After getting wounded by an IED in 2004, the Marine Corps put me on the path towards medical retirement. The process was a lengthy one, and my unit was still in Iraq when the 2nd Marine Division’s Gunner selected me to develop the 2nd MarDiv Pre-Sniper course at the Division Training Center (DTC).
As the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (SNCOIC) of the Pre-Sniper section, I became responsible for the full development of the course curriculum, which would include periods of instruction in detailed mission planning, non-VHF communication, hide construction, small unit tactics, sniper employment, stalking, precision aerial gunnery, fire support, target detection & selection, observational skills, land navigation, surveillance, etc.
While at the DTC, I successfully conducted over 20 pre-sniper courses and due to range and scheduling restrictions at Camp Lejeune, we would often run portions of them at Blackwater in Moyock, NC. These frames of time teaching a few pre-sniper courses for the DTC along with IBA’s Precision Rifle classes at this facility, made me familiar with its inner workings and those who ran it.
In 2005 I took a lot of leave (vacation) from the DTC, to teach the three-day IBA precision rifle classes. One such weekend, the IBA tasked me to train two guys from NYC. Instructing with me there was another Marine, an MGySgt considered one of the greatest Marine Corps Rifle Team members in its long chain of champions.
We met our two clients at a restaurant outside of Virginia Beach. Both guys were excited to start the training, which began next morning at 07:00 after breakfast. They worked in the capitol investment world, and one of them was a former boxer—who even at his age I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with.
From the beginning, our two students (TK & SF) had many questions most people don’t ask. Both guys were analytical and would often ask why things were being taught. They wanted to know the science behind the shooting and their inquiries never meant they didn’t agree.
By the end of the 1st day, they were accurately engaging targets out to 600yds and getting constant 1st round hits. Over the next two days, both of them became more than capable of 1st round hits in multiple positions, at distances out to 1000yds.
When our students (who departed also impressed with the Blackwater facility) went back to their concrete jungles, I did not think I’d see them again until the following hunting season.
That fall, I received a call from SF. He wanted to get up to speed on land navigation so he flew down to Camp Lejeune and spent four days tromping around the base with me. At one point we were a good 5k into an area, when my aspiring student lollygagged right into the path of one of the largest cottonmouth snakes I have seen. I grabbed him by his collar and let the snake continue on his way.
During our time on Camp Lejeune, SF noticed that the ranges and supporting facilities on the base were substandard when compared to Blackwater’s facility. The day before his departure to NYC, on the road back to the hotel, SF and I discussed what a better Blackwater would look like & where it should be located.
The weeks following his visit to Camp Lejeune, I did a lot of research on who were Blackwater’s primary clients, what they wanted and any issues they had with the facility. I presented SF with my thoughts on what a much improved Blackwater might look like and where I would locate it. I let him know I’d love to turn this idea into reality, so we worked out the details on my next trip to NYC. At that point, I had a few months left in the Marines.
At the start, we opened up shop in Sneed’s Ferry NC, just outside the back gate of Camp Lejeune. I called the company Long Range Services, name that would be changed to ATS (Aggressive Training Solutions), and my crew consisted of all Marines/Sailors out of 2nd Force Recon, which back before MARSOC was formed, was the tip of the spear for the Corps.
The office space in Sneed’s Ferry became limited so we quickly moved to Jacksonville, NC. After a few months, we had leased a range where we could train clients on, and had eight full time instructors. The staff was on the range three days a week, honing their skills near to perfection and in-between the range days, they would build curriculum and study up on adult learning principals.
After my #2 guy left for a GS job at MARSOC, I asked SF to send down a replacement. The guy would be our company’s token civilian—an MBA out of Mass with a 10lb brain, who would prove to be a royal pain in our asses, yet help transform the company into a lucrative business.
2007 turned into a busy year for us: we changed the name from ATS to Tier 1 Group, had our 1st clients (2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion) and looked a number of properties in close proximity of Camp Lejeune. However, anytime we started to conduct due diligence on a property, word quickly spread in the local community and with it, the protesters came out in droves.
