#20: From kinetic operations to a life-saving, essential business with Jeremy “JB” Soles. We welcomed Marine founder and CEO of Contra Group, Jeremy “JB” Soles to the show. JB shared a ton of perspective related to special warfare-related training and the application to law enforcement. I would highly encourage you to follow him and the work he and his company do.

JB’s profile

Contra Group


Aaron  00:05
I’m Aaron Spatz and this is The Veterans Business Podcast. A podcast centered around the stories of US military veterans and their adventures in the business world following their time in service, its stories of challenges and obstacles and an inside look at how veterans find their life’s work, their purpose in their post-military lives.Thank you so much for tuning in this week. I just want to remind you that this episode as well as all the other episodes of Season 2 are available on YouTube. So you can actually watch the episode and see it that way. I will save the guest introduction on the episode itself. So here we go.

Hey, thanks for joining The Veterans Business Podcast Season 2. This week, we are super pumped to welcome Jeremy “JB” Soles to the show. He’s a FAST Company Marine, did a few years before jumping out into the private sector. Now his exploits take him all over the world. He’s been doing a lot of really fun and exciting things. And we’re going to get to learn a little bit more about his journey and more specifically about the entrepreneurial process that he’s been on. So JB, man, thanks so much for joining me.

JB  01:22
Thanks so much for having me. It’s an honor to be on.

Aaron  01:25
Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s just jump right in. Share with everybody a little bit about your past. What inspired you, what made you crazy enough to join the Marine Corps? And then just kind of take us on a little bit of that road.

JB  01:40
Well, to be honest, it wasn’t exactly my first option and I have my father to thank for leading me down the path of righteousness, so to speak. I grew up in a really, really small county in Eastern Virginia. My father was a pig farmer, so I grew up on a pig farm. He also worked at a pulp mill. He’s a Vietnam veteran. And so, you know, life was very simple, but we were raised a certain way. And I think a lot of those virtues and a lot of those morals and ethics stuck in my brothers and I as we grew up and as we developed into the young men. I think that every man has to have an anchor and definitely a mentor and my father is 76 years old and he’s still my hero.

My dad is a Vietnam veteran. I didn’t find out until I was 16 years old, roughly about 16 years old what specific unit he was with. I found out I was fascinated by anything history, specifically, you know, Vietnam and everything. And my dad was with the first Air Cav. He was a door gunner on a Huey and the first Air Cav. And then, you know, the book came out, We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, and then the movie came out, and I remember just being so geeked out about it obviously not seeing the grand scope. And I was like, you know, “Dad, you got to read this book. We got to go see this movie.” And him in his very solemn wisdom, you know, he looked at me and said, “Son, I lived it. I don’t need to go see the movie.”

Aaron  03:15

JB  03:15
And it didn’t even really dawn on me at that time. But later on in life, I’d look back and be like, wow, you were a pestering little idiot, but he was super patient and could see that I was really excited about the things that he had done, and again, instilling those things in my brothers and me. When I graduated from high school, West Point High School I. think our graduating class in ‘95 was 72, which was the largest graduating class to date. And I was like, oh, that’s so many people, you know, and now it’s just like, you know, you see a lot of other schools, you think that everywhere else is like where you grew up. And I really grew up in small-town America.

And you know, my biggest thing was I wanted to get out. I knew I had an idea that I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and join the military. I knew I wanted to go to school. I knew there’s a bunch of a million things that I wanted to do, but the number one thing I wanted to do was to get out of that area. And I did, and it was with the graces of my parents. I left probably about two, two and a half hours away to a ski resort community and became a patrol or ski patrol. And got probably my first real introduction to medical training.

And left from there, went to Colorado. I worked with Keystone Ski Patrol. And it was an another just great experience. My first experience with orders being on the delivering end instead of the receiving end. And, you know, it was a great opportunity out there and to be able to see the world and everything and go to school. During that period of time, I took classes at Piedmont Community College and then eventually at Liberty with a discipline in criminal justice and I’m continuing education now in emergency preparedness also through Liberty. So it’s a great institution. You can’t say enough about those guys.

Came back home. I realized one day that if I stay here, you know, I was patrolling during the winter and I was a river guy during the summer, and I was like, if I stay here, I’m going to be that guy living in Yugo at the bottom of the mountain. Those seemed like some of the happiest dudes around, but I was like, I want more than that. So I made a 13 and a half record trip straight from Colorado, Dylan, Colorado, back home. And I was like, you know, I’m going to join the military.

Aaron  05:51

JB  05:52
Kind of a funny story. I had obviously not been doing quite a bit of training and I had in the back of my mind what I wanted to do, obviously the Navy had the SEAL challenge – or excuse me, the BUD/s challenge. And so went to the recruiter, got all the information, brought it home. And at the dinner table, I was like, “Dad, this is what I’m going to do.” And, you know, mind you, by this time, I’m almost 18 – oh, I am 18 years old. And my dad looks at me and he’s like, “No son of mine is going to be wearing cracker jacks.” He’s like, “You need to figure it out and make another decision.

Aaron  06:24
Oh my gosh.

JB  06:24
I was like, “I know, dad, but it’s like being in the Navy, but not being that.” He’s like, “That’s the final decision.” You know, inside of me, I wanted to also make my father proud. My oldest brother was in the Marines as well. He had served in ’89. And you know, another huge mentor for me. And so, you know, my brother being Marine and everything, I was like, oh, well, I’ll go check out the Marine Corps and see what’s going on there.

And long story short, I got contracted with Security Forces and then ended up with first FAST (Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team) and met a lot of great guys, had some great opportunities right on the cusp of Global War on Terror and everything. You know, we responded to the Cole bombing and Aden. We were working hand in hand with the FBI in their investigations surrounding that. And then, you know, other things after that leading into OIF.

