Ex-Army Rangers turn combat into flip flops to help Afghans

Ex-Army Rangers turn combat into flip flops to help Afghans
ISSAQUAH, Wash. - Three Eastside men have unwittingly become fashion designers as they take steps to help families thousands of miles away - with a new line of "theme" footwear.

"I'm coming at it blind," says Andrew Sewery.

And their product lines have killer names.

"This is the AK-47," says Sewery as he displays one of their products.

"We have two versions of the Lady Bombshell," he adds.

The inspiration for their company, called Combat Flip Flops, comes from personal world experience.

"The idea was born in a combat zone," says Donald Lee.

He and another company founder, Matthew Griffin, are former Army Rangers who served in Afghanistan.

They endured miserable conditions there. Then, they fell in love with the Afghan people.

"This woman sends out her kids with a warm cup of tea," says Lee. "That's almost like God throwing you a little life raft and telling you things are going to be OK."

Ultimately, things weren't OK.

"Four guys I knew were actually lost," says Lee. "It's something that changes you forever."

They came to realize that the Afghans are battle-scarred, too.

"An Afghan father, mother, brother, people getting up every morning and going to work, just like you and I," says Griffin.

The war has helped many Afghans pay the bills. In one factory, workers make combat boots for NATO and Allied soldiers.

"Let's say we have a guy in there, and he has a job and is making a living. He says, 'I'm not going to fight an American soldier. I'm not going to blow up an American soldier.'"

But these Army Rangers worried - what happens when the war is over?

"All of the sudden, these people don't have money," says Griffin.

Then, inspiration struck - as they thought of a way to keep those Afghan factories humming.

"They make military combat boots, Afghan military combat boots - and now we've tooled them up to make combat flip flops," says Lee.

So, the guys invested their own money to design theme sandals - reflecting the war, but also the unique way of life in Afghanistan.

"It's going to be bright yellows, oranges, reds," says Lee.

Ultimately, this is a story about three guys choosing to remember the past - hoping to make a lasting difference.

"We're taking a situation that's a hostile environment, a combat zone, and we're making something positive out of it," says Lee. "We're making flip flops. Everybody loves flip flops."

The flip-flops sell for about $65. So far, all of the money made has gone back into the products. A few retailers sell them in North America and Australia.

They're also for sale online at combatflipflops.com.