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What's a killer to do when the fighting is over?

"There's a group of guys down here, way out on the hairy edge. They did covert stuff, and then... they went rogue. Went renegade, dropped off the face of the Earth, disappeared into drug land. And with their 'special skills', they cut one hell of a swath through their competition."
Colonel Styles, Basic

Being in the military can teach you some skills, but the skill that people most commonly associate with the military, (i.e. how to hurt or kill people) doesn't exactly translate well to civilian life. However, there is a way around that for more morally... flexible... people; put those skills to work in crime, especially organized crime, and start picking apart the local competition.

Many fictional criminals who come from a military background not only tend to be much more effective, dangerous, and capable than everyday thugs, but also tend to have a reputation for ruthlessness and cold-bloodedness when getting their hands dirty. As these guys have years of combat experience and military tactics up their sleeve, it's no surprise that they'll become The Dreaded to communities and other criminal organizations alike, and can be quite capable of giving the law a nasty run for its money when cornered.


This trope is particularly common if the character in question is a Shell-Shocked Veteran who has been broken by their experiences, a Sociopathic Soldier who was clearly a bad apple while in the service, and the Returning War Vet who finds You Can't Go Home Again may be likely to fall into this. Because Elites Are More Glamorous, expect a character doing this to be from a section of the military either known for being unusually badass or flat out special forces/covert ops.

While often exaggerated in the media, this is very definitely Truth in Television, in ways which can vary from the tragic to the terrifying. It is also Older Than Feudalism, at the very least, as it was a significant factor in the coup d'etat staged by Critias and the other Thirty Tyrants in ancient Athens (of which the execution of Socrates was just one consequence). It also played pivotal roles in the 20th century, specifically in the rise of Fascism and Nazism, and conversely, in the Russian and Chinese revolutions.


A companion trope to Lawman Gone Bad. Contrast Badges and Dog Tags, when policemen have an ex-military background. Compare and contrast the Privateer, who was essentially paid by his nation to become a pirate against another nation's shipping, the Rogue Agent, and the Boxed Crook. The inversions are Trading Bars for Stripes, where a character facing prison time or in prison is given the choice of serving in the military instead and Recruiting the Criminal. May sometimes overlap with Former Regime Personnel and Rogue Agent.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
    • Well-Intentioned Extremist/Anti-Villain Kuze was once a soldier of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces, before becoming extremely disillusioned with his work and deserted from his North Korean outpost.
    • The episode "JUNGLE CRUISE" has Marco Amoretti, a former American Imperial Navy special warfare operator-turned-Serial Killer after being driven insane by atrocities he was ordered to commit in World War IV as terror tactics against anti-AE guerrilla forces. Batou came across some of Amoretti's handiwork in the war while stationed there with a JGSDF Ranger contingent and is determined to stop him.
    • Some of the Individual Eleven terrorists investigated by Section 9 were career airmen/officers with the Japanese Air-Self Defense Forces and were hinted to be involved in assassination and bombing attacks throughout Japan.
  • In One Piece, Hody Jones was once part of the Fishman Island's Neptune's Royal Army before he became the captain of the New Fishman Pirates. Likewise, one of the Super Rookie pirates X. Drake was once a Rear Admiral in the Marines.
  • Banana Fish has Dino resorting to recruiting ex-commandos who had seen action in Afghanistan as French Foreign Legion soldiers as a commando force to hunt down Ash and his allies.
  • Black Lagoon: Hotel Moscow is a Mafiya group composed of ex-Army Spetsnaz commandos and VDV paratroopers. Their military skills and personal loyalty to their old commanding officer Balalaika make them probably the single most feared of the many criminal organizations in Roanapur.
    • They're even more feared in the underworld for the presence of the Vissotoniki, ex-commandos in the Spetsnaz, VDV, and other Soviet special forces units meant for HM's special operations when they're needed for sensitive operations.
  • Fist of the North Star has an arc dealing with a group of ex-soldiers who have formed their own group of marauders, led by a Colonel with ESP.
  • Rurouni Kenshin is set in 1870s Japan following the Meiji Restoration. A number of villains are unemployed former samurai and ronin who turned to crime.

    Comic Books 
  • DC Comics:
    • The obscure Batman foe Gunhawk is a former USMC sniper turned assassin.
    • Deathstroke aka Slade Wilson. He joined the army at a young age, lying about his age and was part of a Supersoldier program. After being set up by one of his commanding officers, he became a notorious mercenary for hire.
    • In Hitman, Tommy Monaghan was a sniper in the USMC before returning to Gotham to become a professional hitman.
  • Marvel Comics:
    • The Punisher:
      • Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, in all his various incarnations, is a veteran turned Vigilante Man after his family is killed by criminals, and he goes far, far outside the law to act as Judge, Jury, and Executioner on any criminal he meets. He's also faced off with other veterans of various wars (mostly Vietnam) who have turned to crime (including a former squadmate and an unnamed colonel smuggling drugs in the bodies of fallen American soldiers).
      • The Slavers from the The Punisher MAX arc of the same name are hardened soldiers/war criminals from the Bosnian war. The fact that they've actually had to fight for their lives puts them above the average Mafia goons and even have Frank on the ropes for a while.
      • Also from MAX comics; Barracuda the Ax-Crazy mercenary and Frank's arch-nemesis (or as close as it gets), who is a former Green Beret, and didn't even wait to be kicked out to start a drug-smuggling operation in Nicaragua.
      • Sniper is a former squad mate of Frank's in Vietnam, who became a Professional Killer after the war, putting his sniper skills to good use and earning a reputation as one of the finest long-range shots in the world.
    • Venom:
      • The symbiote itself was bred to be an Agent of the Cosmos — a member of an order of noble warriors dedicated to maintaining peace across the universe — but was corrupted into a bloodthirsty predator by its first host.
      • Lee Price, the symbiote's sixth human host, was a member of the Army Rangers discharged after a mine damaged his hand, and who turned to crime to make ends meet.
  • Lobster Random is a former Supersoldier who turned to a life of crime after being discharged from the military after a war ended. He specialises as a Torture Technician and his inability to feel pain leaves him no empathy for his victims.
  • In Lucky Luke, Joss Jamon's gang turned to crime after the end of The American Civil War.
  • In Sherwood, Texas, Rob Hood is a decorated Navy veteran who takes over running the Jesters outlaw motorcycle gang when his father is murdered.
  • Spider-Man: Adrien Toomes was a World War 2 Fighter Pilot, and quite a skilled one at that. This gave him some inside knowledge when he founded his company Toomes Aerodynamic. The skills further translated when, seeking revenge on a treacherous business partner, he donned his famous wings and took to the skies as the Villainous Vulture.