My time in the Marine Corps really was a catalyst. I revisited the idea of going into the Navy and we were stationed down in Norfolk and a lot of my friends were with NAVSPECWAR over in Little Creek. And, you know, I was training with those guys at the pool and I was like, one of my buddies is like, “Man, you can do an interservice transfers. Do an AA form, do an interservice transfer.” And it just so happened that my company commander was a former Force Recon guy.

Aaron  07:55
Oh, wow.

JB  07:55
And I was like, my company commander was former Force Recon. My platoon sergeant was a former legionnaire, which we thought we were going to run him out of town. And then we found out he was a legionnaire and a really, really freaking awesome individual, which he plays back kind of into my story a little bit later. And yeah, I’ve submitted the AA form. My platoon sergeant to commander, company gunnery, first sergeant all signed off on it. The AA form is basically to do an interservice transfer after your two years in the Marine Corps to go over and go to BUD/s and transfer over to the Navy. And again, that was shut down at the company commanders level. He said, “You’re a United States Marine. And as long as you’re in my Marine Corps, you’ll serve out your time and then go do what you want to do.” And I was a little dismayed, to say the least. I thought it was a green light and I was ready to make the move.

Anyhow, you know, at this time, the war is really starting to break out and a lot of my friends were getting out. I voluntarily extended for an additional year and I had buddies that were going to Triple Canopy/Blackwater, and they’re like, “Man, what missions are you guys doing over there? What are you guys getting to do?” He’s like, “Because we are over here making $750 a day and we are freaking laying down hate and discontent.” I was like, “Wow, that sounds pretty awesome.”

So I got out and when we got home, went to Triple Canopy, went through their selection process. And I found myself in a Basra, Iraq as a Department of State contractor with TC working with some of my closest friends. And that was a great experience. I was with the Department of State collectively for probably about 12 years between Triple Canopy, VxL Enterprises, O’Gara and a couple other companies working, again, as a contractor. I was downrange on a mobile team and then eventually I ended up back at the schoolhouse as an instructor.

In between that time, there was one or two lapses in time I got on with SAIC. Again, I don’t know what this thing is because it seems like even in saying it, I kept elevating back towards Naval Special Warfare. SAIC had a gig out in Fort Pickett where they were doing a train up for the EOD to mesh them with the Teams. And the whole concept there was basically teaching them Greenside and CQC battle tactics. And so we were getting them spun up to deploy with NAVSPECWAR with the Teams. I was with them for about for about two years, a little over two years. Great opportunity, great company, great, amazing guys. I learned so much.

I think we had discussed before and I think a lot of your listeners can relate to this very well. So, you know, you have a Marine who I had gone through an eight-week/nine-week CQB package// Marine Corps calls a CQB, the Teams call it CQC. And you know, it doesn’t matter where you learn CQB, CQC, whatever you want to call it. You think that like your way, it’s gospel. It is it. And you know, I get over there and they were like, “Okay. Number one, you’re the only Marine here. And number two, we’re training clients to be meshed with Naval Special Warfare so you’re going to learn our way.” So I’m learning all these different things, terminology and everything. And it was a great opportunity. It was a little bit of butting heads at first because I have pretty strong personality. I’m like, “That’s not right. That’s not right.” And anyhow.

Aaron  11:39
Well, and of course everybody’s got very passionate. I mean, shoot, you could even start an argument over just CQB versus CQC.

JB  11:48
Oh, yeah, exactly.

Aaron  11:50
Push the button there.

JB  11:51
You’re right. And you know, I’ll touch on this now, just on that fast to learn. You know, my evolution through those types of tactics – through room-clearing, recapture tactics, so on and so forth – really evolved over the years. And I would say for a lot of guys, that’s a difficult, a very difficult transition. And I say that because I was just having a conversation with a buddy of mine who is a former Team guy. And if you’ve been out of the business, and when I say out of the business, if you’ve been non-operational downrange for more than five, six months, what you know or what you think you know is obsolete. The way that we were doing CQB/CQC back in the early 2000s is ancient. It’s not done anymore. I’ll just give a quick example of that. You know, hallway domination. Hallway domination is a thing of the past. It’s always our death and staffing an entire team up in a hallway is not generally the smartest thing to do. So, you know, tactics have a wall to a point to where we’re more fluid, we’re more lethal, we’re more dead weight and mostly we’re more effective.

I stayed on with SAIC, went back to the schoolhouse with the Department of State and worked with those guys. Finally, in that term of time, I think that’s where I opened up into one of my first phases of entrepreneurship with a nonprofit organization. I created a nonprofit organization called Team X-T.R.E.M.E. to honor the wounded brethren.

And I didn’t realize at the time that how much something is singular and adamant object, how much of a difference it can make. And it happened completely by a fluke. And that is that my mom at the time was battling cancer, lung cancer. And throughout my life, again, thanks to the influence of my father, physical fitness has been my drug. I’m addicted to endorphins. I love running, swimming, biking, you name it, lifting, jumping out of airplanes, whatever. And you know, I remember very distinctly. It was in January. I was in Virginia. It was cold as I get out. And I picked up one of my gas masks, my old gas mask, a P2 gas mask, and started running in it. Really just as a way to kind of process and deal with some of my own personal demons from my past and also to cope with the fact that I was pretty much watching my mother expire. And what I noticed through doing that act alone, that it just gained a lot of attention. And I was like, you know, I can really take this attention that I’m gaining and redirect that towards positive cause. And really, that was the genesis of Team X-T.R.E.M.E.

From there, we were able to honor, empower, motivate about 15 different veterans, taking them on trips. Todd Love, Corporal Peck is another one I double and Corporal Peck’s a quad amputee. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in honor of Corporal Peck, set a Guinness World Records for being the first idiot to run a marathon in a gas mask. That was interesting in of itself. But, you know, at the end of that, having the press there, being able to go into Fox News and being able to take that attention and just redirect it to all of my wounded brother and the guys that I had shared time with, spend time with, and had really developed a relationship with. Todd Love, another earth Recon Marine. He lost both his legs and part of one of his arms in Iraq. And, you know, being able to assist him to get him to be the first triple amputee to get his freefall skydive license.

