Iron Protection Group founder Hunter Garth does not credit his years in the military with fully preparing him to run the nation’s leading security business for the cannabis industry. But as he’s been known to say, “My military service is the only reason I am successful.”
Hunter joined the Marine Corps when he was 19, and was leading teams in operations by the time he was 21. In eight months in Afghanistan, he participated in more than 175 combat missions.
The hard lessons learned in the course of his military service, and the cruelties of war he experienced alongside his fellow soldiers, became ingrained in his psyche, with a permanent impact.
The associated PTSD continued to weigh on him and affected how he handled day-to-day civilian life. Watching his fellow veterans self-medicate with alcohol and drugs taught him that was not the path he wanted to go down. So to keep his mind off the damages he had seen and absorbed, to keep himself as busy as possible with something positive rather than self-destructive, he turned to thinking about starting a business.
When he first came back to the United States, Hunter landed in Jacksonville, Florida, working for Merrill Lynch in the corporate world. But he says, “I hated every second of it. I wanted more freedom.”
His inspiration came when he visited Colorado in 2013 and decided to check out a dispensary with his friend and future business partner Caleb Patton, a fellow Marine veteran.
“I think cannabis is about quality of life. It’s a freedom, a right,” Hunter says.
But the feeling he had during his first dispensary visit was mixed.
“We walked in and saw a security guard with a big frown and a gun.” Hunter and Caleb looked at each other and both had the same thought: “We know how to do this job, and that is not it. Customers don’t want anything to do with someone who looks like a cop. Why don’t we put on a nice shirt, and why don’t we hire our fellow veteran friends who don’t act like this?”
They started talking to dispensary owners about their idea for an alternative to current security measures, and the owners immediately understood the advantages.
Hunter used the last of his money to rent a U-Haul and moved to Colorado with his then-girlfriend—they later married, and are now raising two kids.
In Colorado, he immersed himself in the cannabis industry, which was growing quickly after voters approved adult-use cannabis legalization in 2012. He started Iron Protection Group in 2014 with the help of Caleb Patton and Cory Aguillard, the same year adult-use sales launched in the state. Within a year, it was acquired by General Cannabis.
True to his original vision for a veteran-based workforce, over the last four years Hunter has helped at least 250 fellow veterans—and counting—transition back into civilian life, by hiring and training them at IPG. This for him is a more powerful way to address PTSD than cannabis itself.
“The real cure for PTSD is purpose,” says Hunter. “Find what you are here for. IPG drives purpose. Doing things for friends, taking care of others drives purpose.”