ABOUT TONY WALTERS
Please describe your service to our country: I became an officer in the United States Marine Corps in December of 2005 and served until the summer of 2015, nearly 10 years. I had an eclectic experience in the Marine Corps in that I was able to perform a number of jobs throughout my time. I was awarded an MOS of 0231 (Ground Intelligence Officer) upon graduation and was sent to 1stMarine Regiment in Camp Pendleton. There, an opportunity arose for me to deploy to Iraq as part of what was then called a Military Transition Team (MTT). As part of a 12-man team, we were tasked with living, training and working alongside an Iraqi Infantry Battalion based out of Ramadi. My role was specifically to train and aid them in Intelligence and Infantry operations. During this deployment, we were sent to Al-Basrah during the Mahdi Uprising to quell insurgent elements from the city.
After returning, I was sent to 2ndBattalion, 1stMarines and within 4 months, I was back in Iraq initially serving as the Assistant Intelligence Officer. About a month into arriving, I had the opportunity to take over an infantry platoon in Al-Qaim as the platoon commander where I remained until our return.
Shortly thereafter, I was promoted to the rank of Captain and was assigned to 1stBattalion, 1stMarines as the Battalion Intelligence Officer. Within a year, we deployed with the 13thMarine Expeditionary Unit conducting numerous exercises and operations across the Middle East and Asia.
Finally, in 2012 due in part to my past deployments and experience, I was offered the opportunity to join the Marine Special Operations Command. I received orders to the 1stMarine Raider Battalion to serve as the units Intelligence Officer. Upon arriving and attending special training, I was sent to Afghanistan where the Battalion HQ was currently deployed to better observe and learn how the unit operated. While there, I was sent to the Team level where they were conducting Village Stability Operations (VSO) in the Helmand Province. Though I was only there for 3 months, the deployment was more intense than anything I’d been through. It was here that I received shrapnel wounds in my leg from an 82mm Recoilless Rifle Round fired by the enemy. After recovering from the blast, the unit sent me back home, much to my dismay.
I was then assigned an intelligence team consisting of numerous intelligence specialties and contractors with Bravo Company, 1stMarine Raider Bn in which we deployed back to Helmand Province, Afghanistan overseeing several Special Operations Teams in Intelligence operations and High Value Targeting. Upon return from this deployment, I again assumed duties as the 1stMarine Raider Battalion Intelligence Officer developing an organic intelligence body within the unit itself (independent of enablers) until I left the service.
Injuries, if any? I received Shrapnel wounds to my right leg and torso due to a blast from an 82mm Recoilless Rifle Round while serving with Charlie Company, 1stMarine Raider Battalion.
When did you retire? I left the service in July of 2015 after approximately 10 years of service.
Please describe what the SOF brotherhood means to you: People join the military for various reasons. For some it’s to escape their home towns, to gain job experience in a trade, or a college education. For others it may be for more noble reasons such as love of country. These motivations change as you progress throughout your career and may determine why you stay, continuing to endure the work that you do. Sustained service often becomes less about trade experience or even love of country and instead, entirely about the man or woman to your left and right. Many types of motivation are fleeting but others endure. The SOF brotherhood is unique for this reason. Everyone that is willing to go through the rigors of joining SOF have a drive and motivation that lasts, that of love for his/her country and for their brothers. There also exists a drive in every member that more can be done, always pushing themselves further. This never changes and will get him or her through the worst of times. Because of this drive and mutual understanding amongst each other, you know that no matter where you are or what you are going through, there is a like-minded community of people, a brotherhood that will walk straight into hell if necessary, to stand with you and help you through to the other side.
How has the transition from warfighter to civilian gone? The transition from warfighter to civilian was much harder than I had anticipated for two reasons. One is that you lose the brotherhood you had become so accustomed too. When you’re in, it’s easy to take this brotherhood for granted. When you leave, their lives continue and you are no longer there, at least not in the same capacity. I had always wondered why places like the VFW or American Legion existed and why these men and women have such a desire to consistently hang out with each other and reminisce of their time in service. Now, it has become clear that there is a bond there that most civilians will never understand. And therefore, it’s easy to become isolated upon transition which for many leads to depression.
