Craig “Sawman” Sawyer on Rhinos, Guns, and Being “The Protector”

One of the greatest pleasures of SHOT Show this year was the chance to sit down and talk to former Navy SEAL Craig “Sawman” Sawyer. In August of 2014 he graciously spoke to me at length for our American Heroes series, and the article quickly became enormously popular – in fact it’s still widely read, which is a testimony to the caliber of the man profiled within. It’s easy to see why Sawyer has such a wide and devoted following; his easy charm and focused demeanor draw you in with an intensity typically reserved for those climbing the political ladder, which is something he says he’d never do for a number of reasons. But if he wanted to, he could, and he’d undoubtedly do well. Sawyer exudes confidence in a way others often attempt to replicate, but fail, and he’s talented, to boot. Of course, talent alone does not ensure success, that takes persistence and determination, and if you think he’s lacking in those areas, you clearly don’t know the man. But don’t worry, by the end of this article, you will.

“Never give in – never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never give in to the apparently overwhelming force of the enemy.” Winston Churchill

The author and Craig Sawyer at SHOT Show
The author and Craig Sawyer at SHOT Show

Craig Sawyer has more than a passing acquaintance with persistence. Although he’s generally known as a badass SEAL who has continued his career outside the military continuing to get plenty of trigger time both on-screen and off, many don’t realize his path to the Teams wasn’t entirely smooth. He actually started out in the Marines with the intention of joining Force Recon, but at the time he was in it was flat-out impossible due to changes within the Corps – Force Recon didn’t have the financial or political support necessary for missions – so he changed tactics. He’d heard of the SEALs and decided that was the route he wanted to go in order to make his contribution as an operator, but since he couldn’t get a lateral transfer, it wasn’t going to be an easy path. That was no problem for Sawyer, who simply put his head down, gritted his teeth, and got to work. Not only did he get his trident but he went on to serve on SEAL Team One in Desert Shield and Desert Storm where he picked up the first prisoners of war and generally kicked ass and took names (and you know he wasn’t giving those back once he had them). After Desert Storm he spent time as a sniper instructor for the Teams before moving on to DEVGRU, but that wasn’t the end of his service for this country.

After the Navy came a stint as one of what is known as the Original 33 federal air marshals, a position he stayed in for 5 years, reaching the level of GS-14 Manager. The story of Sawyer’s time with the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) provides evidence he does not allow ambition to cloud his judgment; gross mismanagement within FAMS lead to his blowing the whistle on the SES (Senior Executive Service) level executive responsible. At the time FAMS refused to handle the problem, so he left, which is when he began working high-threat mobile security operations in Iraq. It would be two years before the executive would be fired. The decision to leave came with a hefty price tag: the loss of government benefits he would have earned if he’d only kept his mouth shut for two more years. But Craig Sawyer isn’t just a man determined to make a difference, he’s a man absolutely adamant he will do it with honesty and integrity, which made standing by in silence a no-go.

Over the years he’s built quite a portfolio. During his years in the Teams he had to learn myriad skills in case one of his teammates was injured on a mission and unable to perform their duties, and he also gained experience in CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue), FAV (Fast Attack Vehicle), Sniper Operations, and Counter-Mine Operations, among others. He also has an extensive background in the martial arts which includes SCARS (Special Combat Aggressive Reaction System) training and numerous tournaments both within the U.S. and in Southeast Asia. He’s worked security in combat zones for dignitaries including a number of U.S. Ambassadors and leaders. Basically, he’s made a career of putting his life at risk for the safety of others, and that isn’t about to change anytime soon.

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to become angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle

Sawyer has had quite a few projects over the years including working as an expert for the History Channel’s show Top Shot and making appearances on other shows for both the History Channel and the Military Channel. But there’s one in particular you might recall, and that’s his role taking point for the Animal Planet on Battleground: Rhino Wars. Because while it may not be the first thing you think of when looking at the compelling figure of Craig Sawyer, who could easily strike fear into any person, should he so choose, it’s the absolute truth that he’s an animal lover.

Rhino poaching is a serious problem in Africa; hundreds of rhinos are poached each year for the prize of their horns, which are ground into a powder whose medicinal value isn’t really based in reality. But although science hasn’t shown powdered rhino horn to be an effective treatment for strokes, seizures, or fevers – or anything else, there’s a massive demand for it, specifically on the Asian market. There is a widespread belief among those who covet rhino horn that it has special spiritual powers; it’s a belief that’s been around for centuries, and though one might think modern reason and science would unseat these thought patterns, there are those who refuse to listen to reason or think of anyone but themselves. And although the demand is at its highest on the Asian market, it isn’t limited there. The horns are also sought after by Muslim men, who use rhino horns to form the handles of curved daggers called jambiyas. Jambiyas are presented to 12-year-old Yemeni boys as a sign of manhood and utter devotion to their Muslim religion. Importation was banned in 1982, but that’s what the black market is for; ruthless men will always find a way to obtain that which they desire. It’s getting worse, too; numbers of rhinos poached has been rising steadily from 122 in 2009 to 448 in 2012 to 1004 in 2013 to heaven only knows how many currently being sacrificed to the gods of malicious greed.

