Q&A: Robert Blanton // Warfighter Made
With Military Month underway here at UTVUnderground.com, we thought it would be cool to dig into Warfighter Made and give you better insight to who and what these guys are all about. For me getting to know Robert Blanton, Co-Founder of Warfighter Made, has changed my life. Being involved is personal now for me. I feel that way because not only have I gotten to experience their work being a part of 2 “recreational therapy” trips, but I have seen just how hard Robert and his partners Brian and Butch work at helping veterans and their families. Robert has given so much to this country, yet he continues to give and to support his brothers & sisters. So I wanted to take the time to ask Robert some questions that I am sure many of you are wondering.
Joey DiGiovanni: Robert, its been great getting to know you over the past couple of years. But for those who don’t know you, tell us a bit about yourself.
Robert Blanton: I grew up in Santa Rosa, CA and in my senior year of high school, I joined the Marine Corps after four of my friends did. I am the guy that, “if your friend jumps off a bridge, will you?” Yes, yes I will!
I graduated bootcamp in October 1993 and started out as an infantry Marine. I did a combat deployment to Somalia in 1995, then later that year I passed the Force Recon Indoc and became a Recon Marine. I served with 1st Force Recon Company from 1996 to 2005 and did a total of five deployments with them, including two combat deployments to Iraq. I was a part of the Force Recon platoon that inserted into Iraq the night before the ground war started and credited with being the first Marines in Iraq.
I then served with 3rd Special Operations Training Group, Okinawa, Japan, as a Close Quarters Battle, Urban Sniper, and Explosive Breaching instructor. Before leaving Japan, I was a Platoon Sergeant at 3rd Recon Battalion, and did a third deployment to Iraq, which is where I was awarded the Silver Star. I retired in 2014 after 21 years.
My wife of 20 years retired from the Marines in 2013, and we have a son who’s a Corpsman in Navy and our Daughter starts college in the fall. She’s interested in joining the Navy as an officer to become a doctor. I guess service to our country is in our blood?
Joey DiGiovanni: So, What is Warfighter Made and who are the guys with you behind creating this organization?
Robert Blanton: Warfighter Made is an organization that assists veterans in all branches of the military, by using various forms of recreational therapy to put a stop to veteran suicide. 22 veterans commit suicide every day and we’re working to put an end to it.
We have three main missions, which are as follows:
1.We adapt, and customize a combat wounded Veteran’s vehicle, so they can continue doing the things they enjoy, while their vehicle reflects their individual personality.
2.We invite ill, injured and combat wounded Veterans to participate in our recreational therapy trips. These adventures include shooting at ranges, participating in Lucas Oil Off Road events, our outdoor adventures with our Polaris RZRs.
3.We work with other like minded nonprofits, businesses and individuals to ensure the Veteran gets the best experience possible.
Warfighter Made was co founded by Brian Meyer, a medically retired Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Marine, who lost his right leg, right hand and his thumb, index and middle fingers on his left hand, in an IED blast. There is a viral picture of Brian smiling for the camera minutes after being blown up. He took that picture for his brothers in arms, as a “don’t worry about me boys, you go on and handle your business!” Brian says he can tell a lot about a person based on their reaction to that photo.
Butch Lynch has been in the automotive industry for forty plus years as a painter and fabricator. While not a veteran, Butch has always had a profound respect for those who served. Butch and I became friends in 2009, when a mutual friend of ours was having Butch work on my 1969 Camaro while I was deployed. Butch understands perseverance, having survived cancer after the doctors told him there was little chance of him doing so. To date Butch has helped dozens of veterans by adapting and customizing their vehicles.
Joey DiGiovanni: What was the biggest motivating factor for you in creating Warfighter Made?
Robert Blanton: It started with Vietnam veterans. Vietnam era warfighters were so screwed over by America as a whole, that guys like Brian and I get the best care available today, because Vietnam veterans stood together to ensure no generation of warfighter was treated as poorly as their generation. Today we have lots of programs to help us with our respective injuries, but some of these programs are experimental and what may have worked for you, didn’t work for me.
Myself being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury, I went through lots of different programs trying to get relief from my symptoms. Unfortunately it all came to a head in 2011 and I almost became a statistic. My wife reached out to Butch to get me more involved with my Camaro, and I found it helped me a lot. The focus needed while working on it helped me forget about my triggers, and looking forward to driving the car again helped me focus on the future.
