I have always loved shopping: in real life, online, even from a plane thirty-thousand feet above the earth, courtesy of SkyMall. I buy clothes, handbags, makeup, perfume, kitchen items—nothing that any other woman would find strange. But if you click the history tab on my computer, you’ll now see long lists of military tactical gear heading my way via UPS and Amazon Prime.
With the jaw-dropping exploits of the Special Operation Forces (Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, American Snipers, and Lone Survivors) brought to our attention by movies, books, and video games, a new breed of groupies has made its presence (and buying power) known. You no longer need to join the armed forces to look the part.
I have a friend named Mike Ritland who is a former Navy SEAL. Last month, during a visit to Texas, I tagged along as he made a call to ITS Tactical near Dallas. ITS stands for “Imminent Threat Solutions” and is a very successful online business. This might have been a classic “thanks, but I’ll wait in the car” moment for me. I assumed ITS was not up on designer hair-care products or sexy bras, little did I know I was walking into my newest obsession.
The ITS showroom is a Disneyland for gearheads. It is filled with a panoply of items you probably don’t think you need but will soon convince yourself you do, desperately.
I can think of no good reason why I should buy a digital desert-camo elastic MOLLE strapped combat backpack with a place to attach a Velcro patch embroidered with my blood type, but I did. Two.
Perusing the merchandise on the shelves at ITS sent red warning lights to my brain. My short visit to ITS turned out to be a gateway drug, and like the first firework snort of cocaine, I was instantly hooked on military tactical gear.
In fact, my view of the world shifted, and I no longer felt safe. I was not prepared for calamity and became dreadfully aware of how vulnerable I was. How could I have been so reckless as to not have a vacuum-sealed bag of QuikClot Combat Gauze with me at all times? If I’m gutshot in front of the Starbucks in Ridgefield, Connecticut, this stuff will stop the massive flow of blood until I reach the nearest MASH unit. I mean, local hospital.
When I returned home from Texas, I went online at two A.M. to peruse ITS’s seductive website. Soon I had filled my virtual cart with a pair of fire-resistant Escape shoelaces made of Kevlar, which, when removed from your shoes, you can use to friction saw through plastic wrist restraints. I also bought a small wallet-size lock-picking set and a jazzy Velcro-backed helmet patch that says, I RUN TOWARDS GUNFIRE. My helmet options are still undecided, but I favor the kind with netting that allows the insertion of small leafy tree branches.
After a cup of chamomile tea to settle my adrenaline-spiked shopping nerves, I retired for the evening thinking of George Orwell’s words: “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” Instead of sheep, I counted the hours until the next UPS delivery.
I soon learned that not every tactical-gear groupie shops for one item at a time, as I had been doing. You can sign up for a year’s worth of goodies by joining the Crate Club. Brandon Webb runs the Crate Club. Webb is a former Navy SEAL, celebrated combat sniper, and best-selling author of The Killing School and The Red Circle. Of all Webb’s prolific enterprises, I like the Crate Club best; it’s a sort of fruit-of-the-month club for badasses.
With a credit card and the push of a computer key, you can choose from various tiers of membership. The top-of-the-line crate is the Premier Crate that sells for around five hundred a year, and as with the less-deluxe Standard Crate or Pro Crate, you decide how often you would like it delivered. What you won’t know is what is in the box until you open it. That’s where the fun begins.
All the crates are filled with cool tech gear hand selected by Webb’s elite Special Forces buddies. To add gravitas to the merchandise, each warrior is pictured on the Crate Club website along with his Spec Ops credentials. So it matters little if you already own a pocketknife or a high-intensity flashlight. Now you have one with the residual glow of authenticity that comes from being curated by legendary military heroes.
Seeing a Crate Club unboxing feels like Santa Claus has morphed into Colonel Kurtz. This is the most butch shopping club in the world. If you want to see big tattooed men tremble like kids on Christmas morning, get them a subscription.
The Crate Club is not for battle-hardened guys in the military but for regular people wanting a taste of adventure that they will never see. After all, if the men who caught Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden favor this knife or that flashlight, how can you doubt that it will soon feel like a must-have as you sit in front of your TV set watching The Hurt Locker.
I’m not exactly sure what type of combat I’m preparing for. War with North Korea, the zombie apocalypse, the New World Order takeover … all are possible, but whatever happens, I now have a fully stocked medical “jump kit,” a three-day tactical backpack, and a “bug-out bag” filled with water-purification tablets, survival guides, and a collapsible camping tent to deal with it. And now for the perfect helmet.
Jane Stern is the author of more than forty books, including, most recently, Confessions of a Tarot Reader. With Michael Stern, she coauthored the popular Roadfood guidebook series. The Sterns recently donated forty years of archival materials to the Smithsonian museum, documenting the atmosphere, stories, and history of various restaurants, diners, and regional food events.