Most of you have heard of T1G (Tier 1 Group), but few know where the company came from. For those that don't know, here's the story.
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. My unit was still in Iraq when the 2nd Marine Division's Gunner tasked me to develop the 2nd MarDiv precision marksmanship courses at the Division Training Center (DTC).
While at the DTC, my crew successfully conducted over 20 pre-sniper and 9 SAM-R courses. Due to Camp Lejeune's range and scheduling restrictions, we would often run portions of them at Blackwater in Moyock, NC. Blackwater at the time had over 6,000 acres of space to play in. Their facility allowed us to do more in a shorter period of time than we could on base.
Later that year, I started moonlighting at Blackwater on the weekends. At least once a month, I'd take leave to teach the longer precision rifle classes for them. One such weekend, the Blackwater 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.
On a warm spring evening, we met our two clients at a restaurant outside of Virginia Beach. Both guys were excited to start the training, which began the next morning at 07:00 after breakfast. They worked in the capital investment world, one of them being a former professional boxer—who even at his age, I wouldn't want to 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.
By the end of the 1st day, they were accurately engaging targets out to 600yds and getting constant 1st round hits from unsupported shooting positions. 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. That would have been a hard one to explain to my command.
During our time on Camp Lejeune, SF noticed that the ranges and supporting facilities on the base were substandard compared to Blackwater's facility. The day before his departure to NYC, SF, and I discussed what a better Blackwater would look like, how it could run, and where it should be located on the road back to the hotel.
The weeks following his visit to Camp Lejeune, I did a lot of research on who Blackwater's primary clients were, what they wanted, and any issues they had with the facility. I presented SF with my thoughts and 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 Camp Lejeune's back gate. I called the company Long Range Services, a name that would be changed to ATS (Aggressive Training Solutions), and later Tier 1 Group. 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. We outgrew the office space in Sneed's Ferry, 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. They spent time 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 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 (for good reasons), 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 at several properties near Camp Lejeune. However, anytime we started to conduct due diligence on a property, word quickly spread in the local community. 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 (ten)! 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 the 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. 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 these fighters' sound. 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 before deploying.
That spring, I learned that Blackwater had asked my friends who ran the precision rifles courses to no longer conduct said courses on Blackwaters' behalf. I suspected my friends' 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 upfront if their 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 several guys like me who had all failed, sit in his office and tell him they had the ability to build something better than Blackwater. He wished me luck, and after talking with Erik Price, I left Blackwater for what I thought would be the last time.
In mid-2008, when one of our competitors Olive Group in Marion, AR, which had got into some hot water overseas that lead most of its business to dry up. By the time they put the for sale sign on their facility, T1G had a great reputation for training, even without our own site. That spring, 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. That summer, we bought the place for pennies on the dollar. By the time we had the Marion AR site (T1G Memphis) 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 non-stop. Over the years, we added lodging for over 350 people, chow halls, more ranges, dedicated medical training areas, landing zones, and several certifications from various government agencies—the company went from a small start-up to an industry leader in just three years.
Over 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 my wife and me to CA to one of the country's best plastic surgeons. 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 after looking at SOCOMs budget for FY12-17. I started another company whos focus was aiding in the development of advanced technology programs for a government agency. I didn't cross paths with SF much from until 2016 when his friend was elected President. From that November onward, the world became a smaller place. My "job" at the time had shifted into other areas, and SF was selected to join the PIAB (President's Intelligence Advisory Board). Later that year, Blackwaters founder began pushing a very well thought out Afghanistan plan to the WH. Before one of the WH meetings, I picked him up at the entrance to one of the buildings. As we were taking the elevator up, he remembered who I was yet again and just laughed. Things got interesting after that, and for that matter.... they STILL ARE!