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These Special Ops Commandos Think There is a Better Path to Peace: Selling Flip Flops

Through Combat Flip Flops they’re educating Afghan women, clearing landmines, cracking cartels, and employing vets.

Matthew "Griff" Griffin and Donald Lee served multiple tours in Afghanistan as members of the elite Army special operations force, the 75th Ranger Regiment. Now, they believe there's a better path to peace: selling flip flops.

"We're preparing to make the exact same mistakes as we did in Afghanistan in the '80s. And if we make those mistakes, those little girls, those little boys that go to school with my daughter...[are] going to be fighting there again in 10 years," states Griff. "We can make a change."

The Rangers used to trek through remote mountain villages, hunting Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who thought they could hide there during the punishing Afghan winters. They faced a common paradox of modern warfare: winning hearts and minds while conducting raids, armed to the teeth. After leaving active duty, they joined forces once again to create Combat Flip Flops, a company that flips the battle on how wars are won through their "Business, not Bullets" mantra.

It all started when Griff returned to Afghanistan on a medical mission. "While I was there, I was watching businesses just crush it," he says. "These business owners…would say, 'No, no, no, you're fine. We love visitors. We just don't like invaders.'"

Griff visited an Afghan combat boot factory with about 300 employees, who were supporting five to 13 family members each. After learning from the factory manager that they would all be out of a job following the U.S. withdrawal, he made a serendipitous discovery. "I literally turned to my half-left and there on this table is a combat boot sole with a flip flop thong punched through it."

Griff immediately recognized a market for these combat flip flops in America. "Our plan when we first started was, hey, let's make some commercial production here so that way they could stop manufacturing parts for war and start manufacturing parts for peace." Lee adds, "Give them the opportunity that they would otherwise not have. Unless it was by some radical group. You know, 'Hey, go plant a bomb for fifty bucks.'"

But converting a military-financed boot factory to commercial flip flop production proved even tougher than they had anticipated, due to logistical nightmares and Afghanistan's relative lack of infrastructure. It was a lesson they learned the hard way, after their first run of 2000 pairs. "We landed on the ground and found them to be 100% defective," states Griff. So they gave away all the footwear, found another factory in Afghanistan, and put 4000 more pairs down on a credit card.

Then they lost their contract. "It was at that point we were just like, you know what, ship the materials here. We're gonna build them here," says Lee. Griff continues, "We had friends from five a.m. to midnight for months putting flip flops together."

Still armed with their mission of employing locals in conflict zones, they weren't satisfied slinging thongs out of Griff's garage. So they turned their attention to a different kind of war producing a similar kind of situation. "We've been waging the war on drugs in Colombia. Finally, we got around to realizing that...not only can we fight this on a military front, but we can also fight this on an economic front and have more positive, sustainable change," explains Griff.

They pumped up production in Colombia while helping locals move from cartels to craftsmanship. "People will do what they have to do to feed their families," says Lee. "It's common sense. What happens when there's no jobs? Crime goes up, right? You give them jobs, you give them an honest wage, crime goes down."

But Griff and Lee still had unfinished business in Afghanistan, so they hatched a plan to go back and make silk shemaghs in a female-owned factory. They partnered with Hassina Sherjan, who had previously started clandestine schools for girls under the Taliban. Through Sherjan's charity, Aid Afghanistan for Education, each product Combat Flip Flops makes in her Kabul-based factory now funds between a day to a month of school for women.

Afghanistan has one of the lowest female literacy rates in the world, explains Griff. "They're raising these young males and... if you have an illiterate mom, chances are you're going to have an illiterate kid," he says. "So if you want to change how these radicals are getting recruited, if you want to take their recruitment base away from them, you will educate women."

From purchases in 2015, they say they have provided over 21 years of school to Afghan girls. Building on this model, Combat Flip Flops ties new products to a social good, like Toms but accessible to non-hipsters. While devoting 10-20% of their profits to these causes, the company is on track to triple its sales this year, despite suffocating trade policy that subjects them to customs holds and high tariffs. "[I'm a] three-time Afghan vet running a small business," says Griff. "We've been fighting there for 14 years. I lost 6 brothers there and we can't push the policies through to promote business between the two countries. It's sad."

But Griff and Lee don't plan to stop any time soon, especially given the opportunities afforded by America's history of foreign intervention. They note that in Laos during the '60s and '70s, the U.S. dropped the equivalent of a B-52 load of landmines every eight minutes for nine years on a country not even involved in the Vietnam conflict. "We used to drop those bombs and... we know the damage that it causes firsthand," says Griff.

