These Two Former Army Rangers Are Still Fighting a War, But Not With Guns or Missiles.Michael Harrell
The suburb of Issaquah lies about 20 minutes east of Seattle on I-90. The bedroom community is home to Microsoft engineers, local athletes and a Tony-winning regional theatre. It’s also home to two former Army Rangers still fighting a worldwide war with newer, more sophisticated weapons.
Ten years ago, Donald Lee and Matthew Griffin served multiple tours of duty on the ground in Afghanistan. They scouted the mountainous terrain with the uncomfortable but necessary job of allying with drug lords (the opium poppy is still a good source of revenue for rural Afghans) and relying on local villagers to help in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. There, they fell in love with the Afghan people.
“This woman sends out her kids with a warm cup of tea,” Lee told KOMO News. “That’s almost like God throwing you a little life raft and telling you things are going to be OK.”
After his discharge in 2004, Griffin kept going into mountain country, now bringing in medical supplies and establishing clinics. But Griffin and Lee soon realized that the people they loved weren’t going to advance if there was no way to fuel economy except by drugs. Enter combat boots and bullets.
No, Lee and Griffin weren’t contractors; they didn’t reinvade; they didn’t even equip the Afghan security forces. They started making clothes, specifically sandals and scarves. In a world where women could not be educated for fear of acid attacks and – believe it or not – worse, Combat Flip Flops sought to offer jobs.
Working with a local Afghani businesswoman – Hassina Sherjan flew from America back to Afghanistan in the 1990s in order to educate girls in full defiance of Taliban rule – Griffin and Lee started sewing full grain leather and ballistic nylon onto the soles of combat boots. When the first batch of flip flops, finished with the shell casing of ammunition (a 7.62x39mm, the kind used in the famous AK-47 rifle), were duds, the Ranger duo moved manufacturing to Griffin’s garage in Issaquah.
Griffin and Lee couldn’t abandon the women and villagers who had served them while on tour. Sherjan’s factory employs exclusively women, offering an education and employable manufacturing skills, to produce scarves and sarongs. Combat Flip Flops is their only customer. Lee explains that it goes beyond just manufacturing. As said to Gizmodo: “We entered into an agreement where for every piece that we buy from them, they’ll match a donation to Aid Afghanistan for Education, so that each of these sarongs puts a girl in school for a week.”
“Our economy is the most powerful weapon we have,” Griff adds.
So two Army Rangers offering American business as a global force for good? Yes, global: bags are manufactured in Laos, flip flops in Colombia. It gives a whole new meaning to “army strong” and loving one’s neighbor from a global perspective.
Featured image via NBC News