    Fan Works 
  • In Hope for the Heartless, it's revealed that after the demise of the Horned King, the few of his former soldiers who survived have been terrorizing Prydain's villages and selling people into illegal slavery as outlaws. It comes as no surprise to the resurrected Horned King that his former henchmen haven't needed him to continue their barbaric lifestyle.
  • In The Butcher Bird, while not elaborated on extensively, Cha Chandos of the Oni is a former Marine who killed his commanding officer and ended up joining a pirate crew afterwards.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Michael Corleone from The Godfather was a US Marine captain in World War II, and although he had wanted to avoid getting entangled in the "family business" in the past, once he does get involved with it, he proves shockingly effective and ruthless in ways his other criminal rivals are completely unprepared for.
  • Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon tries to keep the police from storming the bank by saying that he and his cohort were in the Army in Vietnam and have no problem getting violent with the hostages. While at the time it seems like a desperate bluff, later on, he is seen showing some of the hostages how he learned to march and handle a gun during training. His relationship with the hostages makes it pretty clear he doesn't intend to hurt them, however.
  • Tony Montana of Scarface (1983) is a former Cuban Army soldier who gradually becomes a fearsome Miami cocaine kingpin, and quickly becomes known for being quite fearless and ruthless to his rivals. Tony's military training could explain his deadly skills with firearms, such as an assault rifle and grenade launcher that he uses to kill dozens of enemy gangsters with in the final battle.
  • While no attention is drawn to it, Porter from Payback has a USMC tattoo and is a dangerously effective and utterly ruthless criminal who is more than capable of taking down drug dealers, Dirty Cops, Triads, or even The Syndicate if any of them stand in the way of getting back the money his ex-partner stole from him.
  • Basic takes place in Panama before the US base closed up there. The film has a rumor going around on base that a group of high-level covert ops guys and elite Army Rangers turned to crime and set themselves up as a criminal empire. And since some members of the group were trained by the much feared and hated Sergeant West, who is infamous for making his trainees want to kill him, and West has just gone missing along with a number of his current trainees, it's speculated that they may be behind it. The ending shows that this rumor is false, but the course of the movie shows that the base's commander, Colonel Styles, and several others, including members of the medical staff, were involved in smuggling drugs back to the US and distributing stimulants to soldiers on the base.
  • The bad guys of Lethal Weapon (1987) are former members of a Vietnam era covert ops unit who have since turned into a major heroin syndicate.
  • The bad guys from Die Hard 2 are a rogue military unit, or two who violently oppose a changing US foreign policy and decide to go rogue and save The Generalissimo who was a former US ally in the Cold War and is now been arrested and put on trial. Their ruthlessness and competence are shown more than once, especially in how they slaughter the police SWAT team.
  • The baddies in Die Hard with a Vengeance are mostly members of a former East German special forces unit specialising in infiltration and sabotage.
  • Neil McCauley from Heat is a retired Marine who has since turned to specializing in armed robberies, leading an extremely skilled crew who draw special attention from the police.
  • In RocknRolla, The Dragon of Russian gangster Yuri is former Spetznaz, as are two old war buddies of his who he calls in at one point. Those two show themselves to be much tougher than the petty gangsters they tangle with and almost superhumanly determined.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: Napoleon was in the Army helping track down art stolen by the Nazis, and took to thieving himself. He was eventually caught, but the CIA decided his skill-set was too useful to be locked up and made an agreement with him to work for them.
  • Dead Presidents, follows a group of black soldiers through Vietnam, their alienation upon returning home, and their eventual decision to commit armed robbery. In a subversion of the trope, their organisation and military skills don't do them much good.
  • An Invoked Trope in The League of Gentlemen. The eponymous league is a gang of cashiered British army officers brought together to use their various military specialties (demolitions, communications, etc.) to stage a bank robbery.
  • The Last Outlaw is about a unit of Confederate ex-soldiers led by their bitter colonel who turned outlaw after the end of The American Civil War.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Iron Man 3, the Mandarin's elite mooks are all war veterans who suffered career-ending injuries on the battlefield. They were recruited with the promise of having their injuries undone with Extremis.
    • In Black Panther, Erik "Killmonger" Stevens is a former US black-ops operative turned international criminal and the usurper of Wakanda's throne.
  • The villains of Keoma are former Confederate soldiers who have taken over a small frontier town.
  • The bad guys in xXx are all ex-Russian military who started a grand theft auto network in Europe to make a profit. Subverted though in that this is simply so they can finance their real objective, which is anarchic terrorism.
  • Cain Miro of Roger Corman's Gunslinger: An ex-Confederate soldier turned gun-for-hire. He takes the job as hired muscle for the film's Big Bad both for the money and a chance for revenge on the town's mayor (Cain's former commanding officer, who Cain considers a traitor and a coward).
  • The bank robbery crew in Den of Thieves is made up exclusively of ex-Marines.
  • Before he went to work for Viggo Tarasov and the Continental, John Wick used to work for the military and presumably picked up his very deadly fighting and gunplay skills from them.
  • In Triple 9, Russell and Michael are ex-navy SEALs. On watching the video of the bank robbery, one of the cops comments that these guys have had tactical training.
  • Juggernaut. While defusing the bombs planted by Juggernaut, the Bomb Disposal officer realises they resemble a particular German Time Bomb used during World War 2, and tells the police to consult a man he served with during the war who has experience with such devices. He turns out to be Juggernaut.
  • Assault on Wall Street: Jim is an army veteran. The skills he acquired in the military come in handy both in his initial job as an armored truck driver, and later when he becomes a domestic terrorist and assassinates various high-profile targets in the financial sector.
  • The original Ocean's 11 has ten of them being former paratroopers who wanted to put those skills back to use by robbing casinos.
  • Harsh Times is about a former Army Ranger who committed numerous wartime atrocities. He's now back stateside and has gotten into drug dealing with local gangs. The film follows his attempt to get back into the military doing black ops for the Department of Homeland Security, but first he has to find a way to beat the drug test.
  • Tiger House: Shane did two tours of duty with Callum's father. It is implied that it was the other man's death from cancer that inspired Shane to leave the military and take up a life of crime.
  • In Accident Man, Mac and Mick are a pair of form special forces soldiers (one British, one American) turned Professional Killers.
  • Knockout Ned (AKA Mané Galinha) from City of God served in the Brazilian Army for an unspecified period of time; he states that he was the best marksman in his squad, and that he also learned martial arts during his military service. Though he tried to live an honest life as a law-abiding citizen afterwards, he unfortunately crossed paths with a ruthless gangster named Lil' Zé, who violently attacked Ned and his loved ones. Ned then becomes allied with Zé's rival Carrot, and soon he starts participating in armed robberies and a brutal gang war across Rio de Janeiro in order to get his revenge on Zé.

