Sergeant Major (Retired) Jack “Rusty” Stottlemire and First Sergeant (Retired) Donnie “Harp” Harper are both men of action. They retired after successful military careers and have since joined the ranks of small business entrepreneurs. Their companies, Rustick Knives and Harp Leather, are tied together by a close friendship and mutual admiration that began when Donnie made a leather sheath for a Rustick knife while working as a contractor in Afghanistan.
Meet The Soldiers
Donnie Harper joined the U.S. Army in 1992 and served as an Airborne Ranger in the Long Range Surveillance Detachment (LRSD) units, as a Ranger instructor in the 4th and 6th Ranger Training Battalions and as a first sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division. He retired with 20 years of service and deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), later working as a contractor in support of OEF. This taught him “attention to detail and to always strive to be the best at everything I do.”
In 1982, Jack Stottlemire enlisted into the Marine Corps and was stationed in Hawaii before doing a tour on the Korean DMZ. He later joined the Army with the goal of becoming a first sergeant in an Airborne unit, which he accomplished in Europe’s only Airborne 105mm Howitzer Battery. Stottlemire joined a Special Missions Unit (SMU) at Fort Bragg just before America was rocked by the terrorist attacks of September 11th. After 13 surgeries and over 26 years of steadfast service to our nation, Stottlemire retired with 12 combat rotations to Operations Just Cause and Desert Shield/Storm, the Balkans Air War, and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Stottlemire credits the military with teaching him that anything is possible. “By mastering the basics and breaking down the most complex missions into basic tasks, you can excel at anything.” But Stottlemire and Harper have done more than just master the basics of their crafts—they’ve left an impressive legacy of service to this great nation and have begun building companies that will soon leave legacies of their own.
Mastering Their Crafts
Stottlemire began handcrafting bows as a hobby while in the Army. The name “Rustick Archery” came from a combination of his nickname and his archery “sticks” (Ru-stick), which later morphed to become Rustick Knives. As Stottlemire explained, “Many of us have a natural desire to build our own tools with our own hands, particularly knives. It just comes naturally, you’re drawn to it.” And he’s right—there is just something magical about the thought of pounding carbon steel into an artful creation of beauty, protection and lethality.
Master Sergeant (Retired) Chris Williams of Wilmont Grinders had worked with Stottlemire in Iraq and taught him the process of knife making. Later, Stottlemire attended Elmer Roush’s Scandinavian blacksmithing class to learn the “old ways” of creating Viking-style axes, knives, spears and arrowheads. Jack retooled his workshop and started creating his own knives. “People liked my work and soon the orders came in. It became a full-time job almost overnight.”
Stottlemire takes pride in knowing that his knives aren’t “safe queens.” They are tough, affordable and combat-tested by some of the most elite fighting men in the world. He guarantees his work for life and appreciates pictures of his knives being used in the field. Stottlemire pushes active-duty soldiers to the head of the line and builds “one-off” designs for the unique needs of his special operations brethren.
As for Harp Leather, Harper was first drawn to leatherworking as a hobby because he needed leather sheaths for his knives and enjoyed making things. “I really like leatherworking because it is an Old World craft. Using basic hand tools, you can create art with leather. It was the one thing that I tried and wanted to master.”
Harp Leather doesn’t just create great SOB sheaths. Harper is a master of working leather into wallets, tokens, belts, holsters and just about anything else you can imagine. Harper applies the lessons he learned in the military to his craft, and one look at his leatherwork will show that attention to detail, pride of workmanship and the desire to excel. Those qualities have attracted a great following that allows Harper to do what he loves, and he plans to continue handcrafting affordable and high-quality leather goods for “the working-class man, bikers and military service members.”
While Stottlemire has built many custom knives for friends and customers, the majority of Rustick Knives’ collection consists of six different knives and one axe. All Rustick knives have hand-scalloped G10 handles to provide a superior grip, and many are available with handmade Harp Leather Small-of-the-Back (SOB) sheaths.
In the years that I’ve been following Rustick, Stottlemire has yet to craft a knife I haven’t yearned for. I have to admit, though, that I’m a sucker for a well- designed karambit fighting knife and have found few I desire more than Rustick’s Kuko Karambit. The 3.75-inch karambit is incredibly sharp on three sides, perfect for concealed applications, and has an oversized ring that helps for a fast draw and superior retention. I also love Rustick’s Crash Axe, which is 2 pounds of badassery that will chop, breach or simply destroy anything you swing it at.
Stottlemire designed the Kraken, a 6-inch, Cerakoted, recurved blade, with the “Kraken” himself, Jim Erwin, a friend and fellow operator. Rustick’s 4-inch Utility makes a perfect EDC knife with a 3/16-inch-thick, drop-point-style blade. The Ripper and Vandal can be carried with the Harp Leather SOB sheaths, and the little PUNKs (Personal Utility Neck Knives) can be carried either by a ball chain or on your belt.
Warriors like Stottlemire and Harper never forget their love of the military’s brotherhood. They take with them cherished experiences, friendships and memories of a life spent in service to a higher cause. War changes a person, and combat-hardened warriors have seen the worst of humanity. It makes us hollow in places that can never be fully filled, and we can often only hope to hide those holes from others. Stottlemire was nearing the bottom when he found that Chris Williams’ grinders could hold his demons at bay. He willingly admits that “occupying my hands and mind together was therapeutic. It turned my life around, and I owe a tremendous debt to Chris.”
Harper adds, “Any time you can turn off that part of your brain and focus on something creative, it is a positive thing.”
Both men believe in buying American-
made products, working with fellow veteran-owned businesses and supporting both active-duty and retired veterans in their communities. Together, Williams and Stottlemire started Warrior Hands, a non-profit organization designed to help outfit combat-wounded veterans with the tools and skills necessary to start their own small knife-making businesses—all free of charge. Stottlemire and Harper also auction off their high-quality knives and leather sheaths for Elder Heart’s “Mission 22,” which focuses on raising awareness for the 22 veteran suicides that occur every day as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Since 1999, 5,273 American military combat deaths have occurred. In that same timeframe, 128,480 American veterans have committed suicide. Let that sink in for a moment. In just one year, an average of over 8,000 veterans will take their own lives.
- RELATED STORY: Elder Heart Launches Mission 22 Mobile Memorial
Too many of us fill our hollowness with alcohol, anger, violence and eventually thoughts of suicide. I chose words to fend off my personal demons, Stottlemire chose the grinder and Harper chose leather. If you are a veteran in need, please know that you are not alone. You have wives, husbands, children, family, friends and fellow veterans who need you to find your own peace. If you know somebody who might need help, please take the time to reach out to groups like Elder Heart at elderheart.org or mission22.com.
Also, please take a moment to donate to veteran’s organizations so that they can continue to help and support our nation’s veterans in need.
For More Information