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Q&A: Camouflage Expert Lawrence Holsworth
For those military gear aficionados, the name Lawrence Holsworth may ring a bell. Most likely, they have gleaned a thing or three from Holsworth’s blog Strike – Hold!. Covering all things elite forces and special operations, Strike – Hold! provides readers with insightful posts about military gear, operations, current events and history.
Born in British Columbia, Holsworth has lived in Canada, the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands. He has called the UK home for the past 15 years. He has served in 2nd Bn. 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division between 1983-1986. However his parachuting days are not behind him — Holsworth is a member of Pathfinder Parachute Group and European Paratroopers Association.
Holsworth holds a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and German language. Like Strike – Hold!, his day job as a marketing director for Hyde Definition has a distinct military influence. Hyde Definition designs and manufactures camouflage and produces the PenCott pattern.
Military Gear Blog asked Holsworth a few questions about his blog, his life, his career — well just about everything.
You once stated on your blog, Strike – Hold!, that you developed a keen interest in military matters at a fairly young age. What sparked that interest?
I began to develop a serious interest in military things when I was about 11- or 12-years-old after I became friends with a couple of guys at school who were kind of outsiders. They wore surplus Army jackets and combat boots and were really into World War II history. The three of us became a sort of WWII history “gang.”
From then on I was hooked. I spent much of my teenage years reading everything about WWII that I could, especially anything about paratroopers, Marines, commandos and Special Forces. In fact, at one point I was banned from my school library because I was skipping classes and spending the time in the library reading through their collection of National Geographic magazines from the 1930s and 1940s. Reading those real, frontline reports from the time was the best history teacher ever though!
Another thing that influenced me was my grandfather. He had served in a reconnaissance unit for the Canadian Army, which was attached to the British Army in the Libyan Desert during World War I. They drove around the desert in Model T Fords, but because he died when I was quite young I never really got to know a lot about any of the missions or operations that they undertook.
Another influence was that I was growing up during the time of the liberation of the Israeli hostages at Entebbe, the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the debacle of the attempted rescue, “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, the successful storming of the Iranian Embassy in London by the SAS and the Falklands War.
Your blog mentions that you served as an enlisted man in the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Why did you decide to enlist?
I had such a keen interest in modern military history, and I wanted to experience the soldier’s life firsthand.
The Army seemed to offer the best range of choices, and it came down to deciding whether to join up as an intelligence analyst, a Special Forces soldier or an airborne infantryman. My recruiter told me that I had to be an non-commissioned officer (NCO) before I could become a 96B intel analyst, so that one was off the list. Similarly I’d have to be an NCO to try out for Special Forces. So that had to take a back seat, too. But being a paratrooper was always something that inspired and intrigued me anyways — so I went for it. As I didn’t know about the 509th in Italy at the time (my recruiter also told me that there were no airborne troops in Europe — hah!), I went for a slot in the 82nd.
Infantry slots in the 82nd were in kind of short supply at the time though, and I had to stick to my guns and insist that I wasn’t going to sign up until they could get me one. The recruiting station tried to persuade me to enlist as a tank turret repairman and even as an artillery FO with the 82nd, but I insisted on an infantry slot and eventually got one.
What inspired you to start the blog?
I wanted to build upon what I had started while writing for the airsoft magazine, and I was motivated by the fact that nobody else was combining airsoft and real-deal news — as well as clothing and gear reviews — under the same roof. I also wanted to cover a wider range of MilSim and real-world subjects with more breadth and depth than I was seeing elsewhere — either online or offline. I felt that I had the knowledge and skills to do it.
Is there a goal for the blog?
The over-arching goal, or mission if you will, is simply to deliver great content that is intelligent, insightful, up-to-the-minute and historical and international in scope. I aim to make sure it will be of interest to amateur enthusiasts and real-deal professionals.
Beyond that, it’s nice to be first with a big story (a new slant on a big story) sometimes, and it’s also nice to be considered a “must-read” destination by people who are looking for something better than the fluff that some other publishers and bloggers churn out.
We must be doing something right because we’ve had more than 1.6 million visits to the blog since we launched at the end of August 2008, and it looks like we’ll hit 2 million well before our second birthday. Plus, we constantly get quoted as a source and linked to from loads of sites and blogs from around the world.
Serving in the military is life-changing. What did you take away from your time of service?
Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I guess it did change my life, but I don’t usually think of it that way. It always seems more like it affirmed my life. I went in to the Army with some pretty naive attitudes in some ways, and my Army experience certainly shook me out of those. In other ways, it reinforced and clarified my thinking about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to get from life. Along the way, I gained a lot of self-confidence, learned a few lessons about teamwork, friendship and camaraderie, leadership and trust.
I had some great adventures and got to travel to some very interesting places and do some pretty cool training as well. On the other hand, my civilian life and career after the Army and university has never been as exciting or fulfilling in some ways. So I guess that’s also part of the reason for doing the blog. It keeps me connected to the exciting bits of military life without the boring bits.
I was also lucky in that I never had to contend with IEDs, suicide bombers or friendly fire. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the men and women serving today.
Last year, you were hired as the marketing director for Hyde Definition. What was your professional expertise in prior to this position? Did it vary greatly from your previous career(s)?
Well, I have almost 20 years international marketing and communications experience across several industry sectors with a variety of companies. And through my hobby and blogging activities, I also had tactical industry knowledge as well.
So, whilst it differs greatly from the industry sector I work in for my day job, the marketing skills and knowledge that I’ve built up over the years in that area are quite easily transferable to this space. Besides that, being involved with Hyde gives me the opportunity to apply my professional experience with a subject area that I love — so it’s actually quite a fun and fulfilling challenge.
