“Freedom isn’t something that should embarrass your wife, and patriotism isn’t something that your kids should have to look away from,” says Larry Asher, former Green Beret and President of TruPatriot, a patriotic lifestyle apparel company.
This was the primary motivation for Asher when he started the brand in 2018. “Honestly, I did not see myself starting a business at this point in my life, especially in apparel,” he says. “However, there were several veteran-owned apparel companies developing a large platform to speak from, and it caught my attention. Their message sounded good on the surface, but the more I learned, the more disappointed I became.” Their message, in his view, was adolescent: “They spoke of patriotism and freedom, but it was obvious that profits were being placed ahead of principles. A friend of mine described their marketing well: Booze, Babes, and Brutality. This is all in addition to the irony of promoting patriotism on imported shirts; they allude to being made in America but are unwilling to commit to US manufacturing. Even more so, they present themselves as veteran advocates but promote the use of alcohol and excessive drinking to sell their products. Look at the veteran suicide rate! Drugs and alcohol are not the answer.”
Asher felt that this issue was too important to stay silent. “This is not how I want to be represented as a veteran; it is a discredit to those who did not make it back,” he emphasizes. “We need to honor the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. This country was founded on principles; not self-indulgence.” Troubled by what he was seeing, he attempted to reach out to these companies directly, but he found his concerns falling on deaf ears. It was then that TruPatriot was born: “After a few sleepless nights, and talks with my wife and our son Dale, TruPatriot was formed. Dale and I founded TruPatriot on Memorial Day of 2018. Our goal with the company is to honor freedom and promote patriotism, with a commitment to selling products that are 100% made in the USA. Today, along with our TruPatriot graphic tees and other apparel, we work with a number of veteran-owned businesses and veteran-based nonprofits, helping them with their custom apparel needs and fundraising efforts. TruPatriot is proud to say we donate a portion of every sale to the Green Beret Foundation.”
A native of Long Beach, California, Asher spent his formative years in Ohio before joining the Ohio Army National Guard in 1981, while he was still in high school. After going active in 1984, he started off as an Armored Crewman on the M60A3 series tank. Over the course of three years, he performed the duties of driver, loader, and gunner. On occasion, he even acted as a tank commander being responsible for the vehicle and the crew.
Following that, for just over three years Asher served as a Cavalry Scout in the 82nd Airborne Aviation Brigade, operating on HMMVs in coordination with OH58D, Black Hawks, Cobras, and Apache helicopters. He recalls, “My most memorable experience with the 82nd was during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. We were at the top of our game. As scouts, we were assigned three primary missions: FARP (Forward Area Resupply Point) Security missions, DART (Downed Aircraft Recovery Team) missions, and EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) missions. We had three scout platoons and rotated through each of the missions.”
Following the Gulf War, Asher attended the Qualification course, earned his Green Beret as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant, learned the Czech language, and was assigned to 10th Special Forces Group. His team’s area of responsibility was the Czech and Slovak Republics. “Highlights of my time with 10th Group include being assigned to the US Embassy in Prague working as an assistant to the Defense Attaché to the Czech Republic, counter-drug operations, and training Canadian soldiers in light infantry weapons and tactics—among other assignments.”
It was a parachuting accident, in August of 1994, that changed the trajectory of Asher’s career as a Green Beret. He remembers:
“We were in La Motte, France to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of France in WWII. We had French, British and U.S. Special Forces jumping into the ceremony. We were jumping from French Pumas, planning to exit at 12,000 feet. However, the pilots arrived late, and to make up some time, we exited at 5,000 feet. I noticed the lower jumper and I were heading to the same point in the sky; he was already in his opening sequence, and it didn’t leave me a lot of time to make a decision. I decided to open my chute, hoping it would pull me away. As I got vertical, I hit the top of his chute and tried to walk off, but I went right through it. His lines wrapped around my neck. As he was hanging from my neck, I tried to free the lines; after three or four tries, I lost consciousness.” Fortunately, Asher came to: “When I woke up, my helmet was gone, and all I could remember was that I’d had a problem. I cut away my main, pulled my reserve, checked my chute, and then checked my altimeter – all completely backwards; I was under the canopy at 1,100 feet. Fortunately, I had a good landing—right in front of the French Foreign Minister of Defense. Not knowing that anything had happened, he was all smiles. The other jumper had also been able to cut away, and he’d had a good landing as well. It was a miracle in itself that we both walked away from it.”