Aaron  16:02

JB  16:02
And he told me at one point. In talking to him, I was like, “Man, what’s the one thing that you wanted to do?” Because the concept of Team X-T.R.E.M.E. was really to take these guys and gals and give them an opportunity to maybe do the things that they either had never done or thought that they might never be able to do again. And he’s like, “Man, I was pushed through the pipeline in Recon to go downrange to deploy so I didn’t even get to go to jump school.” He said, “I’d love to skydive.” And I was like, “Well, if you got to skydive, you want a freefall or do you want a static line?” He’s like, “Man, I never wanted to go to the static line,” which most guys don’t. It’s just a stepping stone to get the freefall.

Anyhow, you know, we took him to Hawaii, worked with Skydive Hawaii and Frank Hinshaw and the folks out there. Absolutely amazing professional staff. They were the ones that tandem jumped him for the first time. And along with Michael Elliott of the All Veteran’s Parachute organization, they worked with him incredulously to get him that certification. And so it was really a combined effort with a lot of entities to make that – we call it X-T.R.E.M.E dreams, to make that X-T.R.E.M.E dream come true.

Had really close working relationships with the XTERRA Foundation. They do triathlons all over the world. We would go out to Hawaii each year and take another wounded warrior with us for about four or five days’ vacation in Hawaii, where they get to go surfing, skydiving. And then they attend the event, the XTERRA World Trail Championship and we would run that as a group with the wounded veterans. Todd Love did it the first year – or excuse me, he went the first year, did all of those things. And then the next year when we came back, he wanted to participate. And we actually had the honor of allowing him and getting him to be able to participate in the event. And then that led on to him doing Spartan races and some other things. Spartan Race is another great organization that worked with us.

Kind of moving on from that, I get to a point to where some logistic things happened with the organization and I was returning back to a deployable status with state. And there was a transition there, kind of like a handing off of the torch and that organization morphed into Operation Enduring Warrior, which, again, they’re kind of carrying on the legacy and doing a lot of great things there as well.

I would say within the next couple of years, I sort of working with another group of friends of mine who all had a Naval Special Warfare backgrounds and we formed Contra Group. And you know, we sat down over campfire and whiskey, and as most great ideas come to light, we were like, we want to do something that not just makes a difference but can transcend full work, where we can come up with a methodology of training that is different than everything else that’s out there.

And, you know, all of us at that point had fairly extensive between TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care), EMT. We have paramedic. One of the Team guys was also an 18 Delta Special Forces medic. You know, we’re like, “What is the one thing that we can do with this to be able to really make a niche difference?” And that kind of concept really was just taking tactical medicine and combining it with dynamic training. A lot of times when guys and gals go to TacMed courses, it’s just specifically TacMed. They go through the didactics of classroom and then they go out and do practicals and then the course is generally over. And we culminate everything and combine it with the Teams’ tactics to be able to give them a full package. It’s our belief that unless you can take the tactical medicine and apply it to tactical situations, then something is lost in between. And so we really create a great synergy there for our clients. We’ve worked with about 15, 16 different SWAT teams around the country and other indigenous units, both domestic and foreign. So really, really great opportunity there as well.

Aaron  20:25
Man, that’s an incredible journey that you’ve been on. And I mean, everything from the nonprofit space to doing the things that you’ve been doing you just through that organization. And man, that trip out to Hawaii sounds phenomenal, by the way. It sounds like a great time.

JB  20:45
We had tons of video online. It’s just really saying that it shaped and changed their lives. It gave them an ability to be an active part of the brotherhood again. And that, to me, there’s no amount of money that could take the place of guys coming back to you and telling you that. And on the flip side of the coin, with Contra Group, I’ve had those with equal rewards. We did some training for several teams out in North Carolina. One of our larger courses, actually. And it was about a month later to the date almost, I got a call at 11:30 – or excuse me, a text at about 11:30 at night, and it was one of the guys that attended the course. And he said, “Man,” he said, “I just want to let you know I’m literally in decompression phase right now.” And he said, “I’m still amped up.” He said, “I can’t give you all the details, but I just got a call out. I got out of my car and I got ambushed.”

Aaron  21:46

JB  21:46
And he said, “All I could think about was you screaming in my head to get off the X.” And he was like, “Man, you guys pretty much saved my life.” He said, “If I had stayed there, I would have died. I was being shot at with high caliber weapon and he knew exactly where I was.” And so, again, things like that are just, you know, there’s no amount of money. It gives you a sense of pride in what you do and really pushes and compels you and calls you forward.

Since Contra Group, which I’m still the CEO of, we’re still operating in a training capacity and some other capacities, created another nonprofit called Carry On. And Carry On’s mission is to basically honor the legacy of our fallen law enforcement military firefighters and first responders that brought us all the way up to right now, which it’s a great thing to hear and to see America referring to our first responders as heroes, to our medical providers. Because they really are. And to this point, law enforcement and our military has really gotten a lot of the spotlight and this has been a situation where their ability, their patience, their everything has really shined through. Carry On, we’re based out of Texas, Dallas, Texas. Best state in the US. Purple fan.

Aaron  23:20
That’s right.

JB  23:22
You know, the genesis of that, again, happened with one of my former teammates from the Marine Corps. We wanted to figure out a way to really not only honor the fallen over, the broad spectrum, but specifically our platoon commander. I had referenced him earlier, Captain Marc Rapicault. He died in 2004 in in Ramadi, Iraq. And he was, again, the platoon commander. And, you know, the listeners who know the military structure and especially on mobile teams or a mobile movement, generally, the unit commander will not be in the lead vehicle, but that’s just the way that he led. And that’s how he led us. That’s how he led his Marines. And he was hit by an EFP.

