Veterans hone skills during local visit


    By Amanda Collins

    Ramon Leija of Dallas, TX was among a group of veterans to recently participate in a week-long apprenticeship program. Leija served in the United States Marine Corps and was awarded a purple heart. While visiting, Leija learned a new craft and made a knife. (Photos by Amanda Collins)

    A group of veterans visited the outskirts of Patrick County for a week to learn new trades through an apprenticeship program with the Semper Fi Fund.

    Mo Smith and some volunteers worked with the veterans to teach them new trade skills throughout the week. Smith said he was recruited, in a way, to help with the program in 2011 when he hauled some horses to Culpepper for an event.

    Patrick Springs resident Jared Fain volunteered to help show the veterans how to forge knives. Fain said he enjoys blacksmithing as a hobby.

    “It was my privilege to be able to give back to those who have given so much,” Fain said, and added that his favorite part of visiting and working with the group was “just hanging out and being around them. They are a great group of guys.”

    Besides learning blacksmithing techniques to forge knives, the group of veterans also learned how to work with leather and made holsters for their newly hand-made knives. Some decided to make wallets and belts.

    Leather work is a “calming trade,” Smith said.

    JD Rymoff of Jacksonville, N.C., who served in the United States Marine Corps, sharpened his new hand-made knife.

    The veterans also rode horses, helped work with cattle, and spent some time hiking during the week.

    The Semper Fi Fund is a non-profit organization that was started in 2003 by a group of military spouses to provide financial assistance and life-time support to post 9/11 combat wounded/critically ill and catastrophically injured service members and their families, according to online sources.

    The fund’s transition program is an apprenticeship program for members with 70 percent or more disability. This program is geared to help these veterans learn and find trades or careers, according to online sources.

    Pictured (L to R): Angel Alvarez-Ayala and Shemi Arrieta inspecting a knife made by Alvarez-
    Ayala. Alvarez-Ayala, of Orlando, FL served in the United States Army 82nd Airborne. Arrieta of
    Orlando, FL served in the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps

    As of December 2017, the Semper Fi Fund had provided more than $162 million in assistance to more than 20,000 wounded service members and their families, according to online sources. It also provided guidelines for individuals for the program and a schedule of tasks that will help them create their own home-based business.

    For more information in the program or to get involved, visit