The Global Expansion of ‘Free Rangers’
By Kerry Patton
Adrenaline junkies, lovers of life, explorers, and risk takers–these are just a few of many words that describe a “Free Ranger.” If anyone asked me to define such a person, I wouldn’t be able to–I can only describe them.
Free Rangers realize what they do is not necessarily a profession nor is it necessarily a career, it’s a lifestyle.
Some persons I know have said that I am a Free Ranger but considering I really don’t understand the label, I figured it was best to discuss the term with two Americans I consider to be, well, “Free Rangers”–Matthew Van Dyke and Rob Swain.
Matthew Van Dyke is best known for fighting alongside Libyan militants who sought to see Muammar Gaddafi removed from power. He is also the creator of the documentary film on Syria called Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution.
“A Free Ranger is an individual who lives life on his own terms following his own course,” said Van Dyke. He continued by claiming the benefit that comes with working as a Free Ranger consists of being “free to work on projects of my choosing, without being forced to do anything that goes against my morality or beliefs.”
Of course there are plenty of dangers that come with working as a Free Ranger. Van Dyke has been captured, tortured, falsely labeled, misunderstood, etc. He revealed some of the dangers he encountered while working abroad.
“I have been arrested or detained in Iraq around 20 times, including being hooded and beaten. I have been accused of being in Al Qaeda and in the CIA. I was attacked by a village mob in Afghanistan. I have been branded a terrorist by the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. I was a prisoner of war for nearly six months in two of Libya’s most notorious prisons after being wounded and captured during a reconnaissance mission during the Libyan Civil War.”
–Matthew Van Dyke
Rob Swain is a much less publicly known Free Ranger.
Swain lived a healthy lifestyle making his fortunes working for a major visual effects company in Venice, CA. Like most Free Rangers, he caught the bug and eventually left the security surrounding him in the States and packed just enough of his belongings to survive in the Thai/Burmese border. Through his work abroad, Rob created the 4th Wall Relief International non-profit organization–an organization founded to provide medical, technical, and infrastructure training to Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to support relief and development projects along the Thai/Burma border.
Swain began his Free Ranger life by “collecting medical supplies and recruiting volunteer medic teams to come over and treat the sick/wounded and help train local villagers as medics.”
According to Rob, his work in the Thai/Burmese border started with a dental team and quickly expanded to trauma, mother-child health, combat trauma, and pharmacy training.
“We would pack up and begin to work with soldiers from the Karen National Liberation Army. We snuck our teams into what the Burmese Army called ‘Black Zones,’ free fire zones, in areas held by the Karen Rebels. Many of the volunteers were former SF medics, Navy Seals, and Marines. The rest were a mix of doctors, combat journalists, and a stray academic or two. We even had a 55 year old female pharmacist from Washington State.”
Being a Free Ranger is dangerous. Plenty of risks are involved. But the dangers that comes with being a Free Ranger can be incredibly rewarding. To me, a Free Ranger, more than anything else, focuses on saving lives.
The ability to pick and choose where you go and when, the people you meet along the beaten path, the thrill of the rush escaping death, helping others in need, not knowing what tomorrow will bring if tomorrow even comes, etc. it’s all part of the lifestyle–and for many, it’s exhilarating.
I speak to many persons and after listening to them voice their passions in life I am convinced we will see the unofficial “Free Ranger” profession eventually develop into something much more mainstream in the very near future–but mainstream is not what the Free Ranger lifestyle is all about.
It’s about a low profile, low footprint, and virtually zero recognition for the work done.
I am also convinced that one group of persons will inevitably saturate the Free Ranger community– veterans trying to simply find their place in life once they leave the service.
Transitioning into civilian life is not easy. Letting go of that high that comes with combat is difficult. Becoming a Free Ranger could fill a missing gap in a transitioning veteran’s life.
Free Rangers, in the very near future, will become something much more than just mercenaries, independent journalists, or non-government organization (NGO) employees. Let me explain.
Poaching is getting a lot of attention these days thanks to the television show Battleground: Rhino Wars. The cast of that show, veteran US Special Operators, could also be considered Free Rangers. Because of their work, African lodges are now actively recruiting similar persons, Free Rangers, to assist in countering the poaching nightmare–a global dilemma every person needs to be aware of.
If I were a betting man, I would guess that due to the International Human Trafficking dilemma, we will also see a rise in persons with aspirations to expose and counter this heinous issue. Some will take action and those that do will also fall into the Free Ranger category.
Free Ranger opportunities are limitless. The world around us is filled with need. But it takes a special person to willingly just pack it all up and leave what they have behind simply to find something more gratifying in life.
There are thousands of Matthew Van Dykes and Rob Swains out there and I expect, due to the world we live today, the Free Ranger community will inevitably grow leaps and bounds.
Kerry Patton is author of Contracted II: America’s Terror Trackers