When Aaron Negherbon sent supplies to his friend in the armed forces in 2010, he was shocked to learn that his friend gave the supplies to the soldiers under his command instead of keeping any for himself. Negherbon quickly learned of the lack of appropriate equipment that overseas and domestic troops had access to.
"I was kind of dumbfounded by that. And I said, ‘Well, don't you have, you know, trucks following you around everywhere and planes dropping stuff to you whenever you need it?’ And he goes, ‘We have absolutely nothing,’" Negherbon recounted.
Immediately, Negherbon mobilized to provide his friend and those in his command with the gear they would need. Then word started to spread among other commanders.
"Shortly thereafter, people started contacting me just kind of on their own, saying, ‘Can you help us out too?’ And I said, wow, there’s a real issue there that’s beyond just my buddy and his guys," Negherbon said.
Over the last 11 years, Negherbon formed and grew Troops Direct, a nonprofit organization that sends tactical supplies to troops at home (such as COVID PPE gear to the National Guard) and abroad. One recipient was USMC Special Operations member Jason Noble.
Before Troops Direct, he spent nearly $4,000 of his own money on personal gear.
"The gear supplied is adequate. But you can’t really move in it," Noble said.
In 2016, a young soldier on Noble’s base was mountain climbing in the Middle East and broke her back. Because the base had been sent supplies from Troops Direct, members of her troop were able to rescue her and save her life.
Now retired from the military, Noble is the chief operating officer at Troops Direct, where he works to provide gear to servicemen and women as well as raise awareness among civilians about the inadequacy of the materials they are provided.
Troops Direct accepts monetary donations on their website and hosts several donor engagement events throughout the year.
"The troops aren’t as protected as people think they are," Noble said. "In the public's eyes, the military is being supplied with this gear. What they don’t realize is it's being supplied by the cheapest bidder and the cheapest producer. At one point during the Iraq war, the jackets were so big and had so much stuff on them because of all the fragmentation and stuff that was going on, that people couldn't even do their jobs right."
Negherbon said another major public awareness issue is the misperception that American troops are no longer overseas.
"That just couldn't be further from the truth. There are some extraordinarily major, major issues going on there that just aren't making the news," he said.
Troops Direct is the only nonprofit organization that provides critically needed items to service members, ensuring that members of the armed forces don't have to use their own money for mission-critical equipment.
"A wife should not have to buy her husband a helmet," Negherbon said. "A mother should not have to buy her son a replacement set of first aid implements for her kid. No service member should have to tap into his own wallet to buy new eye protection or batteries for their GPS unit."