Simpson has been serving in the Army National Guard for 21 years Bric Simpson, founder of the Forge Forward Project, poses for a portrait at Dynamic Blending in Vineyard on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.
Nov 11, 2020
It was only recently, however, that he set out to start a nonprofit, called Forge Forward. The organization was developed in an effort to help veterans who experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder negotiate their lives outside of the military.
Simpson started his military journey as a young man from a small town. He had no idea what he was going to do after high school graduation, but knew he needed to go to college.
Simpson said he saw he could pursue a college education through service in the National Guard, and took the opportunity to enlist.
Through his service, Simpson said he has felt there has not been a lot done to help build communities for veterans. For service men and women, forging communities is one of their most important experiences.
“We started the idea of the Forge Forward Project with wanting to build tribes around the service members again,” Simpson said. “When you serve, you serve in a team, you learn to rely on that team and they basically become your family. That was the goal.”
Now, Simpson is hoping to pay it forward through his nonprofit. While he has experience with other entrepreneurial ventures, Simpson wanted to pursue Forge Forward as his first nonprofit organization.
After developing the idea surrounding the nonprofit, the next step in the process was finding funding for the organization. Simpson added there was a need to generate long-term revenue, and he found Dynamic Blending about six months in his venture.
Simpson was looking for something sustainable to help fund Forge Forward and jumped at the opportunity to work with Dynamic Blending — a Vineyard-based manufacturing company — to create skin, hair and body care products for the organization.
“We are so pleased to align with a cause-focused company like Forge Forward,” said Gavin Collier, CEO for Dynamic Blending, in a statement. “Our veterans have given so much to serve our way of life, and we want to say thank you in a meaningful way. Manufacturing Forge Forward products allows us to do just that.
“We are so proud of our veterans and are excited to be a part of such a noble cause,” Collier added. “Forge Forward is a business that exemplifies the good that can be created by coming together to promote a wonderful cause.”
Along with Forge Forward’s partnership with Dynamic Blending, the nonprofit is looking to receive government funding and begin collecting donations in the near future.
With funding mostly squared away, Simpson has shifted his focus to fulfilling Forge Forward’s mission of helping veterans who experience PTSD.
Forge Forward has partnered with XzoltaR — a California-based, veteran-owned, tech company that is dedicated to creating virtual reality environments. Forge Forward and XzoltaR have developed a partnership to connect veterans with healthcare professionals through virtual reality environments.
What is known as the “Veteran Lodge” is a virtual reality location where veterans can go to games and be social with friends they may have been deployed with or haven’t seen in a long time.
Simpson described it as “tribe building through virtual reality.”
The most exciting part about this is the pioneering of virtual reality therapy for these individuals.
“When you wear a uniform and you say that you need to talk to a healthcare professional, there sometimes can be a stigma,” Simpson said. “Within this environment you can do that anonymously. You can build an avatar and meet with someone right out of the comfort of your own home.
“This pandemic has brought up huge issues where somebody has to get into a car, make an appointment and drive to the location,” Simpson asserted. “With their technology and our approach, we can make it so they can sit right in the comfort of their own home and get help. That’s a huge focus for us for the next little while.”
Now, Forge Forward is working with the Utah National Guard to start the virtual project by obtaining data on virtual reality therapy. Simpson cited studies that have proven VR environments have impacted veterans in a positive way.
The platform also will offer a VR place where veterans can have access to health professionals.
“As a recruiter, I love ensuring the success of everybody I bring into the National Guard,” Simpson said. “Now, with the Forge Forward Project, I feel like I can make sure they are successful after the military. For me this is completing that circle where I have been helping people to enlist, and now I can help the outside of it as well. This is kind of closing that circle and giving me an opportunity to continue with that purpose of being in the military, feeling that camaraderie and to help continue to give that to other people as well. I want to wake up every day when I leave the military feeling driven to help others.”
Simpson said, through his service, he has gained discipline and leadership skillsets that have been beneficial as he expands into the business and nonprofit realms. These include waking up on time, being 15 minutes early to all meetings or functions, and learning how to lead on a daily basis.
“You learn to work with a lot of different people, and through the leadership skills that this has given me, that’s one of the biggest benefits to military leadership,” Simpson said. “For me, that has helped me to lead a team of different personalities, different backgrounds, different perspectives, and bring those talents that they have and manage them for a common goal. That goal is to help save lives through the Forge Forward project.”
In conjunction with Veterans Day, Simpson said Forge Forward plans to launch its social media accounts, its YouTube channel, its podcast and more in celebration.
The holiday is also a special one for Simpson and his family, as his oldest son serves in the Utah National Guard as well.
“Veterans Day, for me, is a very special day for my family,” Simpson explained. “I served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, and I was gone for 18 months. My oldest son, when I left, he was 3. When I came back, he was 5.
“We have felt a massive sacrifice in my family, and we understand what it actually means to serve this country and the things you give up to wear the uniform,” Simpson said. “Veterans Day, to me, means so much because it’s a chance to honor our veterans — men and women — who have sacrificed and some who have paid the ultimate price so that freedom will go on. For us, Veterans Day is a chance to honor those people and think of them.”
The final message Simpson hopes to impart is the idea that, “adversity doesn’t define you, it refines you if you’ll let it.” Simpson said he is very passionate about that mindset.
Those wanting to find out more about Forge Forward can follow them on social media at “ForgeForwardProject” or visit the organization’s website.