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USING MILITARY PHILOSOPHIES, TWO RETIRED GREEN BERETS HAVE MASTERFULLY GUIDED SPARTAN BLADES FOR 12 YEARS

They are American heroes. Combined, these two retired members of the Special Forces have more than four decades of military service and dedication to the United States of America. To be sure, their skills, military education and experience are among the elite. 

In the following story, you will find out how Curtis V. Iovito and Mark Carey combined forces and used the philosophies they mastered in the military to build one of the knife industry’s strongest brands— Spartan Blades.

In the interview, Mark made it abundantly clear that they are patriotic and driven toward perfection. Whether serving our country or their customers, these two men are also humble, talented, focused, dedicated and committed. That’s why they are American heroes, and that’s why Spartan Blades has been in business for 12 years. Along with their team, they are most definitely “special forces.”

Knives Illustrated: What prompted you to enlist in the Marines and then the Army?

Curtis Iovito: As a young man, I grew up in a small town that valued patriotism and service. Combined with a sense of adventure and a desire to see more of the world, I was compelled to join the Marines.

As for the Army, two of my squad leaders talked me into getting out of the Marines. This was not intended as a permanent thing; instead, it was a way of avoiding leave. They explained that it was common to get out, take a short break, which was basically free leave, and then I’d reenlist.

This turned out to be pretty bad advice, as the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings [Balanced Budget Act] budget cuts had just been put into effect, and the Department of Defense decided not to let former Marines reenlist. As a guy who loved the Marines, I decided that being a paratrooper would be the next best thing, so I enlisted in the Army and eventually ended up in the 2nd Ranger Bn.

KI: I understand you developed  an interest in knife making while  in the Special Forces. What created that interest?

Curtis: As a Special Forces weapons sergeant, I wanted to develop my knowledge of weapons and started working weekends at a gun/machine shop near Ft. Lewis (Tacoma, WA.). While working there, I made a knife for myself and then for a friend. You can probably guess how it grew from there.

KI: During your 20-year career in the military, what are some of the most important lessons you learned?

Curtis: I can honestly say the biggest one is, “Know your operational environment.” This is true whether you are in an insurgent neighborhood or at a dinner party. It is such an important factor when conducting business and interfacing with others. It allows you to plan and develop courses of action.

The SpartanHarsey folder or “SHF” is the company’s first folder collaboration with William Harsey, Jr. This blade can be used for everyday carry or as a sturdy field knife.

KI: The company was founded in 2008. What prompted you to take this direction for your next career?

Mark Carey: Curtis and I retired about the same time and went to work for a corporation that felt it was best to spend company profits (in the millions) rather than pay out hard-earned bonuses. We had seen operations that were perennially successful and others that had crashed simply due to planning and lack of attention to detail. We were fairly confident that we could run a successful operation.

KI: How much time elapsed from the time you came up with the idea to the time in which the company was up and running?

Mark: It was about 60 days. We developed two business plans: one for building sniper rifles and the other for making knives. We decided on knives based on the state of the industry, the start-up cost, and how nice and receptive people in the industry were. At the time, Jeff Freemen, who was in charge of product development and innovation at Gerber, offered to let us visit their factory and hang out for a few days. Chris of Chris Reeve Knives offered to let us stay with him, so he could teach us about the industry. At the time, the firearms industry was busy undercutting each other and stealing employees. In the end, knives were an easy choice.

KI: To build a successful knife company, what did you see as the biggest challenge?

Curtis: Honestly, we never let the fear of failure enter our thought process. Understanding the risk after weighing it was a different story. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to take a paycheck for at least a year … and that was hard. We lived off savings and contract work for the first few years so that we could reinvest into the company. We knew that most startups fail because of early over spending, but we avoided that.

KI: When you guys first opened the doors, you were working in a pre-Civil War mule barn. Tell us what that was like.

Curtis: Well, we often are asked, “Why the name Spartan Blades?” It developed out of the spartan way we had to do things to get started. We each pitched in a few thousand dollars and moved into a pre-Civil War mule barn on Mark’s property. There was no heating, air-conditioning or internet, but there were plenty of spiders and snakes. We remodeled the upstairs as an office and the downstairs as a grinding and blasting area. Honestly, it was not that bad. Mark, in essence, was always at work and would often walk over to the shop in his robe and take care of banking, purchasing and sourcing of materials. It was small, but it definitely taught us how to put systems in place on a small scale.