Fighting back against rhino poachers is no small thing. The men riddling rhinos with bullets and ripping their horns from their faces while they’re down, but not always dead, are not simpletons armed with rusty AK-47s and machetes. No, these men are something else entirely, a breed and generation of poacher of a nature one could easily describe as a twisted mixture of conscienceless and amoral; bloodthirsty and cold, callous and uncaring. But while these men may be barbarians, they’re modern ones. They come armed with NVGs, suppressors, the latest and greatest rifles, and even helicopters. And they don’t limit their poaching to the wilderness, either, it’s all too common for rhinos within the confines of a reservation or rescue to be killed and/or mutilated. Of course, gaining access to those reserves can be a problem for poachers due to security guards, but they’re all too willing to deal with that, too. In a case that only recently hit the news wire, a poacher and professional hunter by the name of Hugo Ras used a toxin called Aldicarb to poison the security guards at one reserve, claiming he only meant to make them sleepy. Aldicarb is a known poison that kills through paralysis; it was put in food that was given to the guards as a gift. Ras and his cohorts are being charged with hundreds of counts of rhino poaching and theft, and this is a case where the poacher and poisoner was actually caught. If there’s one thing the poachers don’t like, it’s interference with their money source, and if there’s one thing Craig Sawyer doesn’t like, it’s poachers.

During Battleground: Rhino Wars, Sawyer and his handpicked team went after rhino poachers in Africa with a single-minded aggression their targets were probably unpleasantly surprised to experience. Because, you see, although there are those fighting back against rhino poaching, there’s nothing quite like a team of American operators coming at you with the kind of laser focus you’d rather be turned somewhere, anywhere, else. And it’s not over.

When I spoke to Sawyer at SHOT Show we got started in the back of the press room, which is about as private as it gets during the hustle and rush of the annual event. Armed with coffee and a notepad, I settled in to hear about his newest projects, and while not everything can be shared here just yet, there is one activity in particular that should thrill fans: those rhino wars? They’re not done. Sawyer is returning to Africa to film a new show with a carefully chosen team for exceptional operational mobility and the kind of firepower gun owners everywhere will ache to shoot. There were some unavoidable delays in getting things going, but the show is coming, and it’s going to be good. His team has been handpicked once again and word is you’ll see at least two team members in particular back. Sawyer isn’t lacking for guys eager to get involved, either, there are plenty of former SEALs and Delta Force operators ready to go. If filming progresses as planned, viewers could be watching Sawyer and his team take down rhino poachers as part of their holiday revelry. But regardless of what date the show hits the airways, it’s bound to have a vast audience chomping at the bit for the opportunity to see former Navy SEALs kick some poacher ass.

“Remember the first rule of gunfighting…have a gun.” Jeff Cooper

Aside from plans to make life hell for a bunch of low-lifes in Africa, Sawyer has other projects for the gun aficionados among us (which just might include yours truly). He’s working with Couture Junkie on a line of high-end handguns for fashion-conscious firearms-loving females. Word is the guns will be chambered in .380 ACP and 9mm, single stack, and colored with a bold lilac finish. Further out guns may be offered in other colors such as copper. And, in a tease some of you may never quite forgive me for: he has a knife project in the works – yes, that’s all I’m saying. But those aren’t the only projects in Craig Sawyer’s life.

Craig Sawyer and the MK-18 Sawyer Series EDCR
Craig Sawyer and the MK-18 Sawyer Series EDCR

Sawyer teamed up with S.W.O.R.D. International on a new rifle, which was shown off at SHOT Show at their booth. He was approached by the company which asked what he would look for in the ideal combat weapon, and for Craig Sawyer, former SEAL Team One and DEVGRU member, the answer was easy. One of the problems he saw on missions was the need for multiple rifles: a bolt-action rifle for accuracy and semi-auto for fighting his way out of tight spots. And although there have been advances in rifle systems over the years, there’s still room to grow, and his answer is the MK-18 Sawman Series EDCR. His design requirements make it a more versatile rifle, as the company’s tag line says: “One mission, multiple requirements, but now only one rifle is needed.”