  • Speaking of Scarface (1983), the original novel (the one which the 1932 movie was based on) also gave this backstory to its rising criminal kingpin named Tony. Notably, it not only explains his greater expertise at killing (and his trademark scar) but also gives him a convenient amount of anonymity, as a newspaper mistakenly reported him killed in action.
  • Played with in The Great Gatsby. The title character, Jay Gatsby, is an American World War I veteran who later became a successful millionaire businessman by The Roaring '20s. Later on through the story, it's revealed that he acquired his fortune through not-so-legitimate methods — he's apparently a bootlegger involved with alcohol smuggling during Prohibition, and his business partners include mobsters such as Meyer Wolfsheim. However, Gatsby's military service is never brought up as a connection to his criminal activities; and (at least as far as we know), he never directly got his own hands dirty by engaging in the more violent side of organized crime.
  • Hammer's Slammers: In The Sharp End former Slammer Angel Tijuca returns to his homeworld after his enlistment term is over and ends up working for one of the drug cartels fighting over it. He spends his time trying (and failing) to train their thugs and just getting stoned most of the time.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Several books (including The Thrawn Trilogy and The Han Solo Trilogy) establish that Han Solo had once undergone officer training in the Imperial Navy, but left the service not long after and turned to being a pilot for hire and smuggler. The Thrawn Trilogy is pretty vague about the details of how/when/why Han left the navy, but The Han Solo Trilogy shows the events in full detail: he was dishonorably discharged for attacking a superior officer to protect the Wookiee slaves he was abusing. One slave, name of Chewbacca, swore a Life Debt to Han and started following him around. In fact, Han had been a criminal prior to joining the Empire and then was forced into it again since he was blacklisted from legal piloting with his dishonorable discharge.
    • Mara Jade was an Emperor's Hand, a private spy and assassin with limited Force training employed directly by Emperor Palpatine. She ended up as unemployed Former Regime Personnel after Endor, eventually falling in with a smuggler named Talon Karrde.
  • Prince Of The City. The 'paratroopers' are particularly tough Mafiosi with military experience in WW2.
  • Jack Reacher frequently features veterans engaging in criminal behavior. Reacher doesn't take kindly to this, and the novel usually ends with him beating the unholy hell out of them.
  • One of the major villains of the John Rain series is Jim Hilger, ex-Special Forces and former CIA agent who causes the title character no end of headaches. Could also technically apply to Rain himself, as he served in Vietnam before pursuing his career as a freelance assassin.
  • Parker served in the army in Europe during World War II before being dishonorably discharged for black marketeering. Although he was probably a criminal before he enlisted (or was drafted), it is implied his time in the service is part of why he is so good with firearms. Due to Comic-Book Time, his military service is not mentioned in the later novels.
  • In near-future thriller Victoria, Dark Messiah John Rumford and his group of militiamen are a Knight Templar example. As rebels against the increasingly dysfunctional and corrupt Federal Government, the veterans who join the Christian Marines are technically criminals, and this is certainly how their enemies see them. Early on, Rumford and his lieutenant, former Gunnery Sergeant Matthews, use military discipline and tactics to rally the downtrodden citizens into a formidable force to take on the ethnic crime gangs who terrorize their neighborhoods, thus building popularity and muscling in on their business. Later, they move on to overt anti-government action.
  • In many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Holmes' Evil Counterpart Moriarty has a dragon named Sebastian Moran who is an ex-Army officer and Cold Sniper. This actually comes from the original stories, although there, Moran only appears (in just one story) after Moriarty is dead.
  • In Red Dragon, the serial killer of the novel spent time in the military in the fallout of a crime that was apparently never entirely cleared up, which is how his lifelong cleft lip and palate became the subject of a then-experimental surgical procedure.
  • The Dresden Files's John Marcone mentions enlisting "in a fit of youthful patriotism" alongside his enforcer Hendricks.
  • Takeshi Kovacs ran with street gangs before enlisting with the UN Protectorate Envoy corps, and after mustering out found that the civilian job market for sociopathic killing machines was somewhat limited. With the result that most of the time he worked as a mercenary for criminal syndicates.
  • In the early Nick Velvet stories, it is established that Nick dropped out of high school and joined the army; serving in an overseas conflict (before Comic-Book Time kicked in, this would have been The Korean War). It is never plays a major part in the stories, but it is established that it was in the service that Nick discovered his talent for illegal activity that would become his career when he was discharged.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Burn Notice features these quite often:
    • Main character Michael went from being a tough street kid to Army Special Forces to CIA legend to someone who works outside the law to manipulate and destroy criminal organizations on a weekly basis while seldom, if ever, being in real danger from the criminals he takes down. His team member Sam Axe is a former Navy SEAL who was forced into early retirement by a scandal that ensued from his last mission (the circumstances are explored in the spinoff Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe).
    • Michael's Evil Mentor Larry was once involved in covert ops, and now he's a Faux Affably Evil (and completely psycho) assassin for hire whose solution to every problem is "just start killing people and it'll sort itself out."
    • Recurring character Brennan was once Military Intelligence, now he's an Arms Dealer.
    • Gilroy went from being involved in black ops for the British government to a Rogue Agent who will do any job, for anyone, anywhere in the world if the pay is right and it amuses him enough. These jobs range from assassination to terrorism for hire to selling nuclear secrets on the black market.
    • Occasionally the Villain of the Week will be some flavor of ex-military, and they generally present a much greater danger and more difficult challenge to Team Westen than the crooks and con men they usually deal with. One such case is the ex-Green Berets and Marines operating a heroin ring in the first season finale.
  • The title character in Barry is a Shell-Shocked Veteran of Afghanistan; after returning home with PTSD and depression and no applicable civilian skills, he is manipulated by a family friend into becoming a hitman. At the start of the show, Barry's depression is back, and he's looking for a way out of his life of crime.
  • Both Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow from Boardwalk Empire were WWI soldiers who were hardened by their experiences and alienated from their past friends, family, and society in general. While decent enough in many ways, they fall into bootlegging and being hardcore gangsters with few, if any moral qualms, and often prove themselves much more competent and deadly than most of the thugs they encounter.
  • A few of the gangsters in The Sopranos have some military background.
  • Oz:
    • Burr Redding, a middle-aged drug dealer and member of the Homeboys prison gang (a faction of black inmates in Oz), also happens to be a shell shocked Vietnam veteran.
    • Edward Galson is a US Marine colonel who was serving a sentence in Oz after being convicted of raping a fellow female officer. Subverted though in that his military experience didn't make him a more efficient criminal, but rather too arrogant to effectively kill another inmate who kills him instead.
