BLK OPS™ - How a cold day in Columbus, Ohio turned into a Documentary

Ruben Ayala



Time to read 4 min

Author: Ruben Ayala


   When I graduated Ranger School in December of 1999 there were 146 of us fortunate enough to graduate.  Anyone who has had the opportunity to attend the course, knows that once you enter the gates of Camp Rogers, Ga. there is not much to obsess over - other than doing what it takes to earn the coveted black and gold Ranger tab.  However, it was not until our class picture day that I fully took stock of the lack of diversity within our class as we were carefully organized by our Ranger Instructors.  Prior to writing this I pulled out my class photo and began to count.  Out of the 146 students there were approximately 12 x Latinos, 7 x African Americans and 2 x Asian Americans that I could safely assess.  While these numbers are an estimate and do not account for any of our Native American brothers and sisters in the mix; I found myself pondering, “why aren’t there more people that look like me here?”

   As I progressed into my Airborne Infantry career I found myself wondering the same thing over and over - “why are there so few underrepresented groups in Combat Arms”?  It wasn’t until I went into the Army’s Special Forces branch that I really saw the disparity in demographics widen.  As an 18A (Special Forces Officer) I was one of very few minority officers within the entire branch (at the time, 86% of the Special Forces Officers across the branch were white).  I could only imagine what the demographics were like in the Navy, Air Force and Marines Special Operations branches.    

US Army Special Forces Graduation Photo
U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification "Beret Donning" Ceremony by Group - If you look closely you will see my ear!

   Before you dismiss this article as a “WOKE Piece”, I want you to understand where I am coming from and where I am about to go with it.  Firstly, I am a proud Afro-Latino from Puerto Rico and came to the United States not knowing a “lick” of English - outside of what I picked up watching CHiPS (for you old school cats - Erik Estrada is a national treasure in Puerto Rico).  I represent two cultures (Puerto Rican and Afro-Centricity) and since arriving in the States, have adopted the American way of being; with all of its complexities.  To state that I did not want to see more people that looked like me in these specialized positions would be an understatement.  Apparently, and as of late, others have taken notice and want to see more diversity within Special Operations as well.

   In 2021 the United States Special Operations Command issued its new Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Strategy with initiatives to attract talent from within minority communities.  Now, before you start quoting SOF Truths, understand I am very familiar with the concepts and know that Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced.  I believe the effort to attract top talent from within underrepresented groups is a noble endeavor on multiple fronts: 1) bridging the trust gap between skeptical communities and the military, 2) addressing current recruitment issues and 3) strengthening rapport with partner nations worldwide with SOF personnel that look like them.     

US Army Special Forces Green Beret in traditional Afghan Dress

A then young Chris McPhee dressed in traditional Afghan dress during operations in Afghanistan.  


   It was snowing and approximately 25 degrees outside of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) as Chris McPhee (CMO, Triple Nikel), Jennifer Ballou (former Business Director of the NVMM) and myself said our goodbyes.  Lieutenant General (Retired) Micheal Ferriter (NVMM, CEO) had invited us to the museum to discuss collaboration opportunities and to be a part of their growing Veteran Owned Gift Shop.  As a parting shot Jennifer Ballou mentioned to us that the museum currently had a gap in exhibit programming for Feb 2024.  She hinted that if Triple Nikel could come up with a good idea for Black history month that she would maybe propose it to the board.  It was January of 2023 and the thought of creating an exhibit for a museum was absolutely nowhere on the radar for our small clothing company.  

Chris McPhee and Ruben Ayala in Columbus, Ohio on a snowy day visiting the National Veterans Memorial and Museum
Told you!  It was a snowy day in January 2023 when we went to the Columbus, Ohio.  Just two island boys freezing their ___s off...

   Over the course of the next few days Chris shared with me an idea that he had been brewing for the past 10+ years.  “What if we interviewed our people in SOF and told their stories and what their service journey meant to them”, Chris eagerly relayed to me and promptly continued;  “Then, just to throw everyone off we name it Black Ops!”  I think my response was, “Yes!”

   Here is the very fast run down on some of the members of our company and why an idea like this makes sense and normally requires two small things for approval; Task & Purpose.  Chris is a retired 18Z (Special Forces Operations Sergeant) who served in the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), has experience working in JSOC, happens to be of Bahamian descent and is a damn good photographer/videographer.  Rod Graham (COO of Triple Nikel) is also a retired 18Z; served in 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), has fought in every conflict since OPERATION JUST CAUSE and is the “countriest” brother from Wilmington, NC.  Bottom line - we have all witnessed the lack of diversity in SOF and want to do our part to encourage others to try.  

Part 2 of this blog will release next month.  It takes a lot to put this thing together!  If you would like to help with the development of this worthy project please visit the BLK OPS™ website and sign up to learn more.  

Watch the Season 1 Trailer Now