James Webb comes from a long line of military service.
His great grandfather flew planes in World War I. His grandfather led an armored unit into battle in the jungles of Vietnam. And his older brother graduated from West Point and continues to serve today as an infantry officer in the special forces.
So, it was no surprise that James, who grew up on a 70-acre hobby farm at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Madison, Virginia, eagerly enlisted in the Army shortly after his 18th birthday.
Trading the farm life, which he describes as ‘like living in heaven,’ for life in the Army, James joined an elite group of warriors in the 75th Ranger Regiment. But after four years as a member of 3rd Ranger Battalion, and serving two deployments to Afghanistan, James’ career in the military came to a sudden end.
While riding his motorcycle near Fort Benning’s Exit 10, he was struck by a drunk driver who was traveling 50 mph. The whole right side of his body was smashed into pieces requiring 14 surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy. Less than a year and a half later in 2010, James was forced to retire from the career he was willing to sacrifice everything for.
“After my accident and getting medically retired, I was nervous,” he said. “I just lost the career that I have wanted and worked hard for. The brotherhood I earned there is unlike anything I’ve ever known. I wasn’t ready to be done with that chapter in my life.”
The rehabilitation process took multiple years, but James knew he needed to find something else to do with the rest of his life. Though he loved the excitement of working cattle on his family’s farm as a youngster, he thought his injuries prevented him from that line of work.
That is, until he realized horses can be used to work cattle.
“My whole world changed,” he said. “I started just riding around the fields and I remember the first time I rode a horse at a run. It was amazing because I hadn’t traveled faster than a limp since before my accident.”
James really started to view farming and ranching as a viable career path after borrowing an excavator from a friend to clean out a creek that flooded his fields.
“At that moment I realized I just needed the help of machinery, the horses, and to be as smart as I can be to work around my injuries and the pain.”
Now, with five years of farming and ranching experience under his belt, James has been steadily growing his operation. And despite a major setback three years ago due to a land dispute with his parents, his business, Conway Cattle Company, has expanded to 600 acres and 60 cows. In addition to raising cattle, he also produces hay, orchard grass and alfalfa under the Homegrown By Heroes label.
With his new sense of purpose, James is optimistic about the future of Conway Cattle Company. Ultimately, he’d like to use his operation to encourage other veterans to get into agriculture and help them find the same peace he was able to find.
For veterans considering a career in agriculture, James has the following advice:
“Never give up,” he said. “I would tell other veterans that they need to rely on their community and neighbors. It’s the only way I would have gotten through the last decade. I think it’s important to find someone you respect in your hometown to be your mentor.”