  • Jeremiah Bello from Graceland was a soldier in his home in Nigeria, and after being on the wrong side of a coup, came to Los Angeles and set himself up as a drug kingpin. Mike infiltrates his organization by pretending to be a Marine turning to criminal ventures on the side, and Bello hires him to give his gangsters proper training in guns and marksmanship. Later on, Mike gets fellow FBI Agent "Johnny" Tuturro to go undercover in a similar role, aided by Johnny's past as a sailor in the Navy and Navy SEAL trainee.
  • The Blacksmith from Daredevil Season 2 is actually Colonel Ray Shoonover, Frank Castle's former officer. He and some of his most loyal men became drug dealers after the war and he is partially responsible for the massacre of the Castle family.
  • In The Punisher (2017) series, Billy Russo was a former squadmate of Frank Castle who later formed a private security group and was a part of the conspiracy that led to the death of Frank's family. In Season 2, Billy leads a few fellow disillusioned veterans in vigilante justice and armed robbery, eventually graduating to a large gang that dominates the New York underworld with military tactics and organization.
  • Peaky Blinders is about the rise to power of the eponymous gang in Birmingham after WWI. All three Shelby brothers who run the gang are decorated war heroes, and many of their most loyal followers served with them. Their martial skills come in handy on countless occasions.
  • One episode of Blue Bloods features a Sympathetic Criminal variant when a group of USMC Iraq War vets robs a bank to pay for medical procedures for the leader's husband, a squadmate, when the VA won't. They run headlong into fellow Iraq vet Danny Reagan, who became an NYPD detective instead (following family tradition).
  • Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Washburne from Firefly were a sergeant and a corporal in the Independent Faction army during the Unification War, and are now captain and first mate of a Space Pirate/smuggling crew. Mal likes to insist that "the war's long done; we're all just folk now," but he's still bitter that the Independents lost and will sometimes do things he normally wouldn't (like sheltering River and Simon), just so he can flip the bird to the purple-bellies.
  • Leverage: In one episode, Eliot, Parker, and Hardison foil an attempted assassination by a sniper. Eliot realizes the shooter used to be in the Navy SEALs based on a specific type of watch he was wearing. Eliot also used to be in Spec Ops before he went beyond the bounds of lawful.
  • Played several different ways on Rome.
    • Zigzagged in the case of Vorenus, who almost does this by accident in the first season. When Vorenus needs to get a Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job, he thinks he's taking a job to be a bodyguard for Erastes Fulmen, a man he mistakenly assumes to be a respected local merchant but is actually a mobster who wants Vorenus to be an enforcer for him. Vorenus doesn't realize the truth until Fulmen starts trying to beat money out of a "business partner" of his, and Vorenus almost immediately walks out on the job. In the second season, however, Vorenus does become part of the Roman underworld for real, and he lives up to the ruthless stereotype in the description and then some, as the entire Roman underworld come to both fear and loathe him.
    • Titus Pullo falls into being a thug/killer for hire in the first season and becomes Vorenus' right-hand man in the second when Vorenus becomes a prominent underworld figure. They also have at least one (and maybe more) fellow legionaries in the mob they lead.
  • The X-Files
    • Season 2 episode "Sleepless" focuses on a disgruntled Vietnam vet who had no need to sleep and the ability to alter other people's perception and plans to use his abilities to murder everyone involved in the experiment that gave him his powers
    • Season 3 episode "The Walk" focuses on a disgruntled Gulf War vet who can astral project and plans to use his ability to murder his superior officer's family
    • Season 4 episode "Unrequited" focuses on a disgruntled Vietnam vet who can effectively turn invisible by exploiting people's ocular blind-spots and intends to use it to assassinate a major military official. (Noticing a pattern here?)
  • Person of Interest:
    • John Reese is a former Army Special Forces NCO who then did a stint in black ops with the CIA. He's homeless when he's introduced, but Finch recruits him to be a vigilante.
    • One episode revolves around a gang of veterans getting revenge on the government that abandoned them by robbing banks with military precision and stolen military tech, which regularly recruits new vets to replace the ones who acquired enough loot to retire in luxury. Turns out the "retired" members were actually murdered in secret by the ringleader so he could take their cut.
  • On Justified:
    • Bo Crowder and Arlo Givens served in Vietnam together where they met Drew Thompson, a military pilot. After the war, Bo and Arlo returned to Harlan County and made a living stealing mining equipment while Drew flew drug shipments for the Detroit Mob. When Drew run afoul of Theo Tonin, he stole 2 million worth of drugs from the mob and faked his own death. He was forced to seek help from Bo and Arlo who used the drugs to turn themselves into the crime kingpins of Harlan County. In contrast Drew became an honest policeman.
    • Bo Crowder's son, Boyd, served in the Iraq war and when he returned home he became a notorious criminal. He later recruited Colton Rhodes, a war buddy of his and a former military policeman to be his second in command. While Boyd came out of the war mostly OK, Colton turned out to be a mess and suffered from PTSD and heroin abuse which made him a highly unstable criminal.
    • In season 6, Avery Markham brings in Tigerhawk Securities as his main muscle in his bid to control the soon-to-be-legal marijuana trade in Harlan County. The security company is composed of three veterans who served together in the Iraq War. They still maintain the old chain of command and sometimes even address each other by their old ranks.
  • In The Night Manager, Big Bad Richard Roper employs a mercenary force that seems to be mostly or entirely composed of former soldiers who like the military life and who are unburdened by excessive morality. His big mistake is thinking that his new employee, Jonathan Pine, is a high-end version of the same type, when in fact, Pine has a very different agenda.
  • Season 2 of Braquo revolves around a gang called "The Invisibles", the sole survivors of a Légion Etrangère unit dispatched to Angola, led by Colonel Aymeric Dantin. They have turned to blackmail, armed robbery and outright murder in order to get revenge on the French officials who betrayed them, and get enough money to compensate the families of their fallen comrades and then disappear.
  • The Kill Point: The hostage-takers were part of a military unit that saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, but were dishonorably discharged after refusing to carry out a Suicide Mission. Some of their old comrades later reunite in Pittsburgh to help them stage a break-out.
  • The Blacklist
    • Raymond Reddington, ex-US Navy officer turned criminal after he was framed for being a KGB mole.
    • Gaia was formerly a US Navy pilot who saw action in Fukushima before he turned into a pro-environment criminal and terrorist.
  • Castle: Kate Beckett's character arc has her dealing with a Corrupt Politician who has a gang of former special warfare operators employed as his personal assassins. One of their victims was her mother.
  • Colonel March of Scotland Yard: In "The Headless Hat", the mysterious 'Monsieur Z' was a leader of La Résistance during WWII. However, when the war ended, rather than returning, Z stayed in the shadows and used their skills at organization and subterfuge to take control of the Marseilles underworld.
  • The Villain Protagonists of one episode of Tales from the Crypt were a pair of Gulf War veterans who had become poachers. They get their comeuppance when a soldier whose platoon had been killed when one of the poachers had ordered a mortar strike in their position lured them into the home of a bunch of vampires living in the Alaskan wilderness.
  • Zero Zero Zero: One of the three plotlines follows a squad of counternarco commandos who use brutal methods to hunt down and kill The Cartel. The only problem is that their point man is on the take. When his cover gets blown, he leads his men into joining the very cartel they were nominally fighting and uses their elite military tactics to take the underworld by storm. The story is loosely based on Los Zetas.

