German Woodcarver engraved into SOF hearts and history


Monday January 29, 2024

Story by Sgt. Alejandro Lucero 

U.S. Special Operations Command Europe

Stuttgart, Germany – Looking through the front window of a quaint country cottage nestled in the Bavarian hillside is a busy workshop where every surface is occupied. Tables are covered with chisels, some straight and flat while others curve to a point. Every wall is garnished with photos of friendly faces, some young and some old. The floor is littered with wood shavings of varying size and width, each falling from a work post following a precise stroke of a mallet on a chisel. Each shelf in the workshop is lined with figurines, all carved with care and now crowding around, watching their creator at work.

The renowned craftsman who calls this German cottage home has long been sought out to curate personalized pieces for customers inside and outside of the country. International awards that hang in his shop display his excellence. His tales of travels to Portugal and the United States are told cheerfully, but for this soft-spoken woodcarver, his greatest accomplishment is working with the “Quiet Professionals” he holds in the highest regard.

Sebastian Demmel has spent a lifetime cultivating a bond with U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, and that could explain why two awards he received stand above the rest; the title of Honorary Green Beret from U.S. Special Operations Command, presented in 2020, and being embraced as an Honorary Original during the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) 70th Anniversary Ball in 2022.

“I tell you what, it’s really one of the biggest things in my life… it’s like a dream,” said Demmel of receiving his awards from the Special Forces community.

Demmel has chiseled his way into the hearts of SOF with his hand carved creations for over 50 years. He estimates more than 5,000 soldier’s homes or offices are adorned with his work. Embodying the SOF core values of excellence, creativity and respect, Demmel’s pieces are revered in the special operations community and are affectionately known as “Demmels.”

“It’s such an important aspect to our lineage,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Dorsh, senior enlisted leader with 10th Special Forces Group, about Demmel’s carvings. “When the guys get a plaque or a statue, and it’s a Demmel, that means something.”

While there are “Demmels” across the globe, only a few people are bestowed the Honorary Green Beret that hangs proudly in the entryway of Demmel’s home.

Dorsh, a proud owner of several “Demmels,” said only a handful of people are embraced as Honorary Originals of 10th Group.

“We wanted to honor the Demmels and the lasting relationship we have,” said Dorsh.

He added that bringing Demmel and his wife to Colorado for the 10th Group 70th Anniversary was an honor because of the role the couple plays in the unit’s history.

Demmel’s legacy with American Soldiers goes back to when he was four years old and saw them eating at a restaurant in his village. When he turned 15, he apprenticed with a master carver, where he sanded his first Trojan horse. Demmel opened his own shop at 18 years old. A few years later, his shop caught the eye of a passing Green Beret.

“They saw my window, and they came in and asked, ‘Can you make a plaque, or can you make a Special Forces Soldier?’” said Demmel.

Orders started pouring in for Demmel’s hand carved creations, and they haven’t slowed down, even though the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) moved from Bad Tölz to Stuttgart decades ago. As years have come and gone, orders have increased, as have the size of the projects he creates.

Demmel now works almost exclusively for the Special Forces and other soldiers who keep him busy year-round. With over five-decades of experience under his belt, he is often asked when he is going to slow down.

“First I said at 70 I’d stop, and then I said at 80 I’d stop,” said Demmel chuckling.

It seems to take more effort for Demmel to carve as he ages. He now has to push more body weight onto a chisel to shape the wood. Age isn’t stopping him however, shavings continue to grace the workshop floor, and there is no sign of slowing down. This could be because his wife Christiane is setting the pace. She and Sebastian have been working in the shop together since their wedding more than 50 years ago.

Christiane paints and stains pieces when they are done with shaping and sanding. She is also in charge of corresponding with customers, taking orders, and letting them know when they are ready. Sebastian said working with his wife is effortless and he doesn’t think he could have done it without her.

“She also knows all the older American friends when they come,” said Demmel.

“Christiane may be more in touch with the American women than I am with their husbands.”

Creating masterpieces is just a part of Demmel’s purpose. In almost every nook and cranny of his shop are pictures of him with friends who commission his art. He never misses a chance to open his home to American Soldiers.

“You can tell he really cherishes the relationship with the 10th Group,” said Dorsh. “The Demmel’s are some of the greatest people I’ve had the opportunity to know.”

Green Berets are earned by U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers and are awarded after completing a rigorous assessment and selection process. Demmel’s continued service and partnership with these professionals led him to earn an Honorary Green Beret presented by Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, then commander of United States Army Special Operations Command.

Beaudette said that the greatest gift he received throughout his career was a hand carved Demmel memento.

Demmel was touched that the man who made him an Honorary Green Beret sought him out at Fort Carson, when he was made an Honorary Original. Beaudette initially met the Demmels when he was stationed in Stuttgart. There was a time when Sebastian was in poor health and not producing at his normal rate, and Beaudette sent a couple of soldiers to Demmel’s home to wish him well with a gift that Sebastian added to his collection.

“I was very sick for a short time,” said Demmel. “They sent two soldiers, and they brought me a get-well card.”

In addition to his life’s work, Demmel has built lasting friendships along the way. Each year a group of Special Forces veterans travel across the globe to meet up and spend time with him. The “Snow Bros”, as they are fondly called, have continued this tradition for more than 20 years, creating a bond that transcends military service, woodworking, and international waters.

The relationships and recognition are a reflection of the time, care, and hard work the Demmels have spent with the Special Forces community. A fact that leaves Sebastian beaming as he admires the numerous photos and treasures illustrating decades of friendship enshrined in his workshop.

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