Right on time, inaugural class graduates from Veterans Watchmaker Initiative

A graduation ceremony ran like clockwork Friday in Odessa - appropriately enough, considering that the four students were the first military veterans to go through an 18-month watchmaking course at the Veterans Watchmaking Initiative.

The graduates exchanged their blue learning coats for white embroidered professional coats and proudly accepted their certificates of completion as family and friends looked on.

For Don Morton, an Air Force veteran living in Dover, what was initially a hobby grew into a passion. Now, it will become his profession.

During his education, Morton found himself drawn to restoring railroad pocket watches. But he also recognizes what this kind of learning and training can do for a veteran, including those who suffer post-traumatic stress or other disorders.

"You block out everything else that can be distracting to you, cause triggers and get you frustrated," Morton said.

For many years, the Bulova watch company would train veterans - many of whom came back severely injured from conflicts such as World War II. The VWI program follows that model.

"The focus and the technical skill required is therapeutic in its very nature," Veterans Watchmaker Initiative Co-founder and board chair Sam Cannan said.

The VWI is located in a former rescue squad building that's leased for one dollar a year. Materials and labor have largely been donated, and instructors give their time as well. A second class will start when two additional rooms are ready and fully equipped.

Additional community support has made it possible for the program to pursue building a new facility in Middletown that will host as many as 50 students from across the country.

"This will become the biggest watchmaking school in the USA," Cannan said. 

Veterans who've already completed their watchmaking course are grateful that other veterans will be able to follow the path they blazed.

According to Jason Adams of Gumboro, "there's a positive morale, and we're a family now."