or “Born in (insert random shit hole) made in the Royal Navy” slogans that some advertising company came up with for a nice fee from the MoD… But once you’ve passed that training course, those slogans and tag lines might be unspoken but the brotherhood is very real.
I’ve a lot of respect for the military in general, the Royal Marines however have always had a special place in my heart. Many of my friends and even family have gone on to join the Royal Marines and with a Royal Marine camp only 5 minutes from my hometown I’m immensely proud of our Commando guests.
One such former Royal Marine has become something of an entrepreneur within the airsoft world, I was introduced to him some time ago through a mutual friend and I’ve since followed his business grow rapidly from seeing Kydex sheaths and thinking “I can do that” to having a multi-faceted business with not only Kydex products under his belt but also offering a range of services such as Wilderness/Bushcraft Training, Technical Consultancy and Designing a range of branded apparel for the cross-fit and military market.
I am of course talking about Ryan from Backcountry Workshop!
So without further ado, I wanted to know a little bit more about the man behind the brand. Where he’s come from, where he’s going and also a little about airsoft and it’s perception to outsiders. Realising we were so close geographically he invited me to his home to have a chat and watch him in the process of making a holster… Namely, a new one for my Tokyo Marui Glock 19.
One thing I was struck by is his approachable manner and humility, we spoke about a lot of different things and naturally some big names came up (both from his military days and from his business connections)… But they were certainly not the focus of our chat and as I’ve said, his humble nature shone though.
Just a quick note before we get into it.. The interview itself was in a rather unconventional format, more a relaxed conversation than a formal interview, we spoke about everything from Family, mutual acquaintances to the process of making a holster itself, most of it wouldn’t make sense unless you were there but I’ve tried my best to turn it into a readable interview… I didn’t write anything down whilst I was there (rookie mistake) and worked from a set of notes in shorthand I typed up directly afterwards. I then sent the whole draft to Ryan to ensure he was happy with it, I still take accountability for any mistakes in this article as it’s easy to misquote someone when your dumb enough to not record the interview…
ATRG – Right, so first question… Being a Royal Marine has obviously been a massively influential part of your life, tell us a little about why you joined (the marines in particular) and what you did whilst you were in, it as much as your allowed to say anyway…
Ryan – I grew up in a military family, my dad served in the Royal Signals and serving in the military is a tradition that goes back a long way in my family. As for what I did, most of my time was within the Commando units… Mostly 40 Commando and a bit of time with 45 Commando later on in my career, I also worked with a few other units… A little bit of time attached to the guys at Poole (Ryan was quick to point out he wasn’t SBS himself but the nature of “their” work meant they often worked with marines and other units when they had certain requirements they couldn’t fulfil as a unit).
In the Royal Marines I accomplished a massive amount during the course of my career, at the time I served the big focus was on Iraq and later on, Afghanistan. I deployed on 3 tours of Afghan and a tour in Iraq, with the length of those tours I somehow managed to always miss the Arctic Warfare training that many marines attend in Norway (The Royal Marines has a close association with Norway, they’ve been training there for decades as part of the NATO commitment to defend the northern sector of Europe).
I spent a bit of time in the Jungles of Belize and Sierra Leone as well, it’s funny how many Marines can through chance and circumstance end up doing one thing but not another. There are NCOs who have gone their whole career without tours of Iraq or Afghanistan but end up doing Anti-Piracy or Training Local Forces/FID (Foreign Internal Defense).
A big part of what I did in the Royal Marines was Heavy Weapons… .50 HMGs, GPMGs (In a sustained fire role) and Javelin Missiles, a fantastic bit of kit… In afghan we were also using a lot of 66mm LAWs for penetrating compound walls.
ATRG – The training to become a Royal Marine is regarded as one of the toughest military entrance training courses in the world, what was the toughest part for you?
Ryan – I pretty much knew what I was getting into before I started, I knew it would be tough but nothing was stopping me from getting that Green Beret… The one thing I would say is the tempo of the first few weeks is manic, they keep you very busy during the first couple of weeks at Lympstone… there’s a lot to take on board and very quickly some people realise it’s not for them.
ATRG – So a personal question, feel free to not answer or tell me off the record… What made you decide to leave the Royal Marines?
Ryan – I met my wife a couple of years after I joined the Royal Marines, we’d already started a family and the operational tempo was such that I was spending more and more time away from home. The decision to leave is never an easy one but the need to spend more time at home just wasn’t going to work with the commitments of being a Royal Marine, so I decided that after nearly 10 years of service I’d hang up my uniform and take the step of becoming a civilian.
ATRG – Transitioning to civilian life can be quite rough for a lot of former service personnel, what were your first steps?
Ryan – Well it all happened relatively quickly, about 4 months after my last operational tour I was walking out the door. The marines did provide a modest resettlement bursary, but there wasn’t a massive amount of support or training in what to expect. They have improved on it since my time, but going from a military environment to a civilian one has a few challenges… In the military there is a structure that we work with, the mission… whatever it is… Assaulting a compound, Preparing for a ceremony or arranging to transport a multi-million pound piece of equipment the other side of the globe… there’s a way of doing it that means everyone on the project knows their role and who they report to. In civilian life the communication sometimes isn’t what it could be, it’s frustrating when you know that there’s a better way but the “we’ve always done it this way” approach wins over common sense.