Aaron  24:12

JB  24:12
And he was killed. And so, you know, that rocked all the guys who ever knew him and we just wanted to figure out a way to honor his legacy specifically, but also all of the other brave men and women that had fallen and made that sacrifice. We found a gentleman named Cam Dockery out near Lubbock, Texas, that we had priced out what we wanted to do and what we were looking for was a cedar log – you’d be amazed at how difficult this thing is to find, but a cedar log that was six feet long and it is approximately, I don’t know, I’d say over 83, I believe 83 inches in diameter. The thing weighs 700 pounds.

Aaron  25:02
Holy crap.

JB  25:02
We found a piece of cedar and send it out to him and he did a carving for us. And so it created – so how Team X-T.R.E.M.E. had a gas mask, Carry On, we have honor logs and these honor logs, again, the six feet represents the length of a casket and then it takes six people to carry it and that represents the pole bearers and we call those individuals honor bearers. And each year we participate with the Carry The Load nonprofit and their event in Dallas and we carry that log and it’s made its way all over. When you go back to Cameron real quick because on this same piece of work, we had priced it out. We were getting prices of between $10,000 and $13,000. And this gentleman, patriotic, God-fearing, America-loving man did it for free. And just an incredible, incredible amount of work that he put into that. And you know, we’re creating other honor logs to represent other departments’ units and so on and so forth.

Aaron  26:13

JB  26:13
So we’re moving forward in that space as well.

Aaron  26:16
Well, I would say a theme of your life is busy, man. It doesn’t sound like you take hardly any time off or there’s never a dull moment.

JB  26:26
You know, I’ve been blessed. I’ve been blessed with the ability to do – you know, back in King and Queen County, growing up on a pig farm, you know, I’ll listen to some of my father’s stories growing up and I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world. And by God’s grace, I’ve been able to do that without being seriously maimed, injured, and/or killed. And you know, I’ve been afforded to see some of the darkest corners of the planet and I’ve been afforded to see some of the most beautiful. So I’m truly, truly blessed in every aspect. And I’m blessed to have the ability and the mechanisms to make a difference in some people’s lives.

Aaron  27:06
Yeah. Well, no doubt. I mean, no doubt you have and you continue to do that. So, I mean, I just think that’s an incredible, incredible effort that you’re taking on. And I’ll have to throw some pictures up on this video with the log. I’ll have to find some video or photo of you wearing a gas mask with the Marine Corps Marathon and blast that out so people can see because that’s nuts. I never heard of that before. And to realize that you’re the first one to do that, that’s pretty epic, man.

JB  27:41
And, you know, the good Lord physiologically didn’t make me a runner by any stretch. You know, 6’2, 215 pounds. And you know, I never did it for myself or to break any records, but to bring that attention back around full circle. And to be completely honest, I found out a lot about – a man finds out a lot about himself through suffering.

Aaron  28:09
It’s true.

JB  28:09
That’s the message that I’ve conveyed through students and trainees that I’ve had and what we convey forward to the law enforcement into some of the other units that we teach is that it’s great to have that camaraderie of sharing the beers around the campfire to hang out together. But nothing brings humans together more than suffering and nothing makes a man find out about himself more than suffering. And you know, if you can find quiet corners of your life, and not only your life but each day, to put yourself out there and go into that dark space, you’ll unlock things and you’ll unlock the ideas.

I would have to say that, you know, it’s in the early morning before the sun comes up when I run or bike every single day. And it’s that time where I’m the quietest with myself. I’m like, “Oh, this would be a great idea, this would be a great idea” where there’s no other point in the day where I really feel like – and it’s during those times where my body is struggling for oxygen, struggling to make it through the run or whatever I’m doing where I have that clarity that says, you know, this is something that is tangible. This is something that you can reach for.

And I think that a pitfall for a lot of people, male and female alike, especially guys who are coming from a very intensity background, you know, guys who are returning from war, guys who have had traumatic experiences, I think that they get to a point in their life, let’s just say in my tray, where it’s time to hang up your guns, so to speak, and to settle down. But just because you choose to hang up this one thing or this one chapter of your life is over, age has nothing to do with not continuing to pick that next thing.

You know, it’s funny because I’m currently living out in Washington State and there’s a little mountain not too far from here and every day I walk out and I can actually see that thing when it’s clear. I want to go to the top of that mountain. I want to go to the top of Mount Rainier. And you know, again, a lot of things pending, hopefully in July, I’ll be able to do that with the assistance of some of my friends. It’s just never stop pushing the limits. And if you do then you will grow old and you will grow tired and you will grow weak mentally and physically. And I really believe that – becoming stagnant. My father being 76 years old, that man still – he’s retired now. He goes out every single day and does everything that he has never done his entire life. He jumped out of an airplane three years ago for the first time in his life.

Aaron  30:59

JB  31:01
And you know, he’s still just full tilt and I firmly believe that if he didn’t have that mechanism or that ability or that mindset to do that, he would just slowly, slowly expire.

Aaron  31:15
That’s some really powerful statements, you know, to back up just slightly. But you know, as you’re talking about suffering, and I mean, I could not agree more with that statement. And  obviously suffering is relative, right? So some people’s, you know, my suffering’s not yours and yours isn’t mine.

JB  31:33

Aaron  31:33
So it’s intensely personal. And you know, we all go through some extraordinary circumstances in our lives, whether it’s physical danger, whether it’s through family or financial hardship or whatever, I mean, name it, there’s plenty of suffering to be had. And it’s in those moments that you find opportunities to kind of find out who you are, where you stand. If you’re a person of faith, it really brings that home to reality. And then if you’re in a team situation, you know, obviously, from a military background, I mean, some of the greatest bonds, some of the greatest memories. I mean, we celebrate the wins and some of the fun things we did. But, I mean, what do we talk about often the most, it’s like, “Man, remember back when that situation when it really sucked?”

