A veteran and woman-owned business in Oak Harbor is supplying gear and equipment to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, the Navy and the military at large.
Brittni Darbonnier and Shawn Kurtz are the founders of Darbonnier Tactical Supply. Both Navy veterans, they have lived on Whidbey Island since 2012. They first met when they were both stationed in Virginia in 2009 and eventually got married.
Darbonnier wanted to stay in the military world after leaving the Navy, and Kurtz had been working for another tactical supply company. In 2013, they decided to go out on their own.
The business began in the basement of the house the couple was renting. They started out small, selling boots, binoculars and flight deck gloves to the squadrons on NAS Whidbey. Over time, their business has spread mostly through word of mouth. At first, they just sold to the Navy but now supply all branches of the military.
The couple wanted to stay on the island and saw there was a need for the type of equipment they were supplying. They work with about 500 manufacturers.
“A lot of people think the military must have all these huge warehouses full of boots, or full of gloves or helmets that you can just go to,” Darbonnier said. “Not necessarily. They depend on distributors like us to be able to support them.”
Darbonnier Tactical Supply sells such uniforms as two-piece flight suits, flight deck boots, gloves for handling fuel or doing maintenance, goggles, ammo pouches, flashlights and protective gear. On Whidbey Island, they sell a lot of rain gear. The company also provides uniforms for Oak Harbor Fire Department and works with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, the county jail and the Oak Harbor police.
The company tailors orders to what is fit for military personnel’s everyday operations or deployment, which calls for a wide variety of equipment. Some people are being deployed to the jungle, some to the desert or to the mountains.
The fact that Darbonnier and Kurtz are veterans gives them insight into the products they’re selling. They have real-like experience with much of the gear. In fact, all of the company’s employees are veterans or spouses of veterans. People with a military background are simply better suited to work in this field, they said.
“To be in this business, you’ve got to understand the tempo,” Darbonnier said. “The military is 24/7, 365 days a year.”
She has her phone next to her constantly and will answer it at any time. Last year she had to complete an order on Christmas Eve. They have dedicated their life to the company. Always being available has earned them a reputation for being a trustworthy business.
Working for the company is not the same as working at a typical civilian job.
She and Kurtz make an effort to be communicative with their clients and call everyone by their first name, something that is rare in the military world.
She said it’s been a long, hard journey to get the business where it is today. The military’s needs are always changing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the business had to pivot completely and sold personal protective equipment like face masks and hand sanitizer almost exclusively for five months.
Darbonnier Tactical Supply has 26 team members in another location in Richmond, Virginia. There are also employees in Alaska, Texas and Louisiana.
Kurtz said his favorite thing about the business is working with the military as clients “compared to a standard retail store where you have to deal with the average consumer, which is not a lot of fun.”
In the military world, everyone looks out for each other, they said.
It is clear that Kurtz and Darbonnier care deeply about their employees. They have loved seeing them grow personally and financially. Providing jobs on Whidbey Island is very important to them.
“Now we have seven or eight people that were able to buy houses because they work with us,” Kurtz said.
They have often hired people who had no previous experience in the field as it can be hard to find talent on Whidbey Island. Their employees, they said, have shown tremendous dedication in learning a completely new trade.