Shortly thereafter we met Brian who wanted to ride his Harley Night Train again after being injured. We were having so much fun on that build, really just hanging out with each other creating something, that we figured we should get more veterans involved and Warfighter Made was started.
We got introduced to the off road community by Adam Fitza at Axis Rod Ends, and the rest is history. The off road community completely embraced us and we progressed from adapting and customizing vehicles, to doing recreational therapy trips with RZRs that were donated to us by Polaris.
Warfighter Made specializes in adrenalin based therapies; the types of therapies you have to devote 100% of your attention too, not leaving time for negative thoughts or triggers that consume so many of us.
We also have great relationships with other nonprofits like Race For The Wounded, VETMotorsports, Whishes For Warriors, Manzanita Ranch, and Semper Fi Fund. That’s important since trust is everything in our industry and these nonprofits have a proven track record of putting the warfighter first, which is how we do business.
Joey DiGiovanni: Talk a little bit about how Warfighter Made has made a difference in someone’s life. Is there a specific person or story that really solidified Warfighter Made’s purpose in the world?
Robert Blanton: We gauge our success by the smiles on our injured warfighters faces, how willing they are to work with us again, and the important one, will they recommend us to their buddies? On those three points, we’re very successful.
Every veteran we work with is important to us, but the real pivotal moments don’t really come from the veterans themselves, they come from the veterans families. Our proudest moments are when a spouse thanks us from the bottom of their hearts, because they felt like they had run out of options with their vet, and they didn’t know what else to do, and participating with us, has had a positive effect on their mentality and attitude. Therapy is not a “one and done” deal, so we work with the injured vet as often as they need it, or we always stay in touch to ensure we’re available if the vet needs us.
Joey DiGiovanni: Where do you see Warfighter Made in the future?
Robert Blanton: I’m excited for the future! For three years we’ve been building a strong foundation and we have the support of great companies that desire to give back to our Nation’s injured warfighters. Our goal right now is to open up our own shop, where we can work on projects for injured vets like a 67 Camaro for Army veteran and single leg amputee Rob Dickie, or a 71 Nova for Marine vet and triple amputee Juan Dominguez. A place to work on and prep our four donated Polaris RZRs, and most importantly, a place a vet who just feels like they need a break from their issues, can come and be surrounded by like minded individuals and can hang out in peace, or talk out some of their frustrations. Anything we can do to put a stop to 22 veterans committing suicide a day.
I also see us expanding our National reach, big time. We recently received a grant from the Cruise Industry Charitable Foundation to cover the travel expenses of injured veterans, allowing us to bring them to our events from around the country. We’ve also been contacted by organizations that are putting on events, that want Warfighter Made to be a part of. It’s awesome when a group has everything done and in place and we can show up and really enjoy their event. It’s always a great experience for our veterans.
Warfighter Made has also been requested for and enjoys doing speaking engagements, which is an awesome way for us to make an impact on an audience with our experiences in leadership, and overcoming obstacles, while also raising awareness for our injured warfighters.
The future really is about expanding our reach and letting ill, injured and combat wounded service members and veterans know, we’re here to provide them with another form of therapy
Joey DiGiovanni: With companies like Polaris and UTVUnderground amongst others helping you raise funds for the organization, what do you want people to know in terms of how these funds are and will be used?
Robert Blanton: The important thing to know about Warfighter Made is it is a federally recognized 501 (c)(3) charity and we have no paid employees. Eventually we will hire a fabricator/shop manager when we are in a position to open a shop, but those funds will come directly from corporate sponsors.
100% of donations we receive from individuals goes directly to the support of injured warfighters.
Donations we receive from businesses and groups are used for apparel costs, travel expenses and for the conduct of our mission.
Our 2013 taxes are open for review and 2014’s will be made public when complete.
Joey DiGiovanni: Is there anything else you want people to know?
Robert Blanton: Talking care of our Nation’s injured warfighters starts at home. Find a veteran in need and help out. A good place to start is your local Veteran’s Center, VFW and American Legion posts. Locate small veteran based nonprofits operating in your area and donate time and/or money. With your help, we can put an end to veteran suicide.
Help us in supporting Robert & the Warfighter Made Organization by making a donation! Together we can all help in giving back to those who sacrificed so much….