An Intel for Military Surplus & Collectibles
A 4th-generation soldier is forging his niche in Aberdeen
By Elizabeth Sugg » Photos by Melissa Souto
On the corner of Poplar and Maple in Aberdeen sits a charming old gas station building that has been reimagined into a fascinating mix of military surplus and collectibles called The Bunker. The 4th generation in his family to serve in the military from WWI, WWII, Korea through Vietnam, owner Tomas Flores served his 24 years as an intelligence analyst, a position that took him all over the world including two tours in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. The high energy, the necessary acumen and the spirit of the 82nd always felt right to Flores who first served with the Division during Desert Storm. “I always felt at home here, so when I was looking for the next opportunity, this was it,” he explains.
With his family background Flores always possessed an active interest in history. He began collecting military items a long time ago, particularly from WWII, Korea and Vietnam, but serious collecting began in 1994, particularly helmets and medals. He enjoyed using his intel chops to distinguish which medals were real or fake, and learning to verify and research other types of collectibles became a pastime. Flores specializes in American military artifacts and surplus but for awhile branched off into foreign war collectibles before turning back to concentrating on military items from his home turf, the U.S.
While browsing through The Bunker’s abundance of stacked merchandise that ranges from night vision goggles to M16 rifle cleaning kits to useful items such as rain gear, knee and elbow pads, backpacks, canteens, vests with inserts to hold various specialty items, ammo cases — the items for sale are endless — a layperson really can learn a lot about military preparedness. And Flores’ background in intelligence and readiness relates to the second aspect of his business, one as a periodic trainer. In September he spent two weeks assisting with the Robin Sage phase of the Special Forces Qualification Course. This 19-day performance-oriented course held in over 15 rural North Carolina counties includes physical conditioning, map reading and land navigation instruction; land-navigation practical exercises and common-task training. Soldiers are put to the test in an unconventional-warfare training exercise with some of The Bunker’s surplus being used to create an air of realism throughout the challenging weeks. But it’s Flores’ background in intelligence that has him in the field as a trainer. It’s also his background in intelligence that has brought about some meaningful searches for other veterans.
In the early 2000s Flores and his wife who also is in the military got stationed in Hawaii where his intel took him not to an active war site but to Indochina following 275 leads investigating MIA cases for soldiers during the Vietnam War. During his tenure they recovered 50 cases most often by doing research on a battle and then walking overgrown fields with an educated hunch on where soldiers may have been killed or even where they crashed into a field. It is the depth of research that engages Flores — he wants to find the needle in the haystack!
A meaningful side of his business is helping veterans find the right buttons, unit patch, unit crest or the correct ribbons to put on a uniform or hat. “I got a call recently from a vet I helped who said ‘My hat got me a free haircut — thanks!’” Flores shares with a laugh.
A bunker is a defensive wall or reinforcement designed to protect people and valued materials from falling bombs or other attacks. The Bunker that Flores is developing is strong on offense as he is forging a niche of surplus, collectibles and at times research meaningful to a military he and his family have served