After the accident, Asher’s request to attend the Special Forces Medical Course had been approved, and he and his family moved to Ft. Sam Houston, which would be the last class taught in San Antonio before it was moved to Ft. Bragg. Still, there were lingering effects from the parachuting incident that persisted. What Asher thought was just rope burn and whiplash, he soon learned was much more. Doctors determined that his spinal cord was damaged, flattened through the C5, C6, and C7 vertebrae. “They told me that if I wanted to keep walking, I would have to stop jumping,” he says. “And so I was medically discharged in October of 1995.”
Asher likens transitioning, at that point in his life, to “graduating from high school with a wife and two kids.” At 32, he moved the family out to Abilene, Kansas, and took a job at a grocery store for a $5 hourly wage. “That’s what I made right after high school, and after working there for a week or two I figured that I could make more working for myself,” says Asher, “so I started a woodworking business.” That led to work at a cabinet shop and then work in a carpentry and remodeling business.
It was the VA Vocational Rehab program that put Asher on the college path. He went to school full time, earning a Computer Science degree in only 3.5 years. “Graduating at 36, it was an odd feeling knowing that I would be competing against people in their early 20’s. I wondered who would want to hire someone my age,” he worried. However, he has been fortunate since then to have found more than one great career opportunity, and the rest, he says, is history. “I’ve worked for some really great companies; four, to be exact, and one bad one. I have had some great experiences. I started off at the bottom working as a software engineer and controls engineer, applied myself to learning, understanding the problems and working to make a difference. Within the course of six years, I found myself heading down the management path, working in various management roles for global manufacturing companies.”
How did the military prepare him for his education, future career path, and successes?
“When I was in high school, I wasn’t a great student,” says Asher. “Being a Green Beret gave me the confidence to know that I could achieve things. What I learned in the Army, as a Green Beret, was that success does not always go to those who are the most able, but more often to those who have the most desire.” Goal setting was also key: “I developed an expectation for myself, realizing that I do not have to be the best, but that I could be among the best. I came to believe that if I apply myself I should be able to finish in the top 20%.” While this took extra work, it was well worth it in the end for the lessons that he could share with his children today.
“Going to college, it had been 15 years since I’d graduated high school. They even wanted to put me on some form of probation as a student, because even the college didn’t believe that I’d be able to make it academically,” he shares. Still, Asher kept his focus and made the extra effort to prove those naysayers wrong. Meeting with professors outside of class, and seeking out help in individual subjects, he eventually made it to the college’s Honor Roll. “It was definitely a contrast to my high school years, but the Q Course and everything I had done as a Green Beret had taught me that I CAN. I say the same thing to my boys today: You don’t have to be the strongest or the fastest, you do have to be strong and you do have to be fast. Find something that you are passionate about, apply yourself, and know why you want it. Nothing good comes easy. Your desire will be measured by what you are willing to go through to accomplish your goals, knowing the ‘why’ can make all the difference.”
In short, he says, “I talk to them about pursuing ‘their own Green Beret.’ Let each of them fulfill their own dreams. Whatever they want to do, I will support them 100%.”
In part, for Asher, the key to business success in the years since earning his college degree has been found in the willingness to seek responsibility at his job.
“Everywhere I went, I found myself seeking out positions of greater responsibility,” he shares. “I think that is who we are as Green Berets. What you find is that not everyone is wired like that. Most people don’t want to be responsible for work outcomes nor do they want to contribute to the work process, those that do will excel. As a Green Beret, I learned a lot about management, building rapport, taking responsibility and owning the outcomes. Adding to that, today’s Green Berets are well versed in Project Management, it’s impressive to see. These are all great skills. As transferable as they are, when entering a new career field, we still have to put the time in to learn about the business, the processes, and the operations that we hope to be a part of and/or manage. We have to prove ourselves, it’s no different than being on a team. I believe Green Beret’s embrace this much easier than other senior NCO’s and officers simply because the nature of a Green Beret’s role, nothing is beneath them – if it needs to be done, they will do it.”
