Over three decades ago (35 years to be exact), a competitive shooter, former special forces officer, Gunsite instructor and gunsmith named Robbie Barrkman founded ROBAR.
Barrkman moved the business to the Phoenix location in 1986, and in 2013 brought on retired USMC LtCol Freddie Blish as General Manager.
And in 2016, Freddie purchased ROBAR Companies Inc. from Robbie. Both men are great friends to this day, both are legends in both the military and shooting arenas. And both are passionate about firearms and building the best of the best.
This is the first in a series of articles introducing you to the team who make ROBAR so unique. And what better place to start than with their fearless leader, Freddie Blish?
Here’s the formal bio of this Leatherneck (lengthy, but well worth the read):
Originally from Springfield, Vermont, LtCol Blish graduated from Springfield High School in 1982 and graduated from Norwich University at Northfield, Vermont in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Engineering and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. (Joined the Marine Corps on 25 Feb 1983 via the Platoon Leader Class (PLC) commissioning program, graduating from PLC Junior in summer of 83 and PLC Senior in summer of 85.
After attending The Basic School for Marine Officers and the USMC Basic Engineer Officer Course 2dLt Blish was assigned to Company A, 8th Engineer Support Battalion Camp Lejeune, NC in July 1987 for duty as a Platoon Commander deploying to Viequez Island Puerto Rico. Promoted to 1stLt, he was assigned as the Engineer Detachment Commander for Brigade Service Support Group – 6 deploying to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, CA for Combined Arms Exercise 3/4 – 89. Upon returning from 29 Palms, CA, 1stLt Blish was assigned as the Executive Officer and later as the Company Commander for Company A. In August 1989 1stLt Blish was selected as the Aide-De-Camp for then Brigadier General Martin L. Brandtner, Commanding General 2d Force Service Support Group.
In July 1990, 1stLT Blish was assigned to Marine Corps Security Force Company Panama, U.S. Naval Station Rodman, Republic of Panama as the Guard Platoon Commander for the 80 Marine Platoon and subsequently promoted to Captain. Captain Blish also served as the Company Executive Officer and as the Close Quarters Battle/Vital Asset Recovery Team Leader.
In January 1993, Captain Blish reported to the United States Army Engineer Officer Advance Course finishing as Distinguished Graduate in June 1993. Captain Blish subsequently reported to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, CA in July 1993 for duty as the Assistant Operations Officer. In September 1993, Captain Blish was given command of Company B.
His company was significantly involved in the planning and execution of two Regimental size amphibious exercises, Kernal Raider 93 and Kernal Blitz 95 that included operational and strategic level visibility on future tactics, techniques, and procedures for amphibious breaching and counter mine operations in the surf zone and on the beach. Additionally, Captain Blish deployed Company B to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, CA for Combined Arms Exercise 5/6 – 94 in support of 1st Marine Regiment, as well as to the Gila National Forest New Mexico in the summer of 1994 conducting long range counter narcotics reconnaissance patrols in support of Joint Task Force – Six. In June 1995 Captain Blish was assigned duties as the 1st Marine Division Engineer, a LtCol’s billet.
Upon selection to Major in June 1996, Major Blish was assigned to Marine Forces Pacific Command for duties as the Engineer Operations and Plans officer for Marine Forces Pacific, Marine Forces Korea, and Marine Forces Central Command. In that capacity Major Blish participated in numerous exercises and operations to include; Exercises Ulchi Focus Lens -97 and 98 in the Republic of Korea and Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait, as well as planned and supervised humanitarian assistance and humanitarian demining operations in the Horn of Africa. Major Blish also completed both the USMC and USAF Command and Staff Non-Resident Seminar Programs, as well as attended the USMC Advanced Logistics Operations Course.