They hired artisan families to turn scrap from unexploded landmines into jewelry, each purchase of which funds further ethical demining by the Nobel-laureate group MAG America. Through the partnership, Combat Flip Flops has cleared 1200 square meters of mines in Laos this year. But Griff and Lee won't rest until they've brought their brand of nation-building to one more war-ravaged country: America.

In partnership with veteran-owned businesses and defense manufacturers, they've begun producing briefcases and bags. "We have the most talented, team-oriented people in the world coming back and working their way into our society, and we deserve to give them every opportunity," says Griff. Lee adds, "I think what drives us is just helping people."

For the full interview, watch the video above. Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notification when new material goes live.

About 9 minutes.

Produced, Written, and Edited by Justin Monticello. Shot by Paul Detrick and Alex Manning. Additional footage courtesy of MAG. Music by Jingle Punks, Elettroliti, Still Playing Guitar, Pavel Malkov, ISItheDreaMakeR, Lee Rosevere, and Kai Engel

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  • ||

    But...flip flops are a crime against humanity.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    Change your mind! Do it! Flip flop on flip flops! Call them flop flips if you must! You're the worst, you can do this! For humanity!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    We must have wafflers. We must all have wafflers forthwith. We must all think. We must all have wafflers and think, each and every one of us, to the very best of his ability.

  • Florida Man||

    Lady Killers? That movie was odd.

  • Trouser-Pod (The blowhard)||

    +1 sackbutt

  • CFF.Griff||

    We make more than flip flops!

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Worst.

  • Florida Man||

    Reposted articles are the worst.

  • commodious spittoon||

    Worse than socks in sandals?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I'm on Team Worst.

  • MSimon||

    But...flip flops are a crime against humanity.

    J-K? D?

  • Don'tTreadOnMeChipper||

    Business not bombs. What a great story that teaches many lessons. Well done!

  • bassjoe||

    Wait. They're made in Colombia and provide funds to Afghanistan? This sounds like something the Department of Treasury needs to investigate!

    Just kidding. They look great with solid materials. I'll probably try a pair out.

  • Lee G||

    Bombs are business. And business is booming.

  • commodious spittoon||

  • Jordan||

    I saw a vicious thonging in a Japanese porno once. Also, is that guy the Australian Johnny Knoxville?

  • commodious spittoon||

    More like the Australian version of equal parts Ricky and Julian from Trailer Park Boys. Later in the series he routinely uses thongs to assault police.

  • commodious spittoon||

  • DEG||

    +1

  • Jordan||

    Entrepreneurs helping people without running it by government bureaucrats first?! They must be shutdown immediately!

  • Suicidy||

    Where is my morning dose of manic open borders propaganda and Trump hate? It must still be early........

  • CFF.Griff||

    Thanks for spreading the stoke Justin! For those that don't get it, flip flops are a political term. We used to believe military means were the best path forward, now we believe something different.

    Our mission is to manufacture peace through trade.

    If you're down with the mission, we welcome you to the Unarmed Forces.

    #Peace

    Griff

  • PBR Streetgang||

    Good deal Griff! I wish you guys much success.

  • ||

    Good on you Griff.

    Just don't expect much seriousness around here especially on a Saturday afternoon.

    Most here appreciate what you guys are doing even if they cloak it in jokes and snark.

  • John Galt||

    Sounds like flip-flopping to me.

  • CFF.Griff||

    Finally. Somebody gets it.

  • ||

    I hate flip flops.

    Next article.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I hate you.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    He's not wrong about flip flops. That noise they make. It's maddening.

  • Mr Whipple||

    That's why you are supposed to wear socks with them.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Team Rufus!

  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    I love ya, Rufus, but you are dead wrong. Flip flops are among the most wonderful things in the world.

  • biljay||

    When goods and services cross borders, armies will not.

  • bassjoe||

    Well, armies may cross the borders when the bills aren't paid for the goods/services...

  • Kim3487||

    Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do...... ✹✹✹✹✹✹ www.Money-Hours.com

  • retiredfire||

    Maybe these vets got a little concussed while over there.
    Running any kind of business doesn't make you as much money as growing the poppies that the Taliban forces the farmers to plant, and, if the farmers refuse, their whole family is killed on their front doorstep.
    It's kind of like expecting urban ghetto kids to work at McDonalds in stead of making huge money selling illegal drugs.

  • CFF.Griff||

    We definitely got bounced around while there, but our factory workers love making our gear. You can be paralyzed by the current situation, or you can start working on something small and grow it. That's what we've been doing for the past four years and it's growing.

