1st SGT. Salsa 4

Scott Weatherly, a veteran and wounded warrior, stirs in vegetables to his salsa as he prepares to bottle another batch at the Shoals Commercial Culinary Center in Florence.

FLORENCE

There's a lot of pride that goes into every jar of salsa Mitchell "Scott" Weatherly makes.

Not only is it pride because he wants to make the best product he can, but also because of what 1st Sgt. Salsa is all about.

"It is much more than just a salsa because of what it stands for," said Weatherly, 51, of Florence. "It helps me help others and help the agencies that helped me so much."

A portion of the proceeds from the sales of his 1st Sgt. Salsa goes to the Wounded Warrior Project and to the American Cancer Society, two agencies Weatherly has close ties with.

Weatherly spent more than 22 years in the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard.

The Wounded Warrior Project, based in Jacksonville, Florida, was established in 2003 and raises awareness about the need of wounded soldiers. The American Cancer Society works to raise awareness of cancer and collects donations to help finance cancer research.

Weatherly was injured in an accident on base in Texas in 2003, where he broke several bones in his back. When he was wounded, it also was discovered he had prostate cancer.

"That was tougher than breaking the bones in my back," Weatherly said. "My father had died from prostate cancer. I thought I had been given a death sentence. They might as well as just shot me at midnight.

"When something like that happens, you realize real fast what is important in your life — my God and my family."

Weatherly had been working full time as a first sergeant in the Air National Guard for six years and decided the best thing to do was retire.

"I went straight to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic and they started treatments on cancer at the same time I was trying to recover from a broken back," Weatherly said.

The treatments and Weatherly's determination helped.

"I still suffer from the back injury — I continue to do therapy — but I've been cancer free for 11 years," Weatherly said. "I understand just how important the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Cancer Society are.

"There are guys in worse shape than me, and they need these agencies for help and support. That's one reason I give.

"Plus, it's a part of my therapy for me to be able to live with myself. I had to give back to help them, because I know what they are going through."

JoAnn Henderson, a senior manger with the American Cancer Society in Huntsville, said it's not uncommon for cancer survivors to help others.

"We get survivors who want to get involved and to give back," Henderson said. "Who better to help others than those who have gone through on that same journey.

"We are blessed to have these survivors who raise money for the cancer society that helps with cancer research."

Michelle Roberts, of the Wounded Warrior Project, said a number of soldiers who have benefited from the Wounded Warrior Project find ways to get involved and stay involved after their recovery.

"We see these often; they want to be involved, and they find different ways to get involved," Roberts said. "Our logo is of a soldier carrying another one. When the soldiers are injured and in the program they are being carried, then once they recover, they become the ones who are carrying others.

"That's the beauty of this program — it's soldiers helping other soldiers."

Weatherly said his salsa making "sort of just happened."

In 2012, Weatherly, who is from Florence, and his wife moved into a new home and he decided he wanted a garden.

"I grew tomatoes," Weatherly said. "I had so many, I had tomatoes running out of my ears. It was crazy, I didn't know what to do with them."

He decided he would try canning them.

"I have a neighbor who is an old Navy cook so I went over to him and told him what I wanted to do," Weatherly said. "He helped me understand what I needed to do, so I canned some of my tomatoes."

After canning several jars, he ran across a salsa recipe and thought "I can do that."

"I made some, thought it tasted pretty good and gave it out to some friends and families to get some feedback," Weatherly said. "It was all trial and error. I added a little of this and a little of that, but it was all natural, all the stuff I was growing in my garden.

"While I was adding this and that, the salsa just kind of happened."

Last year, he made a couple of cases and went to visit his sister in Texas. He handed out a few jars of "Scott's Salsa."

"They liked it; it was different; it wasn't just for dipping but for cooking also. That was what they liked about it," Weatherly said.

A man and woman in Texas convinced him the salsa needed a new name and after hearing Weatherly's story, 1st Sgt. Salsa was born.

Weatherly now manufactures his salsa at the Shoals Commercial Culinary Center.

"It is marketed as a gourmet cooking salsa," he said. "It's all natural, and contains 10 different spices and 13 fresh vegetables.

"I started with First Fridays, Second Saturdays and trade shows. Now I have it in stores," he said. "It has taken off more than I ever imaged.

"The way I look at it is, the more I make and sell, the more I can give back."

Henderson said what Weatherly is doing is very instrumental. "What he is doing is special and very generous," Henderson said.

"I just want to help those agencies that helped me. And help those who truly, truly need it, like I did," Weatherly said.

Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com. Follow on Twitter @TD_TomSmith.

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