In July 1999 Major Blish reported to Headquarters Marine Corps for duties as the Engineer Occupational Field Sponsor managing the force structure, training, and career welfare of over 15,000 Marines in 17 Occupational Fields, as well as their related equipment. Major Blish was assigned the additional duty as the Director of the Marine Corps Logistics Education Program at Pennsylvania State University, where he supervised the creation and operation of the program, as well as a Marine Corps Fellowship program there as well. Additionally, Major Blish served as the Casualty Assistance Call Officer for the family of LtGen Donn Robertson, USMC (Ret) planning and supervising his funeral service at Arlington Cemetery.
In July 2002, newly promoted LtCol Blish reported to Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA as the Operations Officer. In December 2002, LtCol Blish deployed to Kuwait to begin planning and preparation for combat operations to liberate Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Responsible for the planning, training, and operations of five subordinate Squadrons and over 3,200 Marines, LtCol Blish developed an aggressive and innovative strategy for the employment of Marine Wing Support Squadrons, Forward Arming Refueling Points (FARP), and Rapid Runway Repair (RRR) elements that changed USMC Doctrine for future employment of MWSS’ in expeditionary maneuver warfare. Additionally, LtCol Blish led a composite element of three FARP teams and one RRR team with over four hundred Marines from Baghdad, Iraq to Tikrit, Iraq as part of 1st Marine Division Task Force Tripoli.
In December 2003, LtCol Blish was hand selected to participate in the I Marine Expeditionary Force site survey of the Al Anbar Province of Iraq for future Marine Security and Stability Operations as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Again, he innovatively developed a solid plan for the location of Marine Aviation Forward Operating Bases and Forward Arming Refueling Points set the stage for all current and future operational success. He aggressively helped plan and supervise the pre-deployment preparation and training of over ten subordinate units with over 7,000 Marines, to include two Provisional Security Battalions, for combat operations in Iraq.
In May 2005, LtCol Blish was given command of MWSS 373 at MCAS Miramar, CA. The largest MWSS in the Marine Corps with over 750 Marines. He supported deployment preparations for MWSS 371, as well as the largest airshow on the west coast at MCAS Miramar before beginning pre-deployment training for Operation Iraqi Freedom in February 2006. In March and April 2006, LtCol Blish led MWSS 373 in support Exercise Weapons Tactics Instructor 2-06 at MCAS Yuma, AZ providing noteworthy praise for their superb and safe completion of all assigned missions with the lowest (one) number of ground safety Mishap Reports in recent exercise history, all while conducting essential combat training for deployment.
In June 2006, MWSS 373 returned to MCAS Yuma, AZ for pre-deployment Exercise Desert Talon 2-06. Again, LtCol Blish and MWSS 373 earned the admiration of the exercise evaluators for their superior performance and prior preparation.
LtCol Blish retired from the Marine Corps in May 2007.
So I had some questions for Freddie…listen to the rest of the story!
Tami: How did you happen to meet Robbie come on board ROBAR?
Freddie: In February 2004, I had John Farnam conduct an Advanced Pistol Class for the officers and Marines of a I Marine Expeditionary Force unit deploying to Iraq. During the class John witnessed first hand the failure of an aftermarket magazine (they were not Beretta manufactured magazines) purchased by DOD for the Beretta M9 pistols.
While there were several deficiencies in the magazines, the biggest issue was magazine springs not being to spec. John Farnam wrote about this in one of his DTI Quips which Robbie Barrkman read. Robbie called Wolff Springs and purchased several thousand magazine springs. He had them shipped to our unit and they were promptly distributed within I MEF to help improve the function of those magazines.
At SHOT Show in January 2005, I asked John Farnam to introduce me to Robbie Barrkman so that I could thank him personally. I met Robbie then and we began a friendship that continued after I retired from the Marine Corps. In March 2013 following contract work for DOS, I began working for Robbie as the General Manager for ROBAR Companies, Inc.
In April 2016 I purchased ROBAR Companies, Inc from Robbie. Robbie is still a very close friend and my business mentor. My goal is to see ROBAR remain an iconic company in the firearms industry for another 35 years and longer!
