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Fired up for Veterans

Stone Oak family forges bond with bladesmithing workshops

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In a cozy family home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Stone Oak, a dedicated military family is working to forge healing bonds among veterans using the ancient art of metalworking.

Retired Master Sgt. Chad Caylor Sr., a combat medic with two tours of duty of Iraq, his wife, Marilyn, a licensed professional counselor, and their adult children — Victor, Sabrina, Jesus and Chad Jr. — all contribute to the veteran-centered volunteer program created in their ground-floor garage.

It’s named Reforged.

Tamara Blaha (left) watches her father, veteran John Pardue, craft his knife on a forge while she waits her turn. Photo by Collette Orquiz

“Last fall, one of my friends called and said one of his friends was a veteran having a lot of problems, and he might become suicidal, and he thought this could help him. He said, ‘You need to start now,’” Chad Caylor Sr. remembered. “So, we had our first class and we kept doing it.”

The program offers free, three-day weekend classes using bladesmithing therapy as a basis to help vets and first responders hone new skills and bond to form supportive networks.

The blacksmithing-related craft involves making knives, swords, daggers and other blades using several implements including a forge, anvil and hammer.

While their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status was just granted, the family funds most of the program, alongside donations of enthusiastic friends and former Reforged classmates.

At no cost, vets and their families receive counseling from Marilyn Caylor, if interested.

“This all started with our youngest son, Chad Jr.,” Caylor Sr. said. “After he graduated high school, he was watching shows like ‘Iron & Fire’ on the History Channel, and he wanted to make a career of that work. I thought, ‘Oh boy, that was pretty out there.’ But, we decided to help him learn. We got Daniel Casey (the Arkansas bladesmith featured in ‘Iron & Fire’) to take him on to learn the trade. I went up to Daniel’s place with him, and I fell in love with it, too.”

Upon returning home and setting up their first furnace, the remaining Caylors also became hooked. Thus was born Caylor Forge, a small blacksmith shop.

Quickly, though, the nonprofit emerged and eclipsed the business.

As a military family, the Caylors feel strongly about comforting service members. They talked with various acquaintances about creating a therapy program a few years down the line, but the future came faster than expected.

Almost every weekend now, the Caylors host a small class of veterans and first responders who have heard about the program through other programs, friends or Facebook.

The Caylors all have day jobs.

Medically discharged in 2016, the father is a contract process engineer for USAA. His spouse, a private-counseling practitioner in Stone Oak, offers services to many veterans and their families. Victor, the eldest child, is an Air Force veteran and works part time for Uber Eats. This summer, he’ll help more in the garage while Jesus and Chad Jr. work in an Alaskan fishery. Sabrina, a Five Star Cleaners management trainee, doubles as Reforged’s chief operating officer, handling scheduling and business.

It’s a labor of love. Besides no-charge sessions, the Caylors even make out-of-towners feel at home with free room and board. Their three mini Yorkies also enjoy the guests.

Dave Whitson, a former Army police officer who served two tours in Iraq, trekked from San Angelo for a weekend class in February. Whitson works with another nonprofit program for veterans, Operation Pay It Forward, which organizes hunting and outdoor activities to build bonding.

“One of our vets found Reforged on Facebook and I wanted to see if we could recommend it or partner with them,” he said.

“It was awesome. I love the knife I made, but it was so much more than that. The Caylors really treated us like family. It was awesome,” Whitson added.

Friends and Reforged class alumni keep returning, many using their own skills to make the program a memorable experience.

“A master chef was in one of our first classes, and he was so impressed that we were feeding everyone, he came back to prepare meals. Now, he comes and cooks fantastic meals for almost every class,” Caylor Sr. said.

One friend supplies free propane for the forges; another contributed blacksmithing aprons. An anvil company assists as well.

The family hopes to eventually buy land to accommodate bigger classes, a bunkhouse, more licensed counselors, a larger forge, plus leather and woodworking shops.

Exacting and difficult, bladesmithing isn’t a lucrative business.

“If you want to be a millionaire knife maker, you need to start out with two million,” Caylor Sr. quipped. However, it’s appealing to many military folk familiar with knives, and they appreciate the craftsmanship of handmade blades.

There are life lessons, too.

“We use steel recycled from pre-1950s truck leaf springs. This metal was thrown away. But, we repurpose it and make something new and fine,” Victor Caylor said. “We start by asking each person to draw the knife he plans to make, and it inevitably turns out to be something very different. That’s how life is.”

“We’re about forming connections,” Sabrina Caylor added.

“To me, the best part is the process when they go from ‘you’ to ‘we.’ When they first arrive, they’re looking around saying, ‘You should do this or that,’” she said. “And, then there’s the transition to ‘we.’ They don’t even notice when it happens, but we do. That’s the part that makes it all worthwhile.”

For more, visit www.facebook.com/ReforgedOrg/?ref=py_c.

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