JB  32:24
Yeah. Oh, those are the things that you remember the most and you’d get on the other side of it and you can laugh and joke about it, but also it created a scar and you healed from it and you remember that. And like you said, that can be emotional, it can be psychological, it can be financial. You remember like, you know, back in the time of the genesis of Team X-T.R.E.M.E., I was putting in most of my savings to try to get that off the ground. And I was pretty, pretty broke. And you know, that was in my late 20s, early 30s. And I was like, what am I doing? On one side, I was like, what am I doing? And on the other side, it was like, it’s absolutely clear. I don’t care if I have money for the rest of my life. I’m making a difference.

And you can really put that into perspective by visiting – at the time it was Walter Reed, now it’s over in Bethesda – the wounded warrior ward. I would go up there at least two, three times a month and visit with the warriors returning. And you know, there you see the suffering, you see the beginning stages and then you see guys who are refusing to quit. They’re refusing to settle. I don’t have legs. So what? I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.

I had the pleasure of spending Christmas Eve with Corporal Peck in Walter Reed. And at that particular time, he didn’t have his family there with him or really anything. And you know, this young Marine is laying in bed in his very early 20s with no arms and legs. And Christmas time is approaching and it’s just absolutely heart wrenching to see the stage he was at that time, and then to be a part of his journey and to be a part of his empowerment to really where he is now. I would like to think that I had the ability to give back to some of them, but I took away from them far more, far more than I gave to them. Their indomitable will and their spirit is just something that will be impressed on me. Not only from a personal standpoint, but really even from a work ethic standpoint. Those guys face challenges that I’ll never have to face and they overcome them.

Aaron  35:00
Sure. Yeah. That’s phenomenal. I mean, truly, truly phenomenal. I’ve had the pleasure actually – I went up to Walter Reed with a group of Marines when I was stationed in Camp Lejeune. And it was, I mean, it really is. It was a very sobering experience when you’re up there. In fact, we met a sergeant major that had been on deployment. He was from our regiment and had lost both of his legs and his unit was still deployed. And he was determined, that his goal, and he met his goal, was to be standing in greeting the Marines when they came back off of deployment. And you know, he was just one example. And you see how hard these guys work to regain mobility. And there’s just different phases. There’s a lot of psychological stuff that’s going on there as well. But I mean, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I mean, hats off to you for just investing and spending a ton of time up there.

But with that, I’d like to just shift gears ever so slightly. If you wouldn’t mind and obviously to the extent that you’re comfortable sharing, but I would love to just get a little bit more insight into the formation of the business. How did that kind of come about? And if I heard you right, I mean, it’s a partnership. So you’re the CEO but you’ve got other shareholders, and I don’t know. And again, you don’t have to share if you don’t want to. But however the company was formed and structured, but then, you know, how did you go about securing deal number one to deal number 10 and getting yourselves floating?

JB  36:46
For Contra Group, we had some initial investors that really assisted in getting us off the ground. We came up with a strong business plan and we had a way to tell our story that was super impactful. And it’s a key part because I see a lot of guys in this space of being trainers for whether it be law enforcement, military because there really are a lot of entities out there doing a lot of different things, especially in the tactics, firearms, training, tactical medicine arena. We had the ability to team up with Paul Bourcq with Drift Media Productions. And that guy is just, you know, he’s active duty. He’s a cop and he understands the mentality, but more than that, that guy is a genius in capturing the essence of what training is, of capturing the emotion of it and putting that into film. And so that asset and the guy did so much work for us. That was pro bono because he believed – obviously because his career field – in what we were and what we were doing and how we were doing it.

So that elevated us to a certain degree, you know, not having to pay for that. I don’t think that a lot of people really understand how much media costs. It’s pretty incredible. Especially when you talk about doing full length video promotions, things of that sort. We had to team up with him and another company to do a segment that was called – and they were trying to push it towards a show. It never materialized, but we still have the intro to it. It’s a video called… what is it? Contra Group: Business End of Freedom. And it really gives us a great snapshot of the company and the capability that we have and the difference that we can make.

You know, it was difficult from a standpoint of now I’m working with primarily three other Naval Special Warfare guys who are dropping most of what they’re doing in their personal lives to now do a startup company. And as most people know, with any startup of anything, whether it’s a company, a nonprofit organization, you’re not making money at first. And you’re putting money in, you’re putting in an insane amount of time – developing curriculum, developing your niche, your methodology, and so on and so forth. And you know, these guys were really great about digging in and doing that and not really expecting a whole lot in return on the front end.

And I think that’s a very unique characteristic, especially when going into business with multiple people – people who understand and have a passion for what the product is, but even more so that understanding, hey man, this isn’t going to be get-rich-overnight type of deal. There has to be another anchor there. And really, ours was those stories that would repeatedly come back like, “Hey man, your training made a difference. Your training helped save lives. Your training helped put us out in a space where we weren’t before. That’s amazing.” And you know, we were able to really bridge some of those gaps, not without challenge.

I will say that people, entities, whatever they are looking into getting into this type of business, whether it be outsourcing training in any capacity, just understanding the dynamics. I would say that cold calling, having a list of police departments or contacts and saying, “Hey, we have this great product. We’d love to come out and train you,” that may be a way in, but that’s not going to be a sustainment mechanism. And we thought it was at first. We were like, we have this superior product. We have it all packaged up. We have our curriculum and we have an ability to capture it, to show it, to advertise it so on and so forth.

And you know, we were really using social media – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube – as a mechanism for advertisement. And you know, looking at all of those, those can be great resources, a) if you know how to manipulate them, b) if you understand the algorithms because there’s definitely algorithms out there. And it just takes a lot of time. And we weren’t outsourcing that tasking. We collectively did it. One of the guys that founded the company with me, he was great on Instagram and he really dug in and figured out some of those algorithms and help us get a foothold there.