We had a few community meetings where the locals showed their true colors. One such meeting took place in Jones County, NC. There were over two hundred people in attendance who we briefed on our plans. Their reaction could make me sworn the cumulative IQ in the room was 10! We even had one lady stating that if the cows heard a gunshot, they would jump OVER the fence and escape—it’s not surprising that Jones County NC is still one of poorest counties in NC.
We then looked at a great area near Goldsboro NC, and really got into the weeds planning the facility layout. Once again, the protesters came out. One old man who lived near the property said anytime hunters were on the property, his house physically would shake when they fired their rifles. I wanted to call the old man a loony toon but instead, I told him we would conduct a sound study and get back to him with scientific independent third party results.
$15k later, we had a sound study done; we fired 5.55mm, 7.62mm, .338lm and .50bmg rifles, and measured the sound levels at fourteen spots on the property line. It was not surprising the only shots that could be slightly detected were the .50 cal.
We also completed the sound study of the F-15s on their final approach to Seymour Johnson AFB which sent the needles off the charts! However, it seemed the locals enjoyed the money the base brought into the area and didn’t mind the sound of these fighters, yet our rifles gravely concerned them to the point we even had someone from the local civil war society say our gunfire was going to interrupt their annual battle reenactments!
By the time 2008 rolled around, we had acquired a medical company in Florida and started T1G’s medical training division. It really took off as the Marine Corps had just mandated that some deploying infantry forces receive a five day medical course prior to deploying.
That spring, I learned that Blackwater had asked my friends at IBA not to longer conduct their precision rifle classes there. I suspected IBA’s involvement with SF’s company had something to do with my friends being asked to leave. I called Blackwater’s # 2 man (Gary Jackson) and met with him the following morning. I asked up front if IBA’s involvement with SF’s company had led to his decision, and he said they had their own reasons.
He inquired about my goals for T1G, and told me he had had a number of guys like me (who had all failed and who wished to have my luck) sit in his office and tell him they had the ability to build something better than Blackwater.
In mid-2008, when one of our competitors –the Olive Group in Marion, AR, which had got into some hot water overseas that lead most of its business to dry up- put the for sale sign on their facility, T1G had a great reputation for training, even without owning one, so we made a few trips to Marion to look at it. Our conclusion: the facility was a good base to start from, but it needed to be redone to take it to the next level.
By the time we had it under construction, Blackwater was in hot water. SF was interested in acquiring a part of it and his investment crew flew down to it for a meeting with its corporate staff. Sitting next to me was SF and the MGySgt; across the table sat Gary Jackson, rather surprised to see me again! However, the deal never went through, as someone on the Blackwater side had leaked news of the deal to the press.
We sent a skeleton crew down to T1G Memphis to start operations at the new facility. It took a few months to close on the property. Once it became ours, my instructors (some of whom are also heavy equipment operators) spent 14+ hours a day for months, transforming the site into a place where our special operations forces would want to train.
Construction at T1G Memphis would be not stop. Over the years we added lodging for over 250 people, chow halls, more ranges, dedicated medical training areas, landing zones, and a number of certifications from various government agencies—the company went from a small start up to an industry leader in just three years.
Over the time I became friends with SF, and I must say he’s one of the most patriotic and caring men I have met. When he first met me and saw how my face had been disfigured from the IED blast the year prior, he offered to fly me and my wife to CA to one of the best plastic surgeons in the country. A similar situation occurred in another training event where I had with me one of my instructors from the DTC, who had a respiratory condition from Iraq—SF offered to set my friend up with the best doctors in the country, and take care of him.
SF didn’t fund my company to make money; he did it to support the troops. The funding we required would be considered a rounding error of his multibillion dollar investments.
I left T1G in 2011 to work on some advanced technology programs for a government agency but the wealth of knowledge I gained while working with SF and building T1G will last the rest of my life. I’d like to thank SF for helping build one of the finest full service training companies in existence. A company whose training has helped save over four dozen lives in combat…. My goal from the start!
Semper Fi Steve R.