Murfreesboro native Mark Cull was one of the first to walk the halls at Riverdale High School, worked with the special forces, dodged terror attacks in the most dangerous reaches of the world, and now has taken aim at a third career — gunsmithing.
He opened Nomad American Arms on Feb. 1 at 800 Park Ave., Suite E, across from The Experience Community Church. His partner is his brother-in-law, Richard Frank, a professional painter.
He and Frank “are gun guys,” he said.
Cull repairs and builds guns, and Frank paints them.
Cull is a gunsmith, but you also could call him a jack of all trades.
He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a degree in anthropology after having served in the military as his first career — and before embarking on his second career of helping developing nations.
But before all that, he graduated from Riverdale in 1976 — he says that was the first full class to have gone through the new school.
Serving in multiple ways
Cull joined the U.S. Air Force after high school, working on cryptographic equipment. Later, he joined the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Throughout his time in the military, he learned much about weapons, he said.
He deployed to El Salvador, Operation Just Cause (the invasion of Panama to remove Manuel Noriega) and Operation Desert Storm.
Toward the end of his military career, Cull returned to the Air Force.
Then, he studied anthropology at UTK as an undergraduate and graduate. Near the end of his graduate studies, he accepted a job with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a federal agency that administers foreign aid and development assistance.
He was taking language studies in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, about two miles from the Pentagon. The plane that hit the military headquarters flew low over his building; the class members felt the blast, he said.
“I’m a Tennessee Volunteer,” Cull said. “We’re now at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. They started a USAID mission in Iraq, in Baghdad, in the Green Zone. I volunteered for it.”
Cull served in several overseas postings as a USAID foreign service officer. He oversaw crucial operations like security, safety, housing and the post office. His postings included Nairobi and the Green Zone in Baghdad. Later, as a country manager for private contractors, he worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He has been back in the United States from Pakistan for three years.
After coming home, he turned to his hobbies — riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles and working with guns.
He studied gunsmithing at Sonoran Desert Institute in Arizona.
Cull said he enjoys researching old guns to work on them; he was recently restoring an 1887 Marlin Model Revolver, which is a rare gun, he said.
His work includes basic maintenance; deep cleaning, such as after hunting season is over; troubleshooting; restoration; making modifications; ordering guns from a wholesaler; and building guns.
Nomad American Arms can anodize aluminum alloy parts to make them different colors or do Parkerizing to protect from corrosion.
The business also uses a process that is becoming very popular in the industry – applying Cerakote ceramic coating.
The product, a brand name, is somewhat similar to powder coat, Cull said. In the process, a ceramic is sprayed on the gun and then baked to harden. The process has long been used in the auto industry but is new in the firearms industry.
Guns with unicorns?
Cerakote protects the gun and is four times thinner than a powder coat, which is significant given that guns have small parts — and it allows for a high degree of customization, Cull said. The designs are endless what with various color options and the use of stencils. Cull said he has seen guns with Cerakote patterns that include unicorns with rainbows, camouflage, Captain America and “South Park”.
“It’s very popular now because people want to personalize their gun. My sister, Richard’s wife, we painted her everyday-carry zombie green — so it’s kind of a glow-in-the-dark look.”
To apply Cerakote, Cull first disassembles and cleans the gun. Frank sprays and cooks it, and Cull reassembles it.
Frank has painted AR-15s, an MP-9 submachine gun and pistols. The process works with motorcycle parts. They even applied Cerakote to Cull’s nephew’s lacrosse stick.
The Cerakote baking is done in an old metal supply cabinet that Cull converted into an oven by applying insulation that is effective up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, plus an oven burner and electronic controls.
All this and more has taken place since Feb. 1, when Cull received his federal firearms license (FFL) and opened.
Displaying more of his craftsman abilities, Cull used repurposed materials whenever possible — the shop’s wood cabinets are from an old high school chemistry lab and his desk is from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.
The possibilities for Nomad are almost endless, beyond repairing a gun here or there, Cull said. He hopes to sell his services to local gun stores and to open a line of products for bail bondsmen, whose only option now is to buy supplies in Nashville or online.
Frank’s granddaughter, Zoe Frank, plans to sell a line of jewelry that she makes from shell casings, Cull said. Another plan is to offer T-shirts and other “lifestyle” accessories.
And since Cull and Frank ride Harley-Davidsons, they plan to offer their services to bikers, he said.
Cull said Nomad’s website and social media accounts are still under development, but he will be on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, among others.
“I’m doing a lot of stuff myself,” he said. “I’m doing my own website. It’s not up yet. So, it’s almost there. It’s a day away. I keep saying that — it’s a day away.”