  • The Steve Earle song "Copperhead Road" is the story of John Lee Pettimore, who follows in his grandfather's (a moonshiner) and father's (a bootlegger) footsteps after serving two tours in 'Nam by starting up an illegal drugs plantation on the titular road.
  • Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" contains the line "Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?". It's not clear if it's this trope or a conscientious objector who chose prison over military service, though.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The classic game Champions featured a number of supervillains who had military backgrounds.
    • Lazer (Emil Nelson) was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam, where he learned about corruption and villainy. When he returned he used his illegal contacts and GI benefits to become an illegal Arms Dealer.
    • Death Commando (Henry Wadsworth) was a highly aggressive soldier in Vietnam, which earned him fast promotions and good pay. After the war ended he became a super criminal and joined The Destroyers. He supplies the group with tactical planning and other military skills.
    • Bullet (Randolph Bullet) fought in the Vietnam War for years. After he got out he created an organization of superpowered mercenaries and hires them out to whoever pays the most, which often leads them into criminal acts.
  • Shadowrun: A common backstory for shadowrunners, it helps explain Artificial Limbs and combat implants.
  • Delta Green:
    • Spider J in the scenario Reverberations is a former U.S Army soldier and Academi (ex-Blackwater) contractor turned Reverb dealer.
    • The real-life Los Zetas cartel serves as a secondary antagonist in a chapter of Targets of Opportunity detailing the Children of the Worm Cult. The criminal organization began when a group of Mexican Special Forces defected to serve as cartel muscle—an NPC in the scenario is one such member.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse: This is part of Fright Train's backstory. A marine under Lt. Vance, Graves was wounded in the line of duty just like Vance. Unlike Vance who was fast tracked to man an experiment battle armor and become the superhero Bunker, Graves was given an honorable discharge, something he felt was in error. Some gene therapy and experimental steroids later, he's become Fright Train.

