To raise awareness and help veterans across America, one man is walking nearly 2,500 miles from Georgia to California, and he’s been visiting with East Texans along the way.
John Ring began Buddy Watch Walk-Pier to Pier on Oct. 1 with a purpose of raising awareness of veterans’ issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, homelessness, addiction and suicide.
Ring currently serves in the Georgia Army National Guard as an infantryman with the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Division.
His walk started at Tybee Island Pier in Georgia, and he is going to the Santa Monica Pier in California, which he should reach on May 8. He will be in Texas meeting with as many people as possible until March 14, he said.
“Veterans’ problems are everywhere you go,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you go, veterans are suffering all over the country.”
Ring said 9,000 veterans commit suicide each year, 1 in 4 women veterans are raped, 1 in 100 male veterans are sexually assaulted and 9% of the veteran population is homeless.
“That’s why we walk — one step at a time,” Ring said.
On Saturday, he celebrated his 41st birthday at the Community Assisting Military Personnel and Veterans (CAMP V) and Texas Heroes Animal Assisted Therapies (THAAT) in Tyler.
He painted on a canvas with Chismo the Painting Pony, one of the THAAT therapy animals.
“I’ve never done that before,” Ring said.
THAAT is a part of the new veterans service station, CAMP V, that opened in Tyler in November.
CAMP V provides a central location in East Texas for veterans, active service members and families. It offers therapies and healing, a safe place for women veterans and a resource center on different veteran issues, according to supporters.
Adrain Hurst, director of equine services at Texas Heroes Animal Assisted Therapies, said the all-volunteer program provides equine-assisted therapy from mental health and physical therapy professionals to improve the lives of veterans.
“We help integrate them back into the civilian world,” Hurst said.
Ring said his time in Texas has been phenomenal, and some people have allowed him to stay in their homes, including some moms in Mineola.
Jimmy Mathews, a recently retired U.S. Army master sergeant, partnered up with Ring on Nov. 18 starting in Pearl, Mississippi.
When looking online about PTSD, Mathews read about Ring’s walk and became inspired. Mathews said he struggles with PTSD and the issues the walk addresses. He retired from the Army on Nov. 14. With Ring, he’s walked from Pearl to Jackson, Mississippi, and then to Shreveport, Louisiana.
In the Army since 1994, Mathews, 43, was deployed once to Bosnia, three times to Iraq and four times to Kuwait. He said veterans deal with a lot of stigma and need to get things off their chests.
“You really need to find someone who’s gone through it,” Mathews said. “They can relate to what we’re doing and we can relate to them. With this walk, we end up fighting for a lot of causes.”
During the journey, they each carry a large rucksack of camping supplies.
Mathews said he’s walked 500 or 600 miles so far. He served as a tanker in the Army.
“I did my fair share of walking, but not like this,” he said.
People can donate to the cause through Buddy Watch Walk GoFundMe and social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).
“The problem is so much bigger than I originally thought,” Ring said.
Ring and Mathews said they will continue reaching out to veterans and saving lives.