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Blackheart International supplies gear, training from Philippi

By PAM KASEY pkasey@statejournal.com

PHILIPPI — Boasting a solid global reputation and unique capabilities, Blackheart International supplies tactical gear and training to law enforcement, government entities and independent security companies.

BHI got its start in Weston in 1999. 

The idea for the company came about when founder and managing member Erik Lawrence served in the Special Forces. He realized that his division had to go to a number of suppliers for gear, according to Chief Operating Officer Travis Ernst, and saw a niche for a consolidated supplier.

BHI was created to offer that one-stop shop and now streamlines purchasing from more than 400 vendors for the federal government and other markets.

The company moved to northwestern Pennsylvania for several years for family reasons. But as the operation expanded and diversified, managers realized they needed a big, multi-purpose building. They found it in the former Myers Hospital in Philippi. They moved into that location in 2005. 

With further growth, BHI established a retail location several miles north of town and moved its headquarters there, allowing it to dedicate the Myers Hospital site to training.

About half of BHI's business is government contracts and "logistics" — pulling together packages to order. 

"We'll order in the equipment and box it up, we'll do kitting — order the individual pieces for, say, medical kits, and build the kits — and ship them out," Ernst said. "Or a contractor might need boots, uniforms, helmets and body armor in one package for maybe five guys, and we'll pull it all together."

Training has grown to make up most of the rest of BHI's business. 

"We used to just train law enforcement and civilians, and now we train a lot of military personnel, so our training capability has grown quite a bit," said Ernst.

The company has particularly made a name for itself in foreign weapons training, he said.

"The guys that are using Soviet weapons, for example, they need to know the weapons inside and out, so they come here for in-depth instruction," he said. "Small caliber to large caliber, we've got one of the only facilities in the country where you can receive extensive training and shoot the DShK, the Russian version of our 50-cal."

Most days, BHI has some kind of training going on. Of the broad range of courses it is prepared to offer, it conducts at least one foreign weapons course per month and also trains West Virginia law enforcement, and its concealed carry weapons courses for civilians are popular. 

"We've been doing at least one advanced pistol course and rifle course per month," Ernst said. "We're looking at doing a two-day course one weekend a month through the summer — pistol one day, rifle next day."

Retail makes up the rest of the business.

BHI distinguishes itself in many ways. It field tests every product, for example. 

It has become known in tactical communications, the industry that supplies satellite communications to the military. 

It also applies its expertise to manufacturing — BHI is the only AR-15 manufacturer in West Virginia, as far as Ernst knows — and to equipment modifications.

"We've done quite a bit of R&D with very specific products," Ernst said. 

"There's a suppressor for the AK-47 that we've had a hand in designing and developing, and we've designed some other products for the foreign weapons," he said. "The light machine gun, the PKM, we've got a soft ammo bag for that, and we've got a shortened barrel. Other machining we've done is for custom bolt guns, a hunting rifle, a sniper rifle."

And BHI exports to Jordan, Canada and Norway.

The company currently employs 17 people with flexibility, using contract instructors, to employ up to 21. Ernst sees particular opportunities for growth in training and in exports. 

Blackheart International's catalog, training schedule and information may be found on its website, www.bhigear.com.