Jared LaFave portrait: navy left, current right

LaFave uses background in Navy to co-found new Blue Ridge Veterans Club

Jared LaFave, the faculty instructor for Blue Ridge’s Collision Repair and Refinish program, is a U.S. Navy veteran and is using his military background to head up the brand-new Blue Ridge Veterans Club just in time for Veterans Day.

Having worked at Blue Ridge since August 2017, LaFave initially started working as a campus police officer with the Blue Ridge Police Department. He transitioned into his current role in January 2019.

As a former member of the U.S. Navy, he’s been deployed once and been involved in two active conflicts. While serving, he visited numerous foreign countries including Spain, Italy, Dubai, Turkey and Greece.

LaFave explained that he joined the military because – like most young men who just graduated high school – he was unsure of where he wanted to go next in life, but knew the military offered structure and a more foreseeable future than anything he knew at the time. After a teacher suggested taking the ASVAB, LaFave took the exam and believed the Navy would be the perfect fit for himself based on his results.

“The military makes you grow up fast!” he said. “It teaches you responsibility, dedication and commitment at a young age. It really prepared me for the world.”

He experienced 9/11 as a junior in high school, and remembers the sheer anger everyone felt as a nation after the tragedy. He said it was this strong sense of patriotism that was also a driving force for his later military service.

Having other veterans in his family, LaFave said joining was an easy decision.

“The things you get to do, the people you get to meet and the places you get to go are unlike anything else,” he added.

The 34-year-old is originally from Tampa, Florida. His father moved to the Hendersonville area while LaFave was deployed in 2005, which meant a much shorter drive from Norfolk, Virginia than traveling back to Tampa.

“I really liked this area, so I never left. I got here August 13, 2008,” he said. “The locals’ hospitality really made an impact on me.”

The concept of a Blue Ridge Veterans Club was the brainchild of LaFave and Blue Ridge Police Officer Michael Hicks. Since LaFave served in the Navy and Hicks in the U.S. Marines, both know the struggles veterans face on a daily basis and wanted to offer Blue Ridge veterans a safe place to vent, talk or explore veteran-related options with people similar to themselves.

LaFave previously worked at A-B Tech, and while there had witnessed their own veterans club and how it benefited its students by giving them an outlet to speak and a sense of belonging.

The club also offers veterans going through psychological issues a chance to speak with some of the only people who may understand. This ties into the Veterans Club’s other role as a source of information to point veterans to resources they may need in the community.

“The club also helps our community show veterans that we appreciate what they’ve done and sacrificed. It helps show veterans that people care about their service,” he said.

There are over 50 certified veterans attending Blue Ridge Community College, and LaFave hopes for a high turnout at the club’s first meeting on Friday, Nov. 8.

The group is currently planning for the upcoming year and hopes to give back to its community through volunteering at homeless shelters and visiting veterans at the V.A.’s assisted living home.

“It’s so important to give our veteran students an outlet. It’s also important to display Blue Ridge Community College as a veteran-friendly institution,” LaFave added. “There’s a drive and dedication in the lives of all veterans. This reminds me of a Teddy Roosevelt quote, which states, ‘Far and away, the best prize that life can offer is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing,’ so veterans have that eagerness to work hard at something and give their all to it. It’s something to admire.”

With Veterans Day approaching next week, LaFave – like many other veterans – plans to cook out and enjoy his day off. He stated, “Some gave all, but all gave some,” to explain how every veteran gave something up for their service, even if it wasn’t their life.

For more information on the Blue Ridge Veterans Club, contact LaFave at j_lafave@blueridge.edu or (828) 694-1833. You can also reach the Blue Ridge V.A. Certifying Official, Crystal Smith, at cc_smith@blueridge.edu or (828) 694-1815.

Both want to encourage all veterans to come to the Veterans Club’s first meeting this Friday at 1 p.m. in TEDC 236.