But I will say that, you know, in this space, your ability to understand grants and grant writing. So after 9/11, many, many grants, specifically the Global War on Terror and Terror grants were granted to law enforcement entities across the country. And there’s so much weight with being able to either a) have a grant writer or b) having someone within your company that knows how to write grants. What that affords you the ability to do is to go to target a specific police department or entity that you want to work with and that can be law enforcement, that can be military. Most of your military and federal contracts go through FedBizOpps. But even still there, there are grants. If you understand the grant mechanism and you can go to them and pitch, you know, this is our product, this is what we can do, but more importantly, we can get you a grant to pay for 50%, 60%, 80%, 100% of this training. Then it’s a no brainer. And really for us, we had a different sell. You know, TacMed in and of itself is important.

What we did see at first when we were just trying to spearhead the police departments without the grants was that when they would get their annual funding, a lot of that would go towards gear. It would go towards kit. It would go towards armored vehicles, things of that sort. And you know, additional CQC/CQB type training, SWAT training. And it seemed like TacMed was kind of the last thing. And there’s a reason for that. The reason for that is because a lot of operators, a lot of guys in that space, and not even operators, just law enforcement in general, when they think TacMed, they think of like, oh my God, man, three days sitting death by PowerPoint and then doing some practicals. And that is completely the antithesis of what we do with our training packages.

Aaron  43:53
That’s cool.

JB  43:53
And so, you know, being able to paint that picture, being able to write a grant, get approval of the grant and present it and get them to funding, is it a lot of work? Yes. And you know, we had a staff of four people and it was extremely challenging and we were not all exactly co-located. We were probably spread out over – I don’t know, over 150, 200 miles, and then we would come together collectively to train a couple of times a month and then we would execute contracts, so on and so forth. And so that was really one of the bigger challenges.

And I cannot express enough number one, the ability to forge relationships, even over the grant writing or anything else, even over being a good salesman. I’ve met people in my life that they could sell anything, but if you can develop a relationship with someone and developing those professional relationships a lot of times requires a whole lot less of this and a whole lot more of this – listening to them, listening to their challenges, listening to some of the things that they’re facing within their organization, within their team, within their company, and on the flip end of it, being able to relate to them and then saying, “You know what, we can help you with that. And we’re not going to charge you an arm and a leg.”

A thing that we would do with a lot of our host agencies that would host the training, we would offer them two or three free seats. Hey, we’re coming to your house, we’re using your resources. We’re going to throw you guys a bone and give you a couple of free seats. And you know, in the process, if you guys can contact some of your neighboring departments and get some guys out here, that would be great. And we really encourage multi-jurisdiction training. And again, I’m speaking within the law enforcement capacity.

You don’t see – I would say, I’ll use the term “cops” even though it’s a term that I don’t like to like to use. But cops in general, they don’t play well with others. And what I mean by that is, so if you’re trying to set up a training course for say a couple of Sheriff’s Departments, a City Police Department and then you want to bring in FBI SWAT team, you’re going to meet some resistance. And you know, I’m not going to go into the weeds. I think most of your listeners can understand and even relate to that. However, if you can bridge that gap, if you can make that happen, the upshot to being able to do that is these guys are now getting to work together, getting to share tactics, getting to share experiences, but it’s also breaking down those walls. And those same walls existed with us in the military. Marines, generally, we didn’t play well with the Navy. We didn’t play well with the Air Force. Well, you know, Air Force, we were just disgruntled against those guys because they had it so well, man.

Aaron  47:02
Oh, right, they did.

JB  47:04
You know, Ivy League. We’re out in the field. Yeah, man, we go out to the field for two, three days and then we come back, and you know, what are we going to stay out there for you? And they’re all great professionals from the Air Force as well. But there’s that unsaid rivalry, I guess, to some degree. And being able to break down those walls within a law enforcement, whether it be federal and municipal or even state, is a great thing to be able to do. And you know, once they get to the training and you get out of the classroom and you get them out of their comfort zone and we go back to what we were saying before you start making them suffer a little bit physically and psychologically, next thing, they’re working together and they’re like, you know, this is a one flight. This is a one mission, one flight. And we’re training for the Superbowl and training for the big game, for that day where nothing goes right and we’re against all odds and we’re trying to trying to achieve a common goal. And you know, the state that we live in now with the uptake in active shooters, domestic terror, and even international terror lurking in the shadows, these men and women, they’re on all the time.

You know, I have so many people that ask, “Why didn’t you ever go into law enforcement yourself?” And I don’t know that I could do it. A buddy of mine who’s a great friend and he’s a cop in Texas. He said, “Think about the dynamic between law enforcement and like, say firefighters.” He said, “90% of what we’re going to, people don’t want us there. All the cops are getting called.” He’s like, “Firefighter shows up your house is burning down.” I’m like, “Oh my god, yes, these are the firefighters.” But he said, “It’s a different stigma with us.” And that’s something that you have to continually deal with and not internalize. And that just really goes back to your mindset and believing in what you’re doing and not compromising what you think is right.

Aaron  49:15
Yeah. Well, as the company has been growing, you know, where would you assess that you guys are in terms of your growth? I mean, it sounds like it’s a band of four guys and you’ve divided the labor up. So, you know, everybody’s got their own lanes of responsibility for the most part and you’re out pursuing contracts and you’re executing those contracts and the actual work. But you know, what’s the future? What’s the trajectory look like?

JB  49:43
Right. It’s funny you say that because I learned a valuable lesson with the first nonprofit that I started and that was Team X-T.R.E.M.E. I was so on fire and so passionate about that and I’m going to admit, I was very, very arrogant in that. Like I don’t care about anything else. We’re doing a good thing. This is a good thing that we’re doing and nothing else matters. And I’m jamming square pegs into round holes. And I didn’t value relationships and developing relationships in a capacity that I have learned from since. There was definitely some suffering for myself there. And you know, with Contra Group, with Carry On, everyone that’s involved in either of those entities, we’ve all mutually agreed that it’s going to be a slow burn.

