Ex-Marine puts vets to work

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press Marine veteran Carlos Rivera checks on basil plants at ArchiÕs Acres on Dec. 8. He and other veterans work on the Valley Center, Calif., farm.

VALLEY CENTER, Calif. (AP) -- When Carlos Rivera returned from fighting in Iraq and found work as an electrician, he felt co-workers who knew about his military experience were gawking at him. He went home angry each day.

That's not a problem at his current job, working alongside other combat veterans picking avocados, mixing organic fertilizers and gathering basil amid northern San Diego County's undulating ochre hills.

"I'm outdoors, not stuck inside somewhere feeling suffocated," said Rivera, 25, who returned from Iraq in 2007 after four years as a Marine. "There's always someone to talk to, someone there to understand."

Rivera works at Archi's Acres, a three-acre high-tech organic farm owned by Colin Archipley, who served three tours in Iraq and is trying to help other vets shake the trauma by turning swords to plowshares.

Working the earth has long been recognized as good therapy for war veterans. About 20 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs centers have gardening programs, said Anthony Campinell, the VA's national director for work therapy programs. He said Archi's Acres is the only fully commercial enterprise of which he was aware.

Archipley, 28, whose unit took part in the initial invasion of Iraq and in the later decisive battles in Fallujah and Haditha, returned from battle in 2006 too agitated to pursue plans to sell houses.

Instead, he decided to try his hand at farming, despite having no background in agriculture. He and his wife, Karen, started with the 200 avocado trees left on the property they bought while he was still a Marine sergeant.

Realizing the trees were not enough to sustain a business, the Archipleys added herbs and leafy greens using hydroponics.

Archipley said he knew other vets would be solid employees and they would benefit from the distraction provided by steady, regimented labor, just as he had.

"When our hands stop working and our minds start running, that's when bad things start to happen. So we keep the work load heavy. We stay busy," he said. "For me, if I slow down, if I stop doing what I'm focused on, that's when I can get myself in trouble."

The veterans at Archipley's operation, meanwhile, appear grateful for the opportunity to put down their own roots in civilian life.

"The other jobs I had, I used to just go home and be angry," Rivera said. "Now I actually look forward to work."

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