Seven men representing the Marines, the Army and the Navy recently slipped into Danbury for a weeklong stay at Mo Smith’s 60-acre farm. The men traveled from all over the country to join Smith, who works with the Semper Fi Fund, a non-profit that provides programs to assist wounded veterans and ensure they have the resources needed during their recovery and transition back to their communities.
Smith has been an integral part of the Semper Fi Fund where he began as a volunteer before transitioning into their leadership team. He’s traveled the country hosting horsemanship programs for wounded veterans and in mid-March opened his own farm for a weeklong clinic.
“I’m on the road a lot, so it’s been nice to have a group come here,” Smith said. “We had about 50 interested and we hand-selected who we thought would best benefit from this.”
Smith explained when men and women leave the service, some have difficulty fitting into the regular roles of society.
“They’ve seen things most people haven’t, so their reality is different. When they’re here, they have a team. We want to teach them to have that team at home, in their life and with their children. I want to see them as leaders in their community instead of couch potatoes. Our number one goal is to get these guys functioning and get where they can do something with their own hands and create. I want them to leave better husbands, fathers and better citizens.”
During the clinic, the men worked with Smith’s horses and cattle and spent time cutting leather and making holsters.
“We also worked with metals and constructed some knives. We did some boxing and weight lifting. A lot of them have never been on a farm, so that was a first and I think they took a lot from it.”
Smith, who is admittedly “rough around the edges”, said he’ll spend much of his time connecting with people he’s mentored over the years.
“I shoot straight, I don’t know any other way to do it, so I’m honest with these guys. I tell them to wake up and live their life. Give back and do something that’s going to make a difference and help someone.”
Sheimy Arrieta traveled from Orlando, Florida to attend the clinic and appreciates Smith’s candor.
“I served in the Marines for 10 years and I had a hard time when I came back. I didn’t feel like I had any specific type of skills other than what I did over there,” he said.
Even though Arrieta went on to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in science with a concentration in microbiology, he struggled outside of the classroom.
“I wanted to be a doctor and work with my hands, but I got in some trouble and I was arrested a few times. I’m not proud of it, but I had a hard time coping. It was especially hard because my family didn’t understand it. I wasn’t the same kid that left home when I was 18-years-old.”
Arrieta is still haunted by things he experienced in his 10 years of service, but said he feels like he’s in a better place right now.
“I’m starting to watch the news again. I couldn’t do that for a long time,” he said. “Being somewhere like this for the week, surrounded by people who understand what you’ve been through makes a big difference. I know everybody’s fighting their own battle.”
Arrieta said he hopes to come back to Stokes County.
“This place is beautiful. I want to come back and see Mo and stay longer. I’d love to buy some land or a little place out here.”
Smith plans to host more clinics in the future and hopes to bring in locals willing to teach a craft or trade.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for the community to get involved, whether it’s bringing a meal to these guys while they’re here or just spending some time with them,” Smith said.
Connecting with veterans beyond events like these is equally important to Smith.
“I’m no counselor, but I’m smart enough to know when to listen. In this group, there’s some pain. There’s a man who jumped out of a plane and his parachute didn’t open. He’s filled with pins and spent six months in a hospital, but he’s alive. And he’s alive for a reason.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.