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham Series:
    • Deadshot AKA Floyd Lawton (from Batman: Arkham City and Arkham Origins) is stated to be this according to his Origins bio. He was originally a sharpshooter in an unspecified military unit until he was dishonorably discharged for his reckless behavior, after which he put his incredibly deadly marksmanship to use working as a hitman for the criminal underworld, much like Deathstroke (see below).
    • Deathstroke AKA Slade Wilson (from Batman: Arkham Origins and Arkham Knight) has pretty much the same exact backstory as his counterpart from the comics. He was originally a U.S. Army special forces veteran who was physically enhanced to become a supersoldier, and after leaving the military he decided to become a mercenary and assassin for hire. In Knight, he also serves as one of the co-commanders of the Militia (see below).
    • The Militia (from Batman: Arkham Knight) are comprised mostly of former (U.S.) military personnel who have turned to illegal mercenary work. They are hardened veterans of numerous conflicts around the world, and some of them allude to having been dishonorably discharged or committing war crimes while they served in the armed forces. The aforementioned Deathstroke is one of their commanding officers, however their leader the Arkham Knight is not really ex-military himself — he's actually Batman's rogue former sidekick turned evil.
  • In L.A. Noire, the central conflict is around a shipment of military supplies (including weapons and medical grade opiates) stolen by embittered soldiers. Specifically by members of the protagonist's former unit in Okinawa during World War II (partially because they resented him becoming a decorated cop after they fragged him when he ordered them to torch a cave that turned out to be full of civilians).
  • The Mafia series:
    • The trope picture is Vito Scaletta from Mafia II. He served in World War II, and almost immediately upon arriving home, his friend Joe convinces him to resort to a life of crime. When he meets Lincoln in III, he asks him about his experiences in Vietnam. Then again, Vito was always a criminal, as the reason he was in WWII was to avoid going to jail after a cop caught him breaking into a store.
    • In Mafia III, Player Character Lincoln Clay is a Vietnam veteran who joins the black mob in New Orleans upon mustering out.
  • Bambi "Buck" Hughes of Far Cry 3 used to serve in the Australian military, which you'd think would make him an Awesome Aussie. Except, he proved to be an Ax-Crazy Sadist who enjoyed hurting the enemy more than was healthy, so he was dishonorably discharged. He now works as a mercenary under South African slaver and drug kingpin Hoyt Volker. And to make him even scarier, he's also a Serial Rapist, specifically he rapes other men, just like Jason Brody's friend Keith, who he's keeping as a Sex Slave.
  • Grand Theft Auto:
    • Victor Vance from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is a heroic example. Early on in the game, he's set up for a number of infractions by his CO and discharged. This being a Grand Theft Auto game, he turns to crime afterwards and ends up running a major drug operation with his brother.
    • Niko Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV served as an infantryman and helicopter pilot in the Serbian Army during The Yugoslav Wars. The game picks up after he arrives in Liberty City and finds new work as a gun-for-hire.
    • The Lost Brotherhood in Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned were founded by US Marines that met during the Vietnam War, but after the war ended they turned into a biker gang since they continued thirsting for violence. As for their current incarnation, Jim Fitzgerald and Clay Simmons originally belonged to the USMC and the US Army respectively and now use their skills to help the Lost.
    • Trevor Philips of Grand Theft Auto V enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and was almost done with his training until the head of psychological evaluation deemed him unfit for service, this is used to explain his skill in piloting.
  • Rolento from Final Fight is a former member of a fictional Special Forces unit who is in charge of the weapons plant that supplies the Mad Gear gang. (Although strangely for a gang that has its own weapons factory, they generally attack you with knives and lead pipes instead of guns.) After crossing over to the Street Fighter universe, in some of his endings, he starts his own criminal organization, looking to recruit other militant characters, and in others, he has a Big Boss-esque dream of creating an ideal nation for soldiers.
  • The Shadow Platoon from Urban Reign is made up of former military men who have been discharged for various reasons.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Every turian criminal ever, given their species is a Proud Soldier Race with universal conscription and a meritocratic military dictatorship.
    • Mass Effect 2 squadmate Jacob Taylor was formerly an Alliance Marine assigned to an elite black ops unit called the Corsairs. He later joined the human-supremacist terrorist organization and N.G.O. Superpower Cerberus. Zaeed Massani is mentioned to be an ex-Alliance soldier before he became a mercenary.
  • Star Trek Online: The Cardassian-supremacist True Way terrorist organization draws much of its membership from unemployed former Cardassian Guard personnel (following the Cardassian Union's treaty-imposed military reductions). In missions that were deleted in Season 11, the group devolved to little more than a Generic Ethnic Crime Gang after their leader Gul Madred was captured by the Player Character.
  • Jacket and the Fans, from Hotline Miami, are all ex-military turned violent homicidal maniacs.
  • Watch_Dogs: Delford "Iraq" Wade is an Iraq war veteran who made the move to organized crime back home, using the same advanced military training he picked up in "the desert" to train up his gangbanger buddies into a legitimate fighting force. While to the public, he and his crew just look like another wannabe street gang, behind the scenes he's hacking government files and laundering military-grade arms.
  • Overwatch:
    • Soldier: 76, aka Jack Morrison. Once a commander of the titular organization, he believes the events leading up to its disbandment to have been a conspiracy and became a vigilante to try and uncover it.
    • Really, most of the Overwatch cast is this, with special mentions to Gabriel Reyes, aka Reaper, Morrison's right-hand man who Came Back Wrong; and McCree, who was actually a criminal before joining Overwatch, was reformed, and then forced back into hiding.
  • Implied Trope in XCOM: Enemy Unknown with Shaojie "Chilong" Zhang. Tell me why the former Chinese Triad member is a better shot than elite soldiers, has several more levels than the new recruits and is a specialist in heavy weapons again?
  • The male Lone Survivor can do this in Fallout 4's Nuka World DLC, going from pre-war United States Army to post-apocalyptic raider gang leader.
  • The first Mercenaries game has the second in command of the Russian Mob being introduced as a former KGB agent and implied to at one point to having been Spetznas.
  • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Edward Kenway was a privateer in the employ of the United Kingdom during the War of the Spanish Succession, but when the war ended it left him without a livelihood, and he turned to plain old piracy.
  • Uncharted:
    • Victor Sullivan is a former US Navy sailor. After leaving the military, he became a professional thief who travels around the world to find and steal ancient artifacts for a living. While he's not much of a bad guy, he knows how to use guns and won't hesitate to shoot at other armed criminals he encounters on his journeys. Sullivan also happens to be a trained pilot, presumably another skill he learned from the Navy.
    • Zoran Lazarevic is an infamous Serbian mercenary warlord who was a veteran of The Yugoslav Wars. He also holds a very well-deserved, fearsome reputation as a psychopathic war criminal who tortured and murdered countless people; and even while living as a wanted fugitive on the lam, he still continues to be just as bloodthirsty and merciless as he was back then.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: Prior to joining the Van der Linde gang, Bill Williamson was a soldier. He got a dishonorable discharge for his troubles, which he attributes to his captain becoming corrupt with power. On account of distrusting the government, he wholeheartedly joins the gang.
  • Jack Krauser from Resident Evil 4 and its Prequel, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. He was a Special Forces officer that worked alongside Leon on a fateful mission that left him with a Career-Ending Injury. Unable to adjust to life outside the military, he underwent a Face–Heel Turn and joined Wesker's bio-terrorist organization in pursuit of power.
  • In Sakura Wars (1996), Maria Tachibana served as a soldier for the White Army during the Russian Revolution. However, when the revolution ended in a decisive victory by the Red Army, Maria fled to America and used her marksman skills to work as a mafia hitwoman before joining the Imperial Combat Revue in Tokyo.