“WE TREAT BUSINESS LIKE A MISSION AND THAT IS PART OF WHAT HAS MADE US SUCCESSFUL.”

Another collaboration with William Harsey, this Special Edition is covered with a series of Runes and Staves to bring luck, good health, and healing to the owner.

KI: How long were you there before you moved? Once you were in a new building with more elbow room, describe the feeling.

Curtis: We were in the barn from 2008 to 2014. I will never forget the time a dealer called us and asked to speak to the “American division of the company.” I said, “Satu tick tick saja,” which is Indonesian for just a moment. I put him on hold then answered the phone, “Curtis speaking, American division.” I will never forget Mark looking at me and saying, “What the hell?” I will also never forget blasting knives in the winter and telling Jake Nelson, one of our employees, “Some day we might be able to do this in a heated building.” Of course, when that day came, it was pretty damn nice.

KI: When you guys selected the team, what traits were you looking for in your employees?

Mark: The biggest one was finding team players. We just don’t subscribe to the usual boss/employee way of conducting business. We like to take a team approach, much like we did in the Special Forces. Everyone in our shop has specific duties, but we also crosstrain everyone. For example, our guys in the assembly area can answer the phone, take orders, work trade shows and run a laser. All our employees are either veterans or locals whose families have been in town for years.

This shot shows the Shintos in the blaster.

KI: Describe your creative process when coming up with new ideas.

Curtis: Mark and I tend to be very system and process-oriented. We find that it is easier to implement, teach, and follow systems and processes. Developing ideas is very much the same. While the creative process is based on preparation, incubation, illumination, evaluation and implementation, we often will use the military decisionmaking process, which is mission, mission analysis, course of action (COA) development, COA analysis, COA comparison, COA approval and orders production. This is just the way we are used to doing things.

KI: Both you and Mark have extensive military experience. When creating new product, do you rely solely on that, or do you work with others?

Curtis: Early in the process of starting Spartan Blades, we were sitting around with Chris Reeve and Bill Harsey. They asked us a few questions to which they already knew the answer. The first was, “Did you get knife making classes in the Special Forces?” The answer was “No.” The next was, “How many hours of knife designing did you receive at Ft. Bragg?” The answer was, “Well … none.”

Bill then said something that always stuck with us. He said, “So being in the Special Forces has nothing to do with being a good knifemaker or designer. So, do what good SF guys do: develop relationships and learn.” His point was know yourself and be honest about what you’re good at and what you aren’t. If you aren’t good at something, find someone who is. To answer your question, we rely on others all the time.

KI: In a given year, do you strive to release a certain number of knives?

Mark: No, we don’t. Quality is always better than quantity. Knives tend to have a lifespan, and we do track sales and performance of knives. If we feel a knife is coming to the end of its run, we kill it and develop a new one.

Now that we have joined forces with KA-BAR Knives, we are doing more long-range planning in an effort to create more choices for our customers. We plan to make three distinct lines of knives: Gold or Elite Grade, Silver or Pro Grade and Bronze or Field Grade. Expect to see far more offerings from us in the next few years.

“HONESTLY, WE NEVER LET THE FEAR OF  FAILURE ENTER OUR THOUGHT PROCESS.”  —Curtis Iovito, on opening Spartan Blades

Although there was no heating or air conditioning, Spartan Blades initially spent several successful years in their original home

KI: What makes Spartan Blades’ knives different from the knives other companies produce?

Curtis: In most cases, it is how we develop the knives as a product. When we started making knives, we decided that we would go a little overboard on the processes it takes to make a knife. For example, the price of CPM steels is far more expensive than, say 1095, but we knew it performed better so we used it. We double-deep, cryogenically heattreat our blades. When we asked Bob Skitbinski, the metallurgist at Crucible Steel Company, if it was necessary to do it twice, he said, “No, but it is the only way to get the very best performance from the steel.” So, we did it, doubling the cost of the treatment.

During the temper process, all our knives are brought to tempered while fitted in a hydraulic press to ensure straightness. This is called pressure tempering, which adds additional cost. We even decided on PVD coating that is far more expensive than other methods, but we did that as well.