Aaron  50:35

JB  50:35
Things to go up fast have a tendency to come crashing down. And so to answer your question, you know, currently because of everything that’s going on and we’re somewhat a little at a lull, a lot of the departments are doing their training internally. And obviously, there’s a focus towards an active situation that’s going on instead of more so to the training capacity. We still work various contracts on the side. Not too long ago, we got to work with a team down in Texas, down in Southern Texas, and doing our first SWAT course where it was something that we typically didn’t set out to do, but we developed the curriculum with the help of a lot of great guys and put on our first SWAT course down there.

So we’re in the space, but we’re at somewhat of a plateau right now to where we’re trying to figure out like where to take it from here and really use the current atmospherics of what’s going on. I think that with the whole COVID-19 thing, one of my biggest fears, number one, it was as a result of COVID-19, the social unrest and some of the challenges that our law enforcement and first responders were going to face potentially to that. But even to a greater level, us focused so intently on something that our international enemies and international terror would take advantage and/or exploited. We’ve had conversations and talked about how to affect that and how to make sure that these men and women are as spanned up as they need to be.

One of the biggest challenges that we’ve had in this space really has been to pay, I guess, our medical didactics with the EMS, the frontline EMS. a lot of teams across the nation, they’re utilizing their EMS assets when they do high risk warrants issues or whatever it is that they’re doing. And we really push to adopt a more militarized medical capability and that would be with any of your Tier 2/Tier 1 assets. They have dedicated 18 Delta Special Forces medics, PJs. They have those attached to those assets that not only are they medical, but they’re also shooters as well. They’re tacticians. And you don’t see that as much in the law enforcement community as you do in the military and we really believe that that can be a bridge that we can assist in gapping.

Aaron  53:26
No, you’re definitely headed down the right track. Because I just want to applaud you for not taking the bait or going for the shiny “sexy”, you know, just the appeal of, hey, I’m going to take a company. We’re going to grow up from nothing to a billion in six months. And so it’s obvious to me, you’re well on your way because you’re in it for the long game, right? And actually, I tell my clients, I’m in the marketing space. This is what I do. Like the media production, the social media stuff. And it is all about patience. You have to be patient. And you hit it on the head, which is focus on building a relationship. How can you add value?

Because I’m telling you, what you are communicating and just the examples that you’ve given me is that is brand building, that at its essence is brand building. And brand building is simply executing on what you said you’re going to do and overall product or service satisfaction, period. And so when you’re getting a text from a guy coming off of like a really high stakes situation and his pulse is up and he’s starting to come down and you get that text, that’s validation. Your brand has been cemented into his brain probably for the rest of his life.

JB  54:55
And you know, it’s funny you mentioned that because as part of this plateau that we’re currently experiencing, we – as many, many other companies have done – try to think of out-of-the-box solutions to generate revenue. And one of those bridges that we came out was taking our training and redirecting it towards the civilian populace. Obviously, we believe in our product, we believe in our capability, but to sustain a revenue flow. And man, we went back and forth on it. And you know, are you going to compromise or not? And that’s not to say that teaching civilians or working with civilians would be any level of compromise, but now you’re entering a completely different space. You’re entering a completely different realm and you have to pick and choose. You really have to pick and choose.

And here’s what I mean by that. And I’ll just dive into that a little bit is that within doing training, whether it be firearms for civilians, whether it be even medical to whatever degree, you’re looking at a lot of liability, whereas departments military, they’re covering liability to a certain degree and obviously we have our own. But with civilians, there’s an elevated level of liability there and a much, much higher risk of something going wrong. And in our sphere and in our world, one mishap, one person getting injured, or God forbid, someone getting killed, you’re done, you’re marked. And that is something that I will say that within our niche, within our community, it’s very small, it’s very, very small. Word travels pretty fast.

And if you get blacklisted as a training provider, you’re almost done. And you can get blacklisted, and when I say that, you know, I mean, figuratively speaking, but you can get blacklisted for a lot of different things, man. Not keeping your training or your methodology up-to-date, teaching stuff that’s extremely outdated, going to a client, going to a team that, you know, there’s a team in Texas that we’ve done some work with. They invited us out to go to their basic and their own advanced SWAT school. And these guys going two times a year down to Virginia Beach and doing training with Tier 1 assets. So if we roll in their house and we offer them training and we’re doing some hokey smudge podge, freaking 13, 15-year outdated stuff, automatically, they’re going to be like, these guys are just – they’re regurgitating.

And there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of that in this business. And it is extremely difficult to keep yourself relevant. Myself in any level of operational capacity, it’s been at least four years since I’ve been downrange operational. That experience that I had then is obsolete. Well, it was obsolete really years ago. And when you step in front of someone to train them or to offer them a product consuming whatever the business may be, if you’re irrelevant or if the market or whatever has evolved and you’re still trying to sell yesterday’s crap, then you’re just going to lose credibility. And again, that’s huge.

Aaron  58:27
Yeah. Well, and especially in your realm, that’s even harder to do. Because I mean, just the process of being ready and able to go downrange. And it’s like this little bubble world that you live in, and then when you come out of it, you’re out of it. And so it’s like keeping yourself relevant. So that’s going to be the biggest challenge, especially the longer you are out of it, then it becomes even more of a challenge because you’re going to have some clients that maybe were in a similar line of work. But now they’re working for a Sheriff’s Department or whatever, but they’ve only been out for two years. And so, theoretically, even his older training is more current than what you had. So that chant, that loop of like, okay, how do we keep up to speed? How do we keep up? How do we stay in the know of what’s current, what’s relevant? That way, we can still try to kind of match them?