    Web Comics 
  • Viktor from Lackadaisy was a WWI veteran who is now muscle for a bootlegging gang.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: According to Unreliable Narrator Mephisto, many WWII-era Super Soldiers (who were often disguised as Captain Patriotic figures while training on the home front) ended up as supervillains in the 1950s, due in large part to how the government mismanaged their return to civilian life. Between being Shell Shocked Veterans, the side effects of the Super Serums and other enhancements, and the frustration at being unable to tell others what they'd seen and done due to post-war security restrictions, many simply found themselves unable to cope, or to find legal work.

    Western Animation 
  • The Boondocks:
    • Ed Wuncler III and Gin Rummy, both of whom served in the US Army during the Iraq War. Rummy even claims that the two were in Special Forces. After returning home to Woodcrest, they decided to become gangsters who commit crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping, despite both of them being from wealthy families. Although Ed and Rummy often use military gear in their schemes, they prove to be incompetent and unprofessional most of the time (for some reason, they can't even shoot straight).
    • In the episode "Riley Wuz Here", Riley starts taking art lessons from an unnamed painter who is (allegedly) a shell shocked Gulf War veteran. Although Riley's art teacher seems like a mellow man at first, he becomes an accomplice to vandalism by helping Riley with spray-painting graffiti onto houses in the neighborhood. Later on during the climax, the art teacher pulls out a handgun and starts shooting at the police, resulting in a wild car chase.

