What happens to a 7-year-old kid trained by a world kickboxing champ? Who gets into knife fights, and thrown out of school, and then ends up flying Blackhawk helicopters and founding the 31st fastest growing company in the nation?
Well, this happens…
Tyler Merritt began fighting at the tender age of seven under the tutelage of four-time world kickboxing Champion Sifu Vincent Lyn. Lyn instilled in Tyler the importance of standing up for those who couldn’t, which meant Tyler had an early propensity to get into scrapes. He was the first member of his family to be expelled from school - in the 8th grade.
By the 10th grade, Tyler had been arrested twice and in the hospital a dozen times for fighting. His father said “enough,” took out a loan for tuition, and packed him off to military school.
Tyler says, “Surprisingly if you take out pot, alcohol, and women from your daily routine, and focus on wrestling, school work, and being a good human, things start to change for the better.”
But not immediately.
A serious bar fight in Germany nearly killed him. He was stabbed in the chest and spent a month in ICU. Tyler was told he would never have full lung function or compete in wrestling. One year later, he was running 6-minute miles and qualified for the state championships.
Unfortunately, he tore up his knee while competing. It was terrible timing.
Tyler had received a nomination to West Point and knew he wouldn’t gain admission with this new injury. So, he made a pragmatic decision: just don’t tell. Tyler was accepted into West Point and made it through basic training by self-administering cortisone shots to his knee.
From that point on, Tyler’s life mission was permanently ingrained: to “defy what everyone says I can’t do.”
After graduating among the top of his class, Tyler found himself in the deserts of Iraq on his first deployment, flying an AH-64 Apache Helicopter. During his first real mission, he was in the gunner’s seat, firing on enemy insurgents wearing suicide vests. Now it was real.
Tyler had achieved his dream of flying Apaches — in over 100 missions — but now it was on to the next dream, the next impossible goal.
After Iraq, Tyler became a Night Stalker in the 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment, providing close air support in Blackhawk helicopters to Rangers, Delta Force, Special Forces and Navy SEALs.
When the time came to leave the battlefield for good, Tyler barely stopped to catch his breath. He completed an accelerated Masters program at Columbia University, and then joined the faculty at West Point.
He was instrumental in building a state-of-the art virtual reality program for cadets, where they could run simulations and improve mission planning in a virtual environment.
But it was during his time as a Night Stalker, surrounded by members of the most elite fighting forces in the world, when Tyler began to formulate his next mission — one that would be bigger than one regiment, one branch of service, one battlefield or one war.
It was a very big idea that started very small.
In 2012, Tyler and his wife started printing unit morale shirts for his unit, the Rangers, and a few other military organizations. Within a couple years, the enterprise had grown from his garage to a 10,000- square foot facility with nearly 30 employees.
They outgrew that pretty quick too, and now Tyler’s company, Nine Line Apparel, has a 65,000 square foot facility and over 100 employees.
From the get go, Tyler set out to create a brand that would honor the sacrifices made daily by the men and women in uniform, whether they wear the uniform of police, firefighters or warfighters, and inspire every American to be a patriot.
He named the company Nine Line, a term known throughout the military as a call for help, because he wanted to make sure those who have served this nation knew they would always have a voice and a lifeline in their hour of need.
Tyler also created the Nine Line Foundation to help severely wounded service members and advocate for veterans on other issues. In the last five years, the foundation has spearheaded initiatives to build wheelchair-accessible homes, and in partnership with the Savannah Homeless Authority, has funded the construction of tiny homes for homeless veterans. Beyond simply building homes, the foundation has also developed a reintegration program for homeless vets to give them the skills they need to build successful lives.
Most recently, Tyler and Nine Line were front and center in the case involving Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.
Tyler says, “We are a voice for first responders and warfighters who are sometimes forgotten by the mass media.”
“In the end we may piss some people off, but in the end, we don’t mind.”
That’s what happens to a kid who loves a good fight. He never stops fighting for good.