If you’re like me, you are proud of your military service and you have a couple “HOORAH/ Kill Stuff” t-shirts hanging in your closet.  And thanks to the magic of internet commerce and a wide range of entrepreneurial veterans with graphic design skills, we have lots of great places to load up on military related merch. OAF Nation is my go-to option for cutting edge military swag, but others like Ranger Up, Grunt Style, and Nine Line Apparel also offer cool options to meet your branch, badge, or “been there, blew shit up, and got the t-shirt” needs.

Admittedly, I’m a bit biased being a contributing OAF writer and all, but let it be known that I am a Goon first for the following reasons. While there is a variety of options for hoodies and shirts and bumper stickers, there is much less diversity in the expressions of veteran culture and politics in said merch. By this I mean that too many military outlets for swag and culture appear to limit their products to uber-conservative/right wing messaging.  Not only does this limit their sales and markets, it also fails to represent or express the views of many veterans, which, *** newsflash ***, are not rooted in that stripe of political messaging.  And perhaps even worse, when one of these veteran outlets offers up merch or opinions that clash with this monolithic conservative undertow, they are assaulted like Fallujah circa 2004.

Case in point is Action Figure Therapy, a darling of the military community, who for years entertained tens of thousands of grunts with their humor and creative expressions of military culture.  No one had any problem with Action Figure Therapy critiquing Hillary Clinton, nor with other related groups selling “Lock Her Up!” shirts.  But when Action Figure Therapy got blasted for expressing similar spirited critical opinions on the dishonesty/immoral actions and policies of the current White House occupant, thousands of followers dropped trow and took a dump on the whole “freedom of expression” thing they raised their right hands to support and defend.  The double standard stank to high hell, and far too many combat tested thick skinned dudes instantly transformed into the biggest snowflakes in the USA.  The inability to handle a critical word on Trump coming from within the grunt culture realm resulted in an embarrassing barrage of threats, boycotts, and internet campaigns to silence Action Figure Therapy.

Simply put, if you think all veterans are die hard conservatives, and that’s all you want to market to, you haven’t been paying attention lately.  You are doing a disservice to your business by limiting its appeal to only one brand of politics, and you are equally alienating the huge number of current and veteran service members (and potential customers) who do not concur with your conservative politics or attitudes.  My guess is that my military experience was like yours, in that I had the honor of serving with a wide range of misfits and contrarians, be they former punk-rockers, libertarians, socialists, liberals, nihilists, vegans, gays, all of which were just as patriotic and motivated as the more traditionally minded service members.

So next time someone sits down to design the next great “God Guns and Glory” themed shirt, I’d recommend they remember that lots of veterans don’t believe in a god, some think there is nothing wrong with sensible gun laws, and as for the glory- I got nothing on that so the more the better.

There must be room in the foxhole of combat culture for everyone who went down range, and failing to recognize this diversity in the veteran marketplace harms both the bottom line of veteran businesses and the veteran community as a whole.

Ben Tupper
Ben started his 20-year career as an enlisted medic and ended as an Infantry Officer. The zenith of his misadventures and maladies was a tour with an Embedded Training Team (ETT) in Afghanistan, where he earned his military badges and bobbles, but also cut his teeth as a writer and author. You can find his offerings and appearances on NPR, BBC, Slate, PBS, Fox, or read the long-form of his experiences in his first book Greetings From Afghanistan- Send More Ammo. You may find him checking in on his bar The Beer Belly Deli and Pub in Syracuse NY, where he will happily buy you a round.