Retired Marine’s Semper Fi Farm invites wounded veterans after service
RURAL RETREAT, Va. — It doesn’t take long for visitors to get a sense of the mission at Semper Fi Farm in Southwest Virginia.
The farm’s name is one indicator of it’s charge to help wounded veterans after their military service.
Another is the knoll above the house and barns where an American flag is surrounded by flags of each of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“It’s just a farm,” said Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, USMC (Retired), welcoming a visitor on a warm March morning.
But for wounded military veterans who visit and stay at the farm, it’s much more.
Maxwell and his wife Shannon bought the 72 acres that would become Semper Fi Farm in 2015.
It’s now home to a flock of sheep, a small herd of beef cows, chickens, and one duck that roams the banks and waters of Cripple Creek. Three dogs — a Great Pyrenees, a border collie and a rescued hound dog — form the farm’s welcoming committee.
Along with raising livestock, Maxwell aims to raise the spirits of any visiting veteran wounded from combat.
Maxwell said he encourages those visiting for multiple days to do what they can on the farm to help him and themselves.
“If things are not going well, and you’re wondering why you are still alive, come to our farm,” he said. “If your life is boring you to death, literally, come to our farm. You won’t be bored; I promise you that.”
Maxwell himself incurred a traumatic brain injury from being hit by a mortar round in Kalsu, just outside of Bagdad, Iraq, on Oct. 7, 2004. The jagged scar running from his left ear to the top of his skull is a silent witness to that day.
His right side is basically immobile. His balance is not dependable. “I can’t salute,” he said with obvious emotional pain. “I can’t shake hands.”
Even with the hard work of farming he finds regular exercise at the gym helps with the pain in his body.
Maxwell said he was living in the Washington D.C. area after retirement and decided he just wanted some land. He and Shannon began a search to find some and landed on a parcel in Wythe County.
At first, he said he did not have any plans to farm or knowledge of how to do it.
A conversation with a farmer friend connected Maxwell to the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource and Conservation Service for resources and technical assistance in building a farm.
He began exploring the possibilities and found that farming helped meet his needs to be active and do something that matters.
Maxwell said losing the comaraderie that is foundational in the Marines leaves some wounded veterans with a sense of loneliness and low self worth.
“I have learned that being alone is the worst,” Maxwell said. “Those who stay in their service, regardless of their frustration, are better than those who live alone. But we can’t be in the military forever. At some point, we have to get out. And, as most of you already know, being a civilian again is hard. Real hard.”
Along Maxwell’s farming journey, he said he made a major discovery about the farm community — it is much like the Marine Corps.
“The beauty of the farm world is people are happy to come to help you,” he said, gratitude apparent in his voice.
He said he was amazed at how FSA and NRCS came together, came to the farm and developed a plan. It was like the Marines, he observed. Coming together and planning.
Semper Fi Farm isn’t Maxwell’s first effort to help veterans. During his own recovery in Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., he took on the task of encouraging other patients in dealing with their injuries.
After visiting wounded Marines in Camp Lejeune, N.C., he led an effort to integrate wounded Marines back into operational units.
What he found was that the Marines needed each other because they were used to taking care of each other.
“That was more important than life,” he said.
That led to Maxwell Hall and the Wounded Warrior Support Section at the base and the larger Wounded Warrior Regiment, a network of detachments and support coordinators thoroughout the United States to help Marines in their recovery and transition to civilian life. In 2009, the Maxwells started the non-profit organization, SemperMaxSupport Fund, to enhance morale and welfare of wounded veterans and their families.
The efforts and events at Semper Fi Farm are some of its many programs.
Along with their ongoing farm projects and managing the animals, the Maxwells hold an annual Veterans Flag Day event in June, inviting veterans and their families to the farm.
Some visitors may camp for a weekend; others may stop by for just a day, but the Maxwells said they welcome everyone.
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