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Gulf War veterans teach blacksmith to help soldiers and first responders: "We're their therapist"

Blacksmith classes for veterans with PTSD
Gulf War vets start blacksmith classes for fellow veterans 03:38

Our series A More Perfect Union aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we're learning about a surprising safe haven for veterans living with PTSD.

Nationwide, about 17 veterans die by suicide everyday. Now, in rural Virginia, an ancient trade is being molded into modern medicine.

For military families like U.S. Marine Sean Mack and his wife, Brittany, Steve Hotz and Dave Seitz are like angels. The Gulf War veterans founded Black Horse Forge last year, to help people like the Macks.

Steve Hotz and Dave Seitz

"It took us from where, you know, we were just scraping, and then brought us to where we're living again," Sean told CBS News' Chip Reid.

"When you come here, it's like a different place, almost, all your troubles and worries and everything like stay at the driveway, and then, you get a little relief," Brittany says.

Relief comes from literally hammering things out.

"You can come here and you can blow off a little bit of steam. You can tell us what your problems are. We're going to listen," Seitz says.

Hotz had blacksmith tools but no shop. Seitz had a shed on his horse farm but no tools.  

They put it together and now teach classes to vets, active service members and first responders who learn how to transform something old into something new while also transforming themselves.

"They go from railroad spike to prison shank to finished blade," Hotz says. 

"I hold everything in, and that might just be the Marine inside me, but I'm like a boulder," Sean Mack says. "They've taught me how to take that boulder, crack it open and get some of that stress out and talk about it."


Here, no topic is too hot. After all, even tough guys have a melting point.

"I get texts sometimes in the middle of the night," Hotz says, "Just saying, 'Hey, can I come to the forge?'" 

Seitz and Hotz say the people they help need to have that outlet.

"Yeah, they want to talk about it," Hotz says. "Indirectly, we're their couch. We're their therapist, so to speak."

And that's the real tool they build together: trust.

"It's a comfortable place to be," Marine veteran Ed Heilborn says. "I guess you could call it a safe zone."

It's a safe place that's made a life-saving difference for some who come here.

"When the guy is able to lift a burden, while he's here, and then he's got to go home," Seitz says, "How far down the road does he get before the burden comes back?"

Seitz gets emotional talking about it.

"I think it's because we're vested," Seitz says. "We've seen it."

"Seen it" in what they call "saves," veterans contemplating suicide who find a reason to live here. 

"About three months ago, my best friend up here tried to kill himself," Mack says. "Literally, I got to his house and basically pulled the gun out of his mouth. And they helped him out dramatically to the extent that they said, 'If he's hurting financially, we'll build knives and put them up on eBay, sell the knives and give him 100% of the money.'"

Hotz and Seitz fuel the forge out of their own pockets and see it as their way to keep serving.

"We literally had a bad night one day and walked here at about 5 o'clock in the morning and knocked on his door, and Dave came right out and just talked to us," Sean Mack says. 

"We didn't have to fire the forge up that night," Seitz says. "They just wanted to talk."

And find a way forward, with new irons in the fire.

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