The second reason is because while serving, you were only focused on the next mission. When you leave, you suddenly have time to work through everything that you’ve seen and done. For some, this hits hard and you have to reconcile your way through these things. My advice to anyone transitioning is that you must reconcile through these things but do so by staying connected to the brotherhood that understands you. Yet at the same time, move forward. In other words, find a new mission but remember your roots. And always remember you’re not alone.
What is the name of the business you started? Sheepdog Strong. The word Sheepdog is a common term amongst the Military and Law Enforcement communities, derived from the idea that the civilian population are sheep, just minding their own business living their lives in peace. Yet there are wolves out there that wish to prey on the sheep and disrupt their way of living. The Sheepdog is what stands in-between. The word Strong was chosen specifically because “strong” means more than physical strength. It includes both strength of body and strength of mind. We seek to nurture growth in both capacities.
When did you start it? Sheepdog Strong was officially formed in July of 2015 immediately upon leaving the service although the prep work began many years before that as I studied and worked towards becoming a strength coach.
Why did you start this company? Initially Sheepdog Strong was formed to provide physical fitness concepts to the Tactical Athlete. The idea began while deployed on the 13thMarine Expeditionary Unit. There I observed the individuals in our unit performing physical training. Everyone had their own idea regarding what was best to prepare them for the job. I therefore sought to determine what truly was best in training for the functional aspects of the Military, Police and Fire Fighting communities. Upon its founding however, I realized that Sheepdog Strong needed to be about something more. During my own transition from the military, I realized that many veterans were isolating themselves from their communities and were not staying physically fit but instead, reaching for the bottle. After a fellow Special Operations Marine whom I served with ended his life, I pushed to make Sheepdog Strong a community to prevent things like this happening to others. I began to create a free, weekly workout group exclusive to Veterans, Active Duty Military, LE and Fire personnel as a way to keep this like-minded group of warriors connected and extend the brotherhood outside the confines of their respective installations. I continue to hold these training events every Saturday at parks and various trail-heads in North County San Diego.
Please describe your products/services: Sheepdog Strong is primarily about community and brotherhood. We do sell apparel, fitness related gear, and programs for the Tactical Athlete all with a mission to make the Sheepdog community more effective in their duties. We do donate 10% of our gross profits to the Marine Raider Foundation, a nonprofit that serves not only Marine Raiders themselves but supports the families of those who we’ve lost in this decades long fight against terrorism. We also offer personal training for those stationed locally.
Where is it located? We are primarily an online company but are based near Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. It is our hope to someday expand our group training throughout the country and reach veterans everywhere.
What does this company mean to you/why is it important? Sheepdog Strong matters to me because of its mission and the people it serves. Regarding our physical fitness programming, we do not and cannot take our jobs lightly. Literally, lives depend on it. Numerous studies show that a physically fit person can sustain injuries better than a sedentary individual. Of course, with a physically fit individual, there is less likelihood of injury at all. Additionally, more and more studies show that the level of physical fitness in an individual has a direct impact on a person’s mental health. All of these things are critical to both those who serve and those that this community protects.
What have been some challenges as an entrepreneur? Being an entrepreneur can be an emotional roller-coaster. Sheepdog Strong has yet to become self-sustaining and therefore, I continue to work outside of the company. This means many long nights that end in the early morning hours and often for little immediate reward. When you release something new or exciting, and it does not take off as you expected, and you’re tired and your family misses spending time with you, it’s easy to question why you continue to put yourself through it. When you forego Friday night fun with friends to plan group workouts and pack a truck full of gear only to have several of your RSVPs back out due to life events, it’s difficult to coach with the same level of enthusiasm or plan the next weekends training. You often question whether or not your mission is making any sort of impact whatsoever. But what’s born in veteran service-members is a never-quit attitude and the ability to manage both highs and lows. And every now and again, there is a glimmer of something that reminds you that you’re making an impact encouraging you to keep going.
