Photos courtesy Semper Fi Fund
For Marine Corporal Alex Monaghan, who retired from the Corps in 2009 after four years as a rifleman during which he deployed twice (once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan), the phrase "boots on the ground" has taken on a far different meaning than those words typically suggest.
That's because Alex is the first graduate of a brand-new Semper Fi Fund program: Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program, which helps service members learn valuable skills that they could one day leverage to start a business.
In Alex's case, that skill is making high-quality cowboy boots.
It all began when Alex was considering going on "one of these horse stints," as he describes it, as part of the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program. While filling out the paperwork, there was a question at the bottom asking, "Are you interested in learning any of these skills?" Among the skills listed were knife-making, silver-engraving, roping … and making cowboy boots.
"It was weird that it was on there," Alex recalls. "I always wanted to design my own boots. It's a two-week program in St. Jo, Texas. The days are long—12 hours a day, six days a week—and there's a lot to learn in a short amount of time. You get a pair of customized boots when you're done."
The time may have been short, but Alex was learning from the best: The boot-making program is run by Carlton T. Chappell, a third-generation award-winning bootmaker who started in leathercraft in 1964 and has been recognized as one of the very best bootmakers in the world.
"It's pretty neat," Alex says. "You can't learn everything in two weeks—Carl is in his 70s or 80s now, and he's still learning new techniques every day–but it's interesting. There's always something new to learn, a new skill to master."
While making a quality pair of cowboy boots is intricate and artistic work, Alex felt he had something of a head start over his half-dozen or so classmates.
"I did tattoo work for a couple of years," he explains. "As far as working with machines and stuff, you have this huge thing on the table—you still have to draw out your sketch pattern and sew it up. I felt as if I had some advantage, because I'd been doing something similar to it."
After finishing the two-week seminar, Alex went on to serve a month-long apprenticeship in Vernon, Texas, with award-winning bootmaker Dew Westover. Dew spent 20 years as a working cowboy, attended Carl's seminar in 2002 and opened his own boot shop in 2004.
Alex made two pair of boots during his apprenticeship, and now he's studying business at Texas A&M as part of an entrepreneurship for veterans program.
Looking back over the years since he's left active duty, Alex has seen a number of ups and downs in his own life, but he credits the Semper Fi Fund with helping him get out and get active—and he encourages his fellow veterans to do the same.
"If there are vets who are thinking about these sorts of programs, and they're itchy or worried about it, I say just give it a try."
"A lot of vets create a bubble and don't go out in public," Alex continues. "I think it's a great experience—you have buddies to hang out with, you're pushing yourself to do things that your anxiety or PTSD is preventing you from doing. I do these things, it pushes me to get out and go on the road and deal with people."
"I would encourage more vets to get out there and find something they enjoy. Whether it's bike riding or horseback riding or whatever—I'm sure the Semper Fi Fund has something for them."
To learn more about Alex, the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program and how these types of programs assist our nation's veterans visit Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program.
We Are The Mighty is teaming up with Semper Fi Fund and comedian Rob Riggle to present the Rob Riggle InVETational Golf Classic. The veteran-celebrity golf tournament will raise money and awareness for Semper Fi Fund, one of our nation's most respected veteran nonprofit organizations, in support of wounded, critically ill and injured service members and their families. Learn more at InVETational.com.