Army Staff Sergeant Matthew Riker and his squadron were stranded in the middle of the Afghani desert. More than 30 hours had passed since they were air-dropped via chopper. What was supposed to be a brief air assault mission in a remote region had become a grueling day-and-a-half excursion into enemy territory. Their water was gone. Food totally depleted. They had to stay up all night. Morale was critically low.
"We had faced down a sandstorm. Someone messed up along the way and our supplies were gone. It was hot as hell," Riker said. "To put it bluntly, shit was sucking."
At their darkest moment, hours before they even stood a chance at making contact with another squad, one of the privates piped up and hesitantly told his team (including Riker, his direct superior) that he had bent the rules a little bit. He had six Rip Its stashed in his backpack in lieu of some other essential supplies.
"They were hot as hell. And it was against the rules, sure. But at that moment I wasn't even mad. It might have been the only thing that got us through those last few hours," Riker said.
There's a chance you've seen the discount energy drink Rip It buried in convenience-store shelves alongside Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar. But it's no household name. Frankly, it's not very distinguishable among a sea of nearly identical competitors with more pervasive marketing and bigger parent companies.
But Rip It has carved a unique niche in the energy drink world: It's ingrained in 21st-century military culture.
Riker's mission took place in 2010, but Rip It's prevalence in military life had been growing in Afghanistan and Iraq during America's campaigns throughout the 2000s, and it's still popular today. Riker conservatively estimates over three-quarters of military personnel are drinking this stuff on the regular, and almost everyone in uniform -- particularly those serving in the Middle East -- has at least tried it.
"If someone served over there and says they didn't at least try a Rip It, they're not being honest with you," Riker said.
Some soldiers roll out of bed and pop open a can. Riker caught privates filling their CamelBaks with the stuff in lieu of water and sipping it through a straw. Soldiers would play Rip It drinking games as if they were at a caffeine-addled frat party. The drink is referred to nearly exclusively as "crack."
A single energy drink essentially fueled the American military during the recent Middle East conflicts and almost no one outside the Army (or hypothetical energy drink-addict support groups) has even heard of it. Yet among those who serve, it has achieved near-mythical status.
For the uninitiated, it's all here: the good, the bad... and the inevitable diarrhea.