What is the best part of being an entrepreneur? Being able to create something new and make an impact on those around you. Not that long ago, the wife of a veteran who works out with us ran into another spouse of a veteran that also trains with us. I was later informed that these wives were discussing how their husbands had become noticeably happier at home and been more engaged with both them and their children ever since they joined Sheepdog Strong. I cannot express enough how much it means to know that we’re making a difference in the veteran community by creating this new brotherhood.
How did your SOF career prepare you for what you are doing now? (In what ways have you drawn on your experiences as a SOF soldier in your business life?) Besides the ability to work long hours for as long as the mission takes and a “never-quit” attitude, one thing in particular is the ability to read a situation or person and be able to formulate an action in response. In the military, it was critical that you were able to constantly evaluate your surroundings and seek to understand the people beyond what was spoken in words. It is this very thing that makes a brotherhood so strong. During our personal and group training, I’ve sought to get to know everyone I work with on a deeper level. So when performance is suffering, I can dig in a bit to understand why. Sometimes it’s more than something physical and I can pull that individual aside later and ask if there’s anything we can do to help. After our group workouts we’re able to do the same as typically, we’ll sit around on my tailgate and just chat. It’s during this time that as a community, we can ensure that we get to know everyone individually and look after each other even after the day is done.
What do you offer the consumer not only through your business, but also through your expertise as a SOF Veteran? I had the unique opportunity to be able to test and formulate strength & conditioning programs while actually serving with actual SOF members on real deployments. This is how I can say that I know our programs work. There are a lot of publications, studies, and theories that present evidence that a certain approach SHOULD work. But so many are written by a coach who never served and are based on preconceived notions, limited observation or test-tube scenario’s. And while they may not be wrong, I have the confidence to know what works beyond theory.
Who has influenced you as an entrepreneur? I grew up in a multi-generational, entrepreneurial family and believe that to a degree, it’s in my blood. The lifestyle of an entrepreneur, the long hours, late nights and no days off, is something that I witnessed personally from my father and in many of his ventures I was lucky enough to play a role in his work. This ultimately led me to Minor in Entrepreneurship & Strategy at Iowa State University and have always believed that I would create and run my own venture. The military was actually never part of the plan until the events of 9/11 persuaded me otherwise. Now I am doing what I can to find my way back to these entrepreneurial roots.
Family? I have a wife, twin step-boys, and a daughter. They have stayed by my side and supported me through all my many absences. They were a big part of why I ended up leaving the service as I struggled with the fact that I had missed much of my children’s childhood.
Why do you live where you live? I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California in mid-2007 and was lucky enough to keep orders there until I left the service in 2015. My wife and kids grew roots here and I did not want to displace them from their friends and routine and so we have elected to stay in the San Diego area. This also keeps me close to the Military and Veteran population in support of Sheepdog Strong.
Favorite food? This is a tough one. Perhaps my mothers Meatloaf. But as my wife doesn’t like meatloaf, we rarely eat it so perhaps my wife’s homemade pizza.
Favorite place in the world? Around a fire pit, in the mountains with my brothers-in-arms and a glass of whiskey in hand.
Favorite movie? Another tough question. One of the movies that impacted me the most was “End of Watch” as I feel that it does a great job of portraying the bonds between men in a dangerous profession.
Favorite book/books? One book that really stood out to me was The Old Man and The Sea. It is raw, gritty and emotionally moving. It’s one of the few books that I read entirely in one sitting. I would argue that my favorite author however is Cormac McCarthy though I typically read Nonfiction.
Pets? Our family has 2 cats and three dogs. I jokingly claim only the German Shepherd, Sampson, as mine.
What do you like to do in your spare time? With a big family, a full time job and Sheepdog Strong, I have very little spare time. I often treat my own gym time as a sanctuary and personal time and also enjoy hiking.
Words you live by (ethos)? I think best summed by Rudyard Kipling in “If.”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!