Review: ‘Thank You For My Service’

From Balad to Black Rifle

Mat Best / YouTube screenshot

Mat Best is an American man's man, someone who loves "man s—t like beards and whiskey and guns and hot chicks in American flag bikinis." Beneath layers of playful, irreverent humor, Best’s memoir Thank You For My Service is a serious book about a former Army Ranger navigating his way back into civilian life, overcoming an addiction to war, and trying to support his fellow veterans.

Best's book covers everything—his decision to join the military out of high school, his deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than a modest portion of his sex life. After serving multiple deployments in Iraq, he wrestled with the question of whether to stay in the military.

"Was I going to age too rapidly and burn myself out over here and miss all of my twenties if I stayed? Probably. Would it be more rewarding to stay? Maybe. Would I regret not giving the carefree twenties a shot? I didn’t know," Best writes.

Yet the transition proved challenging. College initially seemed compelling, but an afternoon on a campus listening to students' conversations—and their "fundamental lack of understanding of how the world works"—dissuaded him from that path.

He then opted for a job in private security that ended in a booze-filled sex-fest during a party at the home of a Gatsby-esque Los Angeles billionaire. Best blasts Los Angeles for its "selfishness, rudeness, and disrespect," observing that "it's incredibly mind-blowing how quickly that town can break you down."

After leaving Los Angeles, Best became a private military contractor, a career which proved more fulfilling. It also led him to his next career: entrepreneur.

Scrolling through Facebook one night during a deployment, he found himself upset at the "pathetic chorus of first-world whining" and decided to record a song that would become his first YouTube video: "Champagne Facebook Problems."

Best's online popularity grew rapidly, and with that newfound fame came business opportunities—and realizations. As he considered how his burgeoning fame could be put toward a greater purpose, he had to confront what was keeping him from fully transitioning into civilian life: his addiction to war.

"I had transitioned out of the military once before, and re-entry had been really tough. I was worried that quitting contracting would lead to the same outcome," Best writes.

Best also feared that his time in the military "was the best time of my life," and that he would never experience anything like it again. In a particularly poignant passage, he writes that his "war was with war," and he was "fighting an addiction to war."

Contracting gave him "80 percent of the high," while allowing him to work on projects back home and recognize opportunities. He quit contracting in May 2015 to fully invest in what he had started. In addition to his YouTube videos, he had founded a T-shirt company, Article 15 Clothing, and a liquor business, Leadslingers Whiskey. He would later help to establish another company, Black Rifle Coffee.

"Tapping into my love of music and my capacity for creativity; leveraging the leadership and teambuilding skills I learned in the Army; making great things that make a lot of people happy and helping veterans and their families in the process—that is genuine purpose," Best writes.

Having fully embraced his entrepreneurial ventures, Best sought to use them in support of veterans. He doesn't discount the reality of PTSD or survivor's guilt among some veterans, but he takes issue with the media-made notion that every veteran story is an "endless parade of horribles" and veterans are "ticking time bombs waiting to explode." In his experience, many veterans "loved their time in the military" and consider it among the most "meaningful, enjoyable periods in their lives."

Best tried to make videos that appealed to veterans like him who were grateful they had the opportunity to serve, and he wanted fellow veterans and active military "to know that it was okay to laugh in the face of the horrors of war."

There is certainly no shortage of humor and patriotic fervor in his YouTube videos, with titles ranging from "How to Every Day Carry" to "Because America, That's Why," not to mention a rap battle entitled "ISIS vs. USA" (Spoiler: USA wins).

Best also built his companies on a "veteran-owned, veteran-run, veteran-supported business model."

"My hope is that through my actions as a veteran and an entrepreneur, through the choices we make as a company, that we can inspire our community and show the next generation of veterans to never let anyone or anything stand in the way of their goals," Best writes.

Best's memoir is a raw, authentic account of a soldier breaking free from a love of war and channeling his energy into a new mission in the service of his fellow fighters.