JB  59:26
There is a way to do that. There is a way to do that. And it takes the individual and the leadership, the leadership element, the ability to eat some humble pie and understand that –  and myself included – you might’ve been hot stuff a year ago or two years ago, you might’ve been a freaking straight gunslinger, but you’re not today. So the only way that you’re going to make yourself relevant is to either a get training yourself from those entities that are doing it, develop those relationships, or eat a piece of humble pie and say, you know what, I can still be a leadership element or aspect of this, but I need to find the young men and the young women who do have that experience, who were in the arena yesterday and who have the most relevant experience and bring them in. And now the focus is no longer going to be on JB. The focus isn’t going to be on this other guy. The focus is going to be on them. Because guess what they just became or what they are, they’re the SMEs. They’re the subject matter experts.

And you know, you have polarized singular entities within our sphere that have developed a name for themselves based on their backgrounds, their Special Operations backgrounds or whatever background you might have as being the guru, the subject, you are the man. But time has a way of proving to us that we no longer have the current knowledge and it’s very difficult and I’ve crossed this bridge myself. It’s very difficult to kind of pass that torch off and say, you know, this is still Contra Group. This is still a company that I have command and control over, but I am no longer the top level SME. And in order to keep this company and to keep our methodology fresh and relevant, I need to bring in the guys, I need to bring in the gals who do have that experience, who do have that niche, and make them front and center.

Aaron  1:01:39
You’re just being smart.

JB  1:01:39
I know for a fact all the guys that started this company with me, we’re all alphas and we’ve grown down like brothers before and turn right around and giving each other hugs or whatever. And you know, it’s that ability to set the crop right, right? Because when you build something, there’s a certain amount of pride involved. And you, as leaders, it’s very difficult sometimes to let go. And again, referring back to my early entrepreneurship with Team X-T.R.E.M.E., that was one of my biggest pitfalls, was the ability to let go and bring in new and fresh ideas and people who could affect the evolution of the organization.

Aaron  1:02:23
And that’s just wisdom. I mean, clearly, you’re thinking at the level, I mean, you’re a business leader. It’s like, well, am I going to let myself be torpedo us? Or am I going to think about what’s best for the business? Not maybe what’s best to stroke my ego. And so, I mean, power to you.

JB  1:03:45
You know, I don’t have a degree. I don’t have a background in business, but I have 43 years of life experience and a lot of mistakes I learned from. You know, my father, he is the king of euphemisms and he told me at a very young age, he’s like, “You got to be, my son, because there’s no way for you to learn, but the hard way.” But you know, if we can take those lumps and those hits and learn from them and not let them completely destroy us and just learn to adopt the humility, I think in business humility is one of the biggest things that really separates you apart from others. And that’s through the mechanisms that I utilize – LinkedIn and then some others, I try to exhibit that humility, and really, I get a lot of feedback from people.

Just this past week, I had a guy reach out to me on LinkedIn and in reference to a post that I made and the verbiage that I used in the post was indicative or referencing another very known personality within our sphere. One who has endless combat experience. He wrote a book on the subject matter and that particular subject was on the psychology of warfare. And he has a couple of key coined phrases. And I made a very slight, I guess, dig at one of his philosophies. And you know, I had a guy that contacted me through a DM and said, “I don’t know why you would say this. This guy is a pinnacle of psychological the mindset and so on and so forth.”

And you know, I could have been like, well, you know, it’s a free world, free country or whatever. I can say whatever I want. And you know what, you’re exactly right. And I respect your input. I respect your opinion. And I also respect the fact that if you saw it that way, then other people may have seen it that way as well. And you know, I could have been pretty arrogant. And well, 13 years ago, I would have been really arrogant and told him to go pound sand. And so, you know, taking that and translating that over into a business. Again, I’m super grounded by the lessons taught to me not only by life, but by my father.

Aaron  1:05:16
Yeah. Well, no doubt. That’s had a lasting impact on you and it shaped you into just your character and to who you are today. But JB –

JB  1:05:26
As a leader, man, you know, I have people come straight down, they ask me about my faith about how that impacts my leadership, my work, companies, my entrepreneurship or whatever, and I am a spiritual person. I do believe. What I believe in doesn’t necessarily matter. But what I think that matters the most is that I believe in something that’s larger than myself, and that transcends through you as a person, as a human being. And if you don’t look at yourself as the center of gravity and you believe in something higher, I think that that has a really, really profound impact.

Aaron  1:06:12
Oh, love it. Love it. And JB, I just want to thank you for taking time to come on to be with me, to share your story. I mean, I really do treasure it and it’s just been a pleasure to be able to meet you. And obviously, this is just the beginning, but I just want to thank you.

JB  1:06:33
Thank you so much for having me on. It’s been a pleasure.

Aaron  1:06:33
And what a powerful story. I loved having JB on the show and I just loved just hearing his experiences. It’s clear that he has had a whirlwind of a career and the experiences that he’s had are just incredibly unique. But you know, I love also how he’s just been very open and transparent about his entrepreneurial journey. You know, as entrepreneurs, we’re all in different stages and phases of that journey and that process. And so you know, there’s a strength to being able to own the fact that, hey, we’re more interested in building relationships. We’re more interested in doing a great freaking job first and foremost rather than scale. And so you see that a lot, and I’m not trying to knock it, but you do see a lot of the fact that, hey, I want to grow this big and better. Well, why? Why can’t we focus on doing a great job? And so that’s something that JB is clearly doing.

And so I would encourage you to check out what the Contra Group is doing, especially if you’re in law enforcement. I mean, I would highly suggest that you take a look at what he’s doing. Highly qualified group of people and the curriculum and the products and the services they provide are our top, top, top notch. And so that gives a little bit of insight into his character and to just who JB is. And then also check on his nonprofits. He’s clearly making a mark in the nonprofit space and just a very selfless and just amazing human. So anyway, thank you so much for watching. I’m excited that you’d spent some time watching this episode.

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