Another thing that’s tough, and this is something that civilian employers would do well to note is that there’s a lot of transferable skills you learn in the military, project management and Human Resources skills form a key part of an NCOs daily workload, we have different names for it in the military but the core of it is the same.
In the US for example, years of service can often trump academic qualifications. We take it for granted in the UK about finishing high school or college but in the US there’s a consideration taken for prior service. I’d like to see a similar approach taken over here, the mentality over there is a lot more receptive to former servicemen and women.
ATRG – Airsoft is something you’ve done for quite some time now, how did you get into it and where did you play when you started.
Ryan – I first started playing down at Ground Zero and UCAP’s Virus and Bunker sites… Very soon after I realised I wanted a little more realism from my games and started to attend events with Stirling Airsoft. The Milsim side of the game is definitely a bigger draw for me, I’m not really into the type of game where you’re emptying a mag into a bush, I much rather play a more tactical and involved game. I’ve not played regularly for a few years but I did attend the Pilgrim Bandits Charity Game at Humberside Airsoft earlier this year, it was a fantastic game… The biggest highlight was getting hands on with Tim’s (@tim_isg of E27) M79 “Pirate Gun”, when that failed to launch the TAG I ended up launching the shell by hand with a multitool! Managed to get a few kills too! In the old days I had a modified M203 with a steel tube which we lobbed TLSFX mortar rounds from, the TAGs have bee a real game changer.
ATRG – So from Airsoft to Kydex, how did you make the move into making holsters?
Ryan – Good Question! So I’d been playing alongside a guy called Jimmy (@no1JimmyPie, seriously nice knives if you’re into chopping things into smaller things) who had been making knives and Kydex sheaths for a while and I thought to myself “I could do that!”, So after a bit of research and buying what I needed… I started making bits for myself and friends. After a while I branched out and now I make all sorts… EDC/Organiser “bento” trays, tourniquet holders, battery holders, sheaths, holsters and basically anything I can form with Kydex. As time has gone by I’ve taken over the garage next to my house with the tools needed to expand the business and especially over the last year or so it’s boomed, in part due to social media.
ATRG – And some of the other things you’ve done apart from Kydex?
Ryan – I’ve worked with a few others on certain projects, I’ve done a little work with T3 Gear, the recent Ground Hammer Beer Commercial at HR4K which was great fun, working with Guy from Guy Butler Photography whose a good mate and also the E27 lads (probably the UKs foremost UKSF Impression group), There’s a fair amount of people I chat to on a regular basis and often that’s how these projects happen. There’s a lot of former military guys running businesses now and it’s great to work together in a mutually beneficial way.
ATRG – So the Bushcraft/Survival side of things, What are the plans with that?
Ryan – I’m not a massive fan of the terms Bushcraft or survival, One of the big misconceptions is that by being military and particularly Marines or SF that you’re going to be some form of survival expert which is simply not true. I don’t like the term expert either, it makes it sound like your not still learning yourself. The idea behind what I’m going to do is to stop things even getting to the place where it’s a survival situation, if it gets that far then you’ve already fucked up. I have gone through a recognised training course to teach Bushcraft but I’m not quite ready to push that side yet but I love the outdoors, Dartmoor especially and I’m definitely looking to do something outdoor oriented but it’s not 100% decided upon yet.
ATRG: Future plans for Backcountry Workshop?
Ryan – well at the moment we’re doing well on the holsters, I’m always looking for new opportunities and ways to streamline the business. Automation with the forming and cutting on the Kydex side of the business is a step I’d ideally like to go with as at the moment the biggest business cost is time, if I can cut down the time it takes to make each holster then I can work more efficiently and use that profit to reinvest in other areas of the business.
The same goes with the apparel, at the moment the majority of the cost goes out of the business to the printers. If I could do more of the work in house it’d not only cut down on costs but allow me more creative freedom on the designs and drastically cut down wait times… I could literally take the order, print the shirt and have it sent out the same day.
ATRG – So I’ll finish up with a final, two part question… what do you like about airsoft and what would you change?
Ryan – I really like the pyrotechnics side of it, TAG rounds and frags etc… They add a lot to the type of game I enjoy and it’s definately one of the highlights for me. What would I change? Well I think airsoft is changing itself, and for the better. There’s more stuff available on the market now than when I started, gear and equipment is moving on rapidly… I’m happy with the direction it’s going in!
Well there it is… I’ve got to say it was a great experience for me, most of the interview was spoken whilst Ryan was busy making a holster for my Glock 19 (to be reviewed soon). It was a real pleasure and once again, thank you Ryan for letting me into your home and workshop!
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Images courtesy of Backcountry Workshop, Images belong to Backcountry Workshop And/Or Guy Butler Photography and are used with thanks to the above and by the consent of Backcountry Workshop.