There is one more important consideration from Larry Asher’s transition story that he wishes to share with others. It is, he believes, a way that we may better be able to assist our transitioning veterans—by better understanding of the uniqueness of the circumstances underpinning their transitions.
Having served in various management roles since the end of 2005, developing internships, partnering with colleges and technical schools, and helping to prepare students for future careers, veterans have always been close to his heart. “I am like a big brother to them,” he says, “And through this process, I’ve identified the uniqueness of many of their needs.”
Over time, Asher observes, “I started to see that transitioning soldiers basically fit into four major categories, each with different mentoring needs. I have never heard anyone, or any organization, look at it like this. ”
“The first two groups are likely the most significant, those who plan to leave the military, and those who did not plan on leaving: Planned Transition versus an Unplanned Transition. Our Green Berets and Special Operators are more affected by this than many others.”
“Consider someone who is planning to leave the military: whether it is a career change or retirement, they have made a decision to do something different. If you are in this group you have been thinking about what’s next, you are already planning your next mission before transitioning.”
In contrast, Asher’s transition was unplanned: “I was 10 years in, and I had planned on pursuing my passions, building my ‘resume’, finishing the medical course, going to my next unit, spending a few years at SWCS to share my experience with the next generation of Green Berets, and then retiring to someplace out in the country. Suddenly, when I was injured, that all was taken away from me, and I still feel the void.”
“Green Berets and Special Operators are there because they want it more than anything else, and it’s designed to be that way from the selection process to the last deployment: the commitment, the sacrifice, the cost to the individual and the family – these guys are all in. Imagine waking up and learning you now have to do something different.”
Asher continues: “The next two groups are officers and enlisted; this is the aspect of the transition that occurred to me most recently. Employers and hiring managers all have a different perception of Officers than they do of NCO’s. Likewise, in general, officers and NCO’s have a different view of themselves. They have different career paths in the military, serve in different roles, all of which form the understanding employers have and the expectations we have for ourselves.”
All of this, Asher says, became particularly noticeable to him when he was working for one company in the role of Director of Operations. The company President, with whom he worked closely, was a former officer who commented several times, “You are a lot more hands-on than I am; this probably because of your training as an NCO.” He would even say, “You need to get yourself some lieutenants.”
He noticed that this even seemed to carry over into the interview process: “ Several of our customers had veterans managing different parts of their operations,” says Asher, “and there was often a correlation, in his thoughts, as to how their experience influenced their management style.”
Asher adds that many officers already have a college degree, which can be beneficial in the transition process. “Having a college degree is definitely a difference that needs to be considered as we mentor transitioning veterans.”
Asher clearly sees veterans fitting into one of four transition groups:
- Planned Transition – Enlisted
- Planned Transition – Officer
- Unplanned Transition – Enlisted
- Unplanned Transition – Officer
“While I am not saying that one’s transition is easier than the other,” Asher points out, “what I am saying is the challenges are different. As a community, if we could better understand that, we could help each other out so much more.”
In closing, Asher shares a special moment from one especially moving interview: “I recall sitting in the conference room with several of the senior managers asking questions of me. Then the HR manager asked me, ‘If you could do anything you want to do, what would that be?’ I paused for a moment, and then answered, ‘I would like to think that I am doing it.’ She paused, and then smiled and said, ‘Wow. I have never had anyone answer like that before.’ It was a moment for both of us. It was almost twenty years since I had left the military, and it was the first time since transitioning out of the Army that I could confidently say that I was doing what I wanted to do – not just a job or an occupation, but something much bigger than that. It was my life; and not just at that moment, but the whole of it. It’s my wish that others may feel that way, as well, especially my SF brothers.”
To learn more about Asher’s business, please visit https://trupatriot.com