Metal shipping boxes become caves, mine shafts, villages and mosques in Franklin, and then they’re hauled away for the military to use in training.
Patriot Products constructs the model buildings across from a field where cattle graze next to Hudson Street. The military uses the models to give soldiers experience training in environments they might see in combat, company owner Jerry Johnson said.
Currently, the company has workers converting seven of the containers into a winding cave, with rooms where a methamphetamine lab could be hidden and caches of guns tucked out of sight. The workers are using rubbery materials to create the look of stoney cave walls and are hanging dim light bulbs from the ceiling.
The goal is to create a realistic atmosphere where soldiers can learn to hunt for hidden weapons in a life-sized, portable replica of a location they might find in combat. Some of the Patriot Products building replicas are in use at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, where military units from across the country train.
The soldiers will be safer if they’ve prepared for war in a realistic setting, Johnson said. Coming up with products to help train military members better for war and bring them home safely is satisfying, Johnson said.
“A lot of good gets done with these types of things,” he said.
Patriot Products uses the shipping containers as the building blocks for its training structures, which can be stacked or connected horizontally. They can also be used as an individual replica house or other small building. Each building or cave is easy to transport by semitrailer, since they can be taken apart for shipping.
The imitation villages and caves come from a six-year-old company that has grown quickly. Johnson, who is a Franklin resident, started Patriot Products with his son in 2008.
Johnson had worked for years making the equipment automotive companies use to create car parts. He left to launch Patriot Products in his barn and started off making sterilizing tools for medical operations.
Now his company has its own manufacturing facility, 36 employees, eight retail stores and a new gun shop coming to Franklin this month.
The business primarily sells products that are used to train soldiers around the world. More than 95 percent of the company’s work is for the military. All of Patriot Products’ targets and training buildings are made in Franklin, and Johnson and other employees travel across the nation and to other countries to install the equipment.
The company also has opened retail stores under the business name Patriot Tactical, which primarily sells shirts, gloves and other gear for military and law enforcement workers.
Patriot Products started working with the military in 2008 when Johnson saw a bid from the Marines for a device, called a target carriage, to hold targets for known-distance shooting practice for bases in Hawaii and Japan. The Marines now use the company’s steel target carriage as its standard target for long-distance shooting. The company has made more than 2,000 target carriages for shooting ranges.
The company’s modified shipping containers are a smaller part of the business because they are meticulously made one at a time and each model building is custom built.
Another product the company has sold around the world is a rubber bullet trap for shooters to attach targets to and then shoot. The company’s design was an idea Johnson came up with on a flight between Okinawa, Japan, and Honolulu. He sketched his idea on a napkin, and shortly afterward the Army advertised that it was looking for a contractor making bullet traps.
Military officials considered designs from large companies such as Northrop Grumman in Virginia but narrowed its options to seven models to test. No rounds went through Patriot Products’ bullet trap, and the structure also didn’t wear out as quickly as the other companies’ bullet traps. The Army hired the little Franklin company as its contractor.
Another product Patriot Products workers designed and sold thousands of is a removable clip that connects a sling to a gun and allows the soldiers to rotate the gun easily.
Soldiers would walk into the company’s retail store at Camp Atterbury before leaving for Iraq and Afghanistan and ask for a clip that would allow them to move their gun more easily and hold it steady as they walked, Johnson said. The company designed a new metal device to solve the problems, he said.