Innovators

This Veteran Risked His Savings to Build Better Armor

This Veteran Risked His Savings to Build Better Armor
Image credit: Hero Images
  • ---Shares
This story appears in the September 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

His story: I served in the Marine Corps with a man who was killed in Iraq from an IED blast. The plate he was wearing should have held the shrapnel, but it didn’t. I started my business to make better body armor because I never respected the armor the Department of Defense produces -- the structure hasn’t changed in a decade and a half, at least. I went to the drawing board in 2012 and broke down every single aspect of the armor plate to see what types of adhesives, threads and backings we could use to make it stronger. We came up with some prototypes that were a phenomenally superior product, and that’s how we got started.

Related: She Built an App Without Knowing How to Code -- and is Now a Millionaire

After my honorable discharge in 2005, I was a police officer from 2007 to 2013, then cashed out my retirement to start RMA Armament in Wyoming. It caused a little bit of marital disharmony -- my wife thought it was a stupid, reckless idea. I partnered with Burke Miehe, the founder of American Pattern in Cedar Falls. He asked how much I needed to get started. All I had was a garage, so I told him around $1 million. Without missing a beat, he said, “Come see me tomorrow.” I had to pull my car over, I was in such shock.

What we produce here is different, and proven stronger. To pass the standard muster, an armor plate has to withstand a single round from a .30-06 M2AP rifle. Last year, a National Institute of Justice -- certified laboratory tested our armor, and it withstood six rounds. That’s a feat most in the industry have never even heard of. Over the past three years, business has been so good that we can't fulfill orders fast enough. We have nine full-time people on our payroll and are looking to hire 15 more in the next year. Our daily output is anywhere from 300 to 400 plates a day, which sell from $120 to $330 each. This year, we’ll clear $3.1 million in revenue.

Related: The Surprising Second Act for One of YouTube's Biggest Stars

It’s very humbling to do what I’m doing. For us to have a 20,000-square-foot factory is a dream come true. I dive in and get covered in oil, grit and grease. I shake all of my workers’ hands every day and tell them, “Job well done.” My favorite quote is from Abraham Lincoln: “To test a man’s character, give him power.” I want people to look back one day and say I passed that test. -- As told to Matt McCue

Edition: December 2016

Get the Magazine

Limited-Time Offer: 1 Year Print + Digital Edition and 2 Gifts only $9.99
Subscribe Now