    Real Life 
  • Many historians believe that the decision by Pope Urban II to launch the First Crusade was influenced by the large numbers of landless knights who were turning to banditry at the time, as well. The idea seems to have been that Emperor Alexios I Komnenos' request for aid was seen as a golden opportunity to get all of these lawless 'nobles' to go fight somewhere else, thank you very much, in exchange for a thawing of relations with the Byzantines and especially the Orthodox Church (and oh, yeah, to fight Seljuk Turks, but as far as Urban was concerned that was mostly just an excuse for the rest). Within a year it had all Gone Horribly Right, with those same bandits now having carved kingdoms out of territory which was supposed to go back to the Eastern Romans; tens of thousands were dead on all sides; huge numbers of peasants who had gotten lost on the way to the Holy Land during the People's Crusades were wandering Eastern Europe starving and stealing; the Jewish communities of Germany had been massacred repeatedly by groups of Crusaders who took the Cross up but decided to stick to targets closer to home; large swathes of Hungary, the Byzantine Empire, and the eastern Mediterranean had been laid waste; and the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church had been permanently poisoned. And that's just how it went for the European Christians...
  • Very common after the Thirty Years' War - for several years after its end bands of deserters and discharged veterans roamed Central Europe, essentially continuing in the wartime Rape, Pillage, and Burn practice, especially in severely depopulated areas without effective control of local governments.
  • During the colonial era, many privateers (naval mercenaries) went on to become outlaw pirates.
  • Ottoman soldiers in European Turkey (the Balkans) in the late 18th century after the empire started to lose ground against the Habsburgs and Russia and face multiple economic crises, being left unable to pay their armies. Bands of renegade soldiers called "kırçaali" (field marauders) pillaged the countryside, sometimes allying with a rogue "ayan" (warlord), frequently one of them who managed to take control of a major city and secede. Until the early 19th century, such bands, often numbering in the thousands, would ravage the locals which couldn't hope for any protection from the weakened empire and were thus left to fend for themselves with what little they had.
  • The American Revolution had the Doan Boys, a gang of loyalist raiders who attempted to hurt the patriot war effort through robbery and sabotage. They continued their criminal activity for several years after the war ended, but their motives had changed to profit.
  • After the end of The American Civil War, quite a few ex-soldiers (especially from the Confederate side) turned outlaw, the most famous such group being the James-Younger Gang led by Frank and Jesse James. Many others went into a campaign of terrorism and guerrilla warfare by forming groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White League and striking against anything perceived as Northern, Republican (which back then were progressive), and especially attacking freed slaves.
  • Several members of the early Yakuza were Ronin. It's unclear whether the organizations were founded by Ronin who started running protection rackets or by semi-legit vending and gambling guilds who hired ronin as muscle, but regardless they frequently claim to be heirs to the samurai. This only got worse following the Meiji Restoration, where the samurai were effectively abolished.
    • Post-WW2, several members of the former Imperial Japanese military ended up becoming members of the Yakuza. The most famous example would likely be Yoshio Kodama, whose wartime government-funded drug smuggling operations gave him the funding and connections to become one of the most powerful and influential post-war Yakuza.
  • In the aftermath of World War I, several veterans in both Germany and America went on to form armed militias and gangs:
    • During Prohibition, there were numerous bootleggers who cut their teeth in the trenches of Europe.
    • In the Weimar Republic, several German veterans formed the Freikorps and Sturmabteilung militias to rob and terrorize leftists, Jews, and other groups that they blamed for Germany's defeat. These gangs would later join the Nazis and participated in the failed Beer Hall Putsch coup.
    • Adolf Hitler himself served as a dispatch runner in WW1, and was jailed for his role in the aforementioned Beer Hall Putsch coup before becoming leader of the Nazi Party and Chancellor of Germany.
  • Herman Lamm was a former Prussian soldier who immigrated to the United States. He is regarded as the "father of modern bank robbery" because he used military planning and precision in the execution of his robberies. The "Lamm Technique" has been copied by John Dillinger and other criminals up to the present day.
  • The infamous biker gang Hells Angels was founded by World War II veterans in 1948.
  • One theory about the Ioanid Gang, a Jewish group who in 1959 allegedly carried out an armored car robbery in Communist Romania, was that they were former members of the Secret Police who'd been fired due to post-war antisemitism and were carrying out the raid as a Take That!.
  • Ice-T joined the U.S. Army after high school, and after serving for four years, returned to his old neighborhood and eventually joined his school friends in crime. His military experience gave him the tools to plan and perform bloodless jewelry store robberies and the like.
  • In the aftermath of the Uganda–Tanzania War of the late 1970s, Tanzania experienced a spike in crime, especially cattle rustling. Many young men from poorer families and backgrounds had enjoyed the power, chance of plunder, and relatively good salaries of military life, and grew accustomed to violence. So when they were demobilized — usually becoming unemployed and plunging back into poverty due to Tanzania's economic problems at the time — many of them decided to use weapons to make an illegal living.
  • The 1986 Miami FBI shootout is infamous in the bureau's history because of this. Two serial bank-robbers with military experience, one of whom served as an infantryman during The Vietnam War, managed to pin down eight FBI agents with suppressive rifle fire, despite being outnumbered 4 to 1. The two suspects were killed in the shootout, but not without taking two agents with them and wounding five.
  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many now-unemployed members of the former Red Army found new work in the Russian mafia. And they often took their army toys with them.
  • Some criminal gangs operating in the Americas and Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s have recruited Singaporeans, mostly due to having done their time in conscription with the Singaporean military.note 
  • Los Zetas, one of the most feared and ruthless Mexican drug cartels, was founded by deserters from the Mexican Army special forces.
  • John Allen Muhammad, one of the two D.C. snipers who shot and killed 17 people in 2002, was a former US Army soldier and veteran of The Gulf War.
  • The disbanding of the Iraqi Army after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq saw a lot of former Iraqi soldiers turn to either crime or the insurgency, a factor which made the subsequent occupation that much more difficult.
  • A small minority of (current) US military personnel are involved in criminal gangs or organized crime. A number of gangs in the US used to require members to enlist in the Army and go through at least basic training before leaving so they'd learn how to shoot straight.


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