Why use these expensive processes? Because we decided to make the best knives that we could. Simple as that. Remember, we didn’t want to be the Special Forces guys who make crap, and we knew that the bigger guys most likely wouldn’t spend the extra money to pull the best performance out of their knives … giving us an edge.

Spartan Blades get more than their share of real-world use.

KI: Your company has enjoyed tremendous success through the years. Which of the accomplishments stand out the most?

Curtis: Professionally, it would be winning American Made Knife of the Year two years running at the International BLADE Show. Personally, it would be the relationships we have developed with our friends in the industry. The list includes Chris and Anne Reeve, Bill Harsey, Rick Hinderer, Greg Medford and many more. In any other industry, the people we listed would be considered rivals. In ours, they are considered friends. That is a very rare and special thing.

KI: What are the keys that  have enabled your company to  be so successful?

Mark: We attribute that to a few things. First, we decided early on that we would always pay our bills early or on time. Second, a knife would never leave our shop until it is paid for. Third, we would never take any money until we delivered our knives. Finally, we would treat every dealer and customer as if they were our business partner because, in essence, they are.

Lannie Harper is a retired Army master sergeant and an Apache helicopter mechanic. Here he is shown bending clips.

KI: Discuss the company’s mission statement, and explain your goal to reinvigorate the populace through your knives.

Curtis: What we mean by this is that we are rapidly becoming a country used to disposable products. Many of us remember what it was like to pick up tools or household items that belonged to our grandparents or from a local craftsman. We want to give products like that back to people.

As a member of the Special Forces, Mark Carey specialized in all aspects of medicine, as well as unconventional warfare with an emphasis on counterterrorism and sniping

KI: Describe how the philosophy “knives with intent” works in conjunction with your company’s success.

Curtis: While I know this can sound a little menacing to some, it has a deeper meaning. We try to think about the intent of the user and what the knife will be used for. If you do that, it can translate into success.

KI: You’ve described your company as “relentlessly patriotic. Describe how this trait became so meaningful for you. 

Mark: We spent the majority of our adult lives serving in the U.S. military, as well as other activities after that service. During that time, we lived and worked in dozens of countries and were always happy to come back home. You see the lack of freedoms and movement in other countries and really appreciate what a special existence we have here in the U.S. I know some people equate patriotism to the flag, business, race, politics, or a particular party, but it is so much more than that. It’s our shared history, our families and core American values that make us [USA] special. We know America isn’t perfect, but no country or man is. We are proud to be an American company. We truly love our country and wouldn’t hesitate to die for it. And trust me when I say that has almost happened a few times. As Spartan Blades grows, we find ourselves working and selling knives worldwide and take great pride in telling people that we are an American company and even more so retired soldiers.

Curtis Iovito and Mark Carey call the Spartan Harsey Dagger “the epitome of what a combat dagger should be.” The overall length is 10 ¾ inches, and the blade length is 6 inches. It weighs in at 6.72 ounces; it is made of CPM S35V steel and has a hardness of 58-60.

Here, most of the staff is shown at the 2018 SHOT Show. Left to right, the team members are Jake Nelson, Mark Carey, Lannie Harper and Curtis Iovito

KI: Discuss the changes that recently occurred.

Curtis: We are Pineland Cutlery, Inc. doing business as Spartan Blades.

I know this was a bit of a surprise to people. We started Pineland Cutlery, Inc. this year with KA-BAR Knives as our partner. As a small company, we just didn’t have the assets to see Spartan continue to expand into other larger markets. While there is no doubt that we could have in time, time is something that Mark and I had to look at. We decided that we would like Spartan Blades to live beyond us, and we aren’t getting any younger.

Our desire was to team with an American company that cared about history and had the same ethics and core values as we do. As a company that has close ties to the military, KA-BAR was a natural choice for us. We already had a friendly and collaborative relationship with them, and we knew they are trustworthy and honest.

If you had told me 12 years ago that we would be partnering with the most storied American knife company in U.S. history, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Mark: Now that we have teamed with KA-BAR, our plan is to make Spartan Blades available to a wider customer base. By creating three distinct lines of knives (Gold, Silver and Bronze), we will also be opening our knives up to distribution. Gold or Elite grade knives will be the same knives we have always made right here in North Carolina by the same craftsman. Silver or Pro Grade will be made by KA-BAR in New York and will be a more affordable option, Finally, we are developing a Bronze or Field Grade that will be manufactured with overseas partners..