Tami: When and where did you serve with General Jim Mattis?
Freddie: I served with General Mattis when he was CO of 7th Marines and I was Company Commander in the 1st Marine Division. I didn’t see General Mattis again until he was Commanding General of 1st Marine Division and I was the Operations Officer for MWSG-37 in 2002. I participated in the operational level planning and execution of I MEF’s liberation of Iraq, attending numerous meetings and briefings where General Mattis was also in attendance.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom I, we found ourselves at Salaman Pak East Airfield 20 miles east of Bagdad. It was an abandoned Iraqi military airfield that we secured so that we could land C-130s with food and ammo for 1st Marine Division. As part of Task Force Tripoli, we later saw General Mattis when he visited the Marines in Tikrit. In December 2003, I was chosen to participate as part of the I MEF site survey with General Mattis in Al Anbar Province Iraq and travelled with him as part of the survey team so we could plan the employment of I MEF forces for future operations in Iraq.
Tami: When did you first become acquainted with Colonel Jeff Cooper?
Freddie: I had corresponded with Jeff Cooper several times in during 97-98 time frame, but met him for the first time in July 2001 when I took a Gunsite 250C Master’s Class. Jeff was the Range Master and gave all of the lectures. I end up as the high shooter in the class and earned an E-Ticket. I think he was tickled that a fellow Marine officer represented the Corps well and we continued communicating afterwards. I got to know him better after attending GAS Match and several other Gunsite classes, as well as when I began instructing at Gunsite. I was honored to be invited to dinner to Jeff and Janelle Cooper’s residence, the Sconce, when I was there training or teaching. It was always a very amazing experience.
Tami: What do you appreciate most about the gunsmiths and others who work at ROBAR?
Freddie: Their dedication to quality! They hold each other to an extremely high standard when it comes to the quality of their work. When a gunsmith completes a work order, that firearm is put on the quality control bench and is inspected by two other gunsmiths. They take pride in being very hard on one another with regards to the quality of the work. Gunsmiths with fragile egos or thin skin need not apply. They hold each other accountable to the highest standards.
Tami: What’s your favorite carry pistol?
Freddie: I can’t say that I have just one favorite carry pistol, because I carry based on my current threat assessment. Sometimes that threat assessment dictates I carry a ROBAR customized Glock 43, other times a ROBAR customized
Glock 19, and other times a ROBAR customized Colt Commander with our new Armorlube metal finish. All of them are excellent pistols.
Tami: What’s your favorite rifle?
Freddie: Again, I have several “favorite” rifles depending upon the situation. For home defense or for a vehicle gun when off roading, the ROBAR PolymAR-15L carbine is awesome because of its light weight and accuracy. If I have to hump out from deep in the back country because my Jeep is disabled then carrying a lightweight carbine with some spare mags is definitely preferred.
If I doing precision rifle work then my ROBAR SR-21 in .308 is great rifle. I was recently at the NRA Whittington Center in New Mexico shooting the “White Buffalo” at 1123 yards with ease with it.
When I am hunting Mule Deer or Elk here in Arizona, I really like my Steyr Cooper Scout rifle in .308 because it is lightweight and very accurate out to 400 yards (even further if necessary) which is really the ethical distance with that caliber to shoot big game when hunting. I know that some do shoot big game further, but every hunter needs to weigh their ability with their capability and make the right ethical decision for themselves.
So now you know a little more about the man who carries on the proud tradition of excellence at ROBAR. Freddie Blish is relentless about getting it right.
If you swing by ROBAR, give Freddie a shout and meet the Marine who does everything he can, day in and day out, to assure your firearm exceeds all expectations.
When all is said and done, Semper Vinco (Always Win), is more than just the company motto: it’s a way of life and gunsmithing that ensures you and your firearm are always on the winning side of any entanglement, any hunt, any competition.