    We're putting people to work and little girls in school. If you don't like it, I don't know what to tell you.

  • Don'tTreadOnMeChipper||

    Just want to say that I bought some of your stuff after seeing the story and it's really great. High quality and great value. And your cause makes it that much better. Carry on!

  • Conchfritters||

    I thought the Taliban erradicated poppies while they were in power. The entire global heroin trade almost came to a standstill while they were in power. Once we inserted Kharzi into power, his brother went out and revitalized the trade. Our troops were told to look the other way.

  • CFF.Griff||

    Not really. We saw tons of opium production early in the war. That being said, there are many reports that state opium production is up over 80% of the pre-U.S. years. As for the troops, they were told to overlook many things... But that only lasts for so long.

  • CFF.Griff||

    Not really. We saw tons of opium production early in the war. That being said, there are many reports that state opium production is up over 80% of the pre-U.S. years. As for the troops, they were told to overlook many things... But that only lasts for so long.

  • ||

    From what I read the Taliban eradicated poppy growing that they weren't in control of and benefitting from.

    Poppy production was the way they financed their war.

  • ||

    retiredfire I kinda think these guys might know what they are doing.

    This is a repost of an old article so they must be getting along.

    Maybe you were the one concussed if your name is saying you were there also or is that short for retired fireman ?

  • ||

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  • GILMORE™||

    I appreciate the notion that capitalism is more effective at bringing "democracy and peace" to places. it is refreshing to see someone who seems to understand that.

    However, I think the idea that we need young westerners to tell locals "what" to sell is part of the do-gooder delusion...

    ... selling "Flip Flops to End [insert arbitrary social ill]" reminds me of one of the early Iraq War protests in Williamsburg I attended.

    It was a burlesque performance. "To Stop the Iraq War". I drank a lot of PBR and watched some pleasantly-overweight women strip. I felt i had done a great deal to prevent Halliburton from something something oil blood something.

    IOW, i think rather than go all "Mast Brothers" and pretend that their Flip Flops have any inherent Social-Ill reducing properties., maybe they should just start an more-generic import business, and lobby the government to reduce trade barriers, etc.

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    Then again "look at how we're stopping social ills by giving them jobs" is a pretty wonderful way to get progressives to stop whining about "sweatshops."

  • GILMORE™||

    Indeed.

    although i have no doubt there will be some dipshits who protest this sort of thing as 'exploitation'.

    I bought some "war rugs" a number of years back. I believe they were mostly sourced to pakistan, but they were always referencing the afghan war against the soviets. I had one like this and another smaller one like this. Sadly the red one got spilled on, and i learned the color wasn't "fast" at all. Or rather... it just bled all over my wood floors and caused some major stain damage. The small one is in storage now, after i got it sprayed to prevent it from also disintegrating/melting.

    the guy who sold these in ny caught shit from locals (and the media) from time to time. they called him a "profiteer", etc. Others called it fraud (despite him explaining that not all were actually afghan made). So it goes.

  • GILMORE™||

  • Tejicano||

    "However, I think the idea that we need young westerners to tell locals "what" to sell is part of the do-gooder delusion..."

    If some collaborative effort - former GI's working with local Afghan producers - is going to produce and sell anything which of the two would you expect to understand the target market (in this case the US) better? Besides, the story seems to indicate that the Afghans were already producing footwear so the Americans seem to have decided to stick with what was within that sphere.

    Maybe I am just missing something here. Do you (honestly - no ill intentions directed at you) have some other ideas they might have overlooked?

  • AceDroman||

    Barbars Corcoran, would or would not?

  • Mr Whipple||

    But, but but, the Shareef don't like flip-flops.

  • JeremyR||

    That's nice and all, but ultimately, many Muslims don't want prosperity. They don't want jobs, they don't want a house, they don't want a nice car. They want jihad. They want shariah law.

    Look at at how many westerners are going over there to fight for ISIS. Look at the San Bernadino shooters - they had essentially the perfect American life - well paying job (albeit government), a family. Yet that's not what they wanted. They wanted to kill infidels.

    Realistically, is there a military solution? Not one we're ever willing to use. Efforts like this can't hurt, but it's not going to accomplish much.

    What we need to do is discredit Islam, make people there reject it and its murderous tenets. But of course, we can't do that because it's not politically correct. And the West hates itself more than anything else in the world.

  • Tejicano||

    I suppose that the Americans in this enterprise - having spent a few years in that part of the world - have gotten to know some number of muslims who would rather have a job, raise a family, and just live their own lives. Maybe, just maybe, there are a numer of muslims who do want something other than to die for jihad.

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