KI: If you could go back in time, would you change anything?

Curtis: No, I’ve always said that is no way to think; you can only change the future, and the best way to do that is by doing good things and treating people right.

The Truths

CURTIS IOVITO AND MARK CAREY DEVOTED DECADES OF SERVICE TO AMERICA. THIS TAUGHT THEM “SOF TRUTHS” THAT THEY USE AS GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR THEIR COMPANY.

  1. Humans are more important than hardware.
  2. Quality is better than quantity.
  3. Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced.
  4. Competent Special  Operations Forces  cannot be created after  emergencies occur.
  5. Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance.

THE FIRST DECADE: A Timeline

2008: Curtis Iovito and Mark Carey found Spartan Blades. They set up shop in a pre-Civil War mule barn.

2010: At the BLADE Show, Spartan won the “Knife Collaboration of the Year” award with William W. Harsey.

2014: Spartan scored two victories at the BLADE Show. First, Spartan won the “Most Innovative American Design” award. For the V-14 Dagger with Les George, Spartan also won the “Knife Collaboration of the Year.”

2016: For the Spartan Harsey folder, the BLADE Show recognized Spartan with the “American-Made Knife of the Year.”

2017: For the Kranos folder, Spartan won the “American-made Knife of the Year” at the BLADE Show.

Meet the Team

  • Curtis V. Iovito & Mark Carey: Co-owners of Spartan Blades
  • Kimberly Harper: She is the customer service representative, an Army veteran and the personal interface between our customers and our company.
  • Lannie Harper: He is a knife maker and craftsman, retired Army master sergeant, and an Apache helicopter mechanic who has a degree in gunsmithing and business. Let’s just say his attention to detail is pretty damn good.
  • Jake Nelson: A knife maker and craftsman, Jake grew up in the neighborhood we had our original shop in and used to ride his bike to our shop to blast knives for extra money. He is now been with us for almost 10 years and literally can do any job required in our shop. He has a very bright future for such a young man.

Mission Overview

The Military Careers of Iovito and Carey Curtis Iovito’s and Mark Carey’s bios are so long that we can only present a few highlights. For more information, jump on the company’s website.

Curtis Iovito
Assignments  

  • D/2/1st SWTG. Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC), Ft Bragg, NC
  • C/1/1 SFG (A), 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Okinawa, Japan
  • B/3/1 SFG (A), 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Ft. Lewis, WA

Military Education

  • DOS-DSS High Threat Protective Security Operations Course (Kroll Crucible)
  • O’Gara SSI High Risk Drivers Training Course
  • Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance and Target Exploitation Training Course (SFARTETC)
  • Special Operations Target Interdiction Course Level I (SOTIC)
  • Special Operations Training  Course (SOT)
  • Military Freefall Parachutist Course (HALO School)
  • U.S. Army Special Warfare Training Center Instructor Training Course (ITC)
  • Special Forces Weapons  Sergeant Course
  • Ranger Indoctrination Course
  • Airborne School

Mark Carey
Assignments

  • D/2/1st SWTG. Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC), Ft Bragg, NC
  • C/1/1 SFG (A),1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Okinawa, Japan
  • B/1/1 SFG(A), 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Okinawa, Japan

Military Education

  • USMC Urban Sniper Course
  • Special Operations Target Interdiction Course Level I (SOTIC)
  • U.S. Army Special Warfare Training Center Instructor Training Course (ITC)
  • Advanced Non-Commissioned Officers/Operation and Intelligence Course (ANCOC/O&I)
  • Paramedic (UTSAHSC)
  • USMC Maritime Over the Horizon/ Coxswain Courses
  • U.S. Army Mountain School
  • Special Forces Medical  Sergeant Course
  • Airborne School
  • U.S. Army Basic Training/ Advance Individual Training – Infantry Course

Personal Info

Name: Curtis V. Iovito
Age: 55
Born: Bolingbrook, IL
Title: Co-owner; President, Product Development/Marketing

Name: Mark Carey
Age: 53
Born: La Mesa, CA
Title: Co-owner; President, Plans and Operations

Contact Us

Website SpartanBladesUSA.com
Email contact@spartan bladesusa.com
Phone (910) 757-0035