The new MK-18 Sawman Series EDCR has a short-stroke, self-regulating gas piston system which allows it to more carefully regulate pressure and deliver a cleaner, more reliable operating platform. The short-stroke is a benefit over the long-stroke because it reduces the mass of recoiling parts, which in turn gives the shooter better control; it’s easier to control your weapon when the felt recoil hammering into your shoulder is lessened. It’s also worth noting gas piston systems stay cooler longer than the older direct impingement systems do, which is an important detail in combat. The gun is chambered in the only round a rifle like this could possibly come in – .338 lapua magnum – because there’s nothing quite comparable to the muzzle velocity of 3,300 feet per second and muzzle energy of 5,000 foot-pounds of one of these 8.58mm bullets reaching out and touching your targets. The MK-18 will be offered in a variety of camouflage cerakote finishes as well as the pictured burnt bronze cerakote finish, a color that seems to be gaining popularity lately and is also useful from a tactical perspective. For optics it comes with a U.S. Optics ER 25 5-25X scope, which provides variable magnification and is designed for use out to 2,000 yards. It also comes with a GG&G Heavy Duty XDS Bipod which is impressively rugged, designed to withstand a vast range of temperatures all the way from -55 degrees Fahrenheit to 155 degrees Fahrenheit and can move from center in either direction with 25 degrees of cant. For carrying and the ability to make fast adjustments, even one-handed, while remaining on target, the gun comes with a Savvy Sniper Tactical Sniper Sling. And because a fantastic rifle deserves fantastic protection, it comes in a Pelican case. Pelican is renowned for their incredibly durable cases; you simply cannot get a tougher, more reliable case than one made by Pelican. The rifle is a limited run available by special order only.

The new MK-18 Sawyer Series EDCR at the SWORD International booth
The new MK-18 Sawyer Series EDCR at the SWORD International booth

You may notice the suppressor on the rifle as it’s pictured, that’s an OSS Suppressor. OSS utilizes an octagon-shaped system, which has more to do with mirage and cooling than how awesome it looks. Their full line currently includes features from 12 different patents. Suffice to say OSS is among the leaders of the suppressor industry, making it no wonder it was chosen to top Sawyer’s rifle at SHOT Show.

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” Patrick Henry

In person Craig Sawyer is everything you’d expect: polite, friendly, and, as I said before, charismatic. But there is also an underlying current of strength and a simmering violence; if pushed to his limit, if required to protect and defend, he will clearly take care of business. That’s what made him a great SEAL, and a true operator. It’s that same blend of characteristics that makes him a devoted husband and father, both of which may require his protective nature at any moment, and both of which bring out the softer side. And while the softer side of men like Craig Sawyer should be valued, it’s that ability to do violence, to protect and defend, that makes men like him a cut above the rest. There are those who would try to argue with me on this matter, but it’s reality: those who stand ready to defend, those wolves who have willingly walked in the shadows to defend our borders, they are rare. And you can be sure those who defile that which he holds dear will pay, whether poachers, insurgents, or those who insult and degrade our military or our flag. Because if Craig Sawyer was to be labeled as one thing, it would be as The Protector, and that’s something to be proud of, something many wish for and few attain. Being a protector is simply in his blood; it’s who he is, and what he does. When he takes down poachers, teaches a student proper rifle skills, and, yes, when he watches over his family, he is The Protector.  And for that protective spirit, we are grateful.

Thank you, Craig. Now go kick some ass!

Tressa Nolen-Sawyer, author Kat Ainsworth, Craig Sawyer, and Brad Thompson at the Glock booth at SHOT Show
Tressa Nolen-Sawyer, author Kat Ainsworth, Craig Sawyer, and Brad Thompson at the Glock booth at SHOT Show

Author’s Note: At the conclusion of the sit-down portion of our interview, Sawyer escorted me to the S.W.O.R.D. booth to take a closer look at the new rifle, which only made me itch to get my hands on it. As those who know my gun-loving ways best can attest, .338 lapua magnum is my favorite rifle caliber, making me wish wholeheartedly for the ability to get one of the MK-18 rifles for myself. He took me by a few other booths as well – shout-out to Pelican and G2Research – before ending at the Glock booth (my personal favorite handgun manufacturer, rounding out my gun loves for the day). It was an absolute pleasure to meet his wife, Tressa, before I had to head back out on my rounds at SHOT. I truly enjoyed spending the morning with Craig; he was a gentleman and a pleasure to talk to, and I wish him the very best in his many ventures.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine is a military and political journalist with a reputation for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred articles. Her career as a writer has immersed her in the military lifestyle and given her unique insights into the various branches of service. She is a firearms aficionado and has years of experience as a K9 SAR handler, and has volunteered with multiple support-our-troops charities for more than a decade. Katherine is passionate about military issues and feels supporting service members should be the top priority for all Americans. Her areas of expertise include the military, politics, history, firearms and canine issues.
Katherine Ainsworth
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