Did you always have an interest in designing camouflage?
My earliest recollection of an interest in camouflage goes back to when I was about 15 or 16, and I wanted to tie-dye camouflage my step-dad’s old USAF OD overalls so that I could go to Soldier of Fortune Magazine’s first convention in St. Louis, Mo. Needless to say, my parents wouldn’t let me do that. So, I settled for buying a set of surplus Italian Army camouflage the next summer. I was hooked from then on and have been a student and collector of camouflage patterns and uniforms ever since.
The next big moment came in 1995/1996 when I designed a few digital patterns for uniforms, vehicles, aircraft and watercraft. I was living and working in Amsterdam, and I was reading a lot of cyber-punk fiction at the time. The patterns I designed were basically the result of me playing around with PC Paintbrush and CorelDRAW to come up with some conceptual camouflage schemes for a military-themed cyber-punk novel I was formulating. I hadn’t seen or heard anything about the work of Col. Tim O’Neill at that time, nor about the development work being done on what would become CADPAT. I just thought that the jagged, pixilated shapes looked kind of cool and different and “cyber.”
Shortly after this, I got into WWII re-enactment for about 10 years. My focus on camouflage went decidedly retro but certainly didn’t go away. The group I was most active with was a Fallschirmjaeger and Luftwaffe air/ground crew living history society that took uniform accuracy very seriously. So much so that, because we couldn’t find reproduction camouflage that was accurate enough on the open market, the most experienced collector in the group designed and printed his own reproduction Luftwaffe Splittermuster camouflage material. He made it up into smocks, helmet covers and bandoliers. These “Gulliver smocks” were a real work of art, and became justifiably famous in the UK and European living history community. They became the standard against which all other commercial reproductions were measured.
But after jumping in Normandy on the anniversaries in 2001 and 2004 and Arnhem in 2004, I was kind of bored with the typical standing-around-in-a-field type of living history event. So I decided to go modern and switched to airsoft. My first skirmish was on Memorial Day in November 2004. Taking up airsoft reignited my passion for modern military camouflage – and with the roll-out of CADPAT, MARPAT and UCP for the Canadian and American militaries and KA2 for the Jordanians — for digital camo in particular.
I started to spend a lot of time researching, analyzing and evaluating many different camouflage patterns — especially new ones. I also began to work on adapting several current schemes to different colorations to suit different environments. In 2008, I started putting all of this together into a white paper/project plan for a multi-environment family of camouflage patterns.
I got pretty far along with my thinking, but then I discovered PenCott and got in touch with Dom Hyde. I was really impressed that Dom, quietly working away here in the UK, had not only created a stunningly effective and unique pattern but that he’d also designed his own uniform and had managed to get it all produced and on the market.
How did you become involved in the camouflage/tactical industry?
Before I came across PenCott in 2008, I had been in correspondence with several other camouflage designers — but they were either not able to bring their creations to market, or they were only able to do so in limited amounts and after long delays. Once I started talking to Dom, we quickly saw that our thinking and approach was very closely aligned–amazingly close in fact. So it was basically a case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”
Between us, Dom and I have over 60 years of experience and expertise in the realm of camouflage, in combination we’ve also collected several hundred different camouflage uniforms and patterns, and together we’ve also analyzed, explored or operated in every type of terrain that I can think of. With that background, I knew PenCott was a winner from the moment I laid eyes on it, and that Hyde Definition was going to be a good home.
In addition to that specific domain area expertise, I have also built up a lot of knowledge about tactical gear and tactical clothing over the years. It was initially motivated by my dissatisfaction with most of the gear I was issued in the Army back in the 1980s — some of which hadn’t been updated since the 1950s! I was able to leverage and build on all of that knowledge and interest when I started writing — and of course through the writing I also built up more industry contacts — all of which has been very useful in helping to get even more traction in the market for PenCott.
In addition to the PenCott pattern, Hyde Definition works with clients to develop variants of PenCott, bespoke camouflage patterns and site- or surface-specific camouflage applications. Are you involved in this process? If so, what does it entail and what factors have to be addressed?
Yes, we’ve worked on a number of projects already and have several others in progress. I can’t reveal much about most of these projects — except to say that we’ve done a visual-mitigation project on a wind turbine installation in the UK, we’ve worked on a terrain-optimized re-coloration of the national camouflage pattern of a large European country, and we’re also working on some interesting stuff around the application of camouflage patterns on complex vehicle surfaces.
Do you have big plans for Hyde Definition in the coming year?
Yes, we sure do. By the time you’re reading this we’ll have uniform fabric rolling off the production line in GreenZone, Badlands and Sandstorm colorways. Then we’ll be moving on to 500D and 1000D Cordura nylon in those colorways, and then on to our Snowdrift colorway and any others that the market demands.
Our partners Spec Ops, SOD Gear, EDT and ESU Armor have all added PenCott to their product lines and we’ll also soon be launching our own clothing line for the commercial market — comprising of a Hybrid Tactical Uniform, Hybrid Tactical Smock, and Hybrid Boonie Hat. And meanwhile, we continue to service enquiries from military and law enforcement special operations units, retailers, custom manufacturers and volume producers who want to add PenCott to their portfolios as well.
The other big things for this year are the U.S. and Polish future camouflage initiatives that we’ve entered, and we’re also waiting to see what will come from a number of other countries that are looking at our patterns.
Any final words?
Yes — seek the truth, think for yourself, do well, punish bad, care for your team, know how to tell the difference between the big stuff and the small stuff, don’t sweat the small stuff, keep a sense of humor — and don’t let the bastards grind you down.