Veterans walking across the U.S. to call attention to issues
By Randy Keck
The Community News
Note: This article appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Community News. Community newspapers depend on subscribers as the foundation of their ability to provide original, local stories. For more information, visit our subscription page.
Military veterans often have difficulties when they return home from service, and John Ring wants to call attention to the challenges they face.
Ring served as a specialist in the Georgia Army National Guard with the 48th Infantry Brigade. “The past few years I’ve been working with veterans, and kind of a little disgruntled with the lack of treatment they get,” he said.
He became associated with an organization called Buddy Watch, Incorporated that was trying to build tiny homes for homeless veterans off of Fort Stewart, Georgia. Increasingly concerned about the plight of veterans, Ring decided one way to call attention to the problem was to go for a walk — a long walk.
“And so on Oct. 1 I left the Tybee Island pier in Georgia to set out to walk 2,462 miles to the Santa Monica Pier in California,” he said.
He wanted the public to understand what veterans are facing, so he struck out on the Buddy Watch Walk.
“The issues that we’re walking for are PTSD, homelessness, addiction, MST (military, sexual trauma), TBI (traumatic brain injuries), and basically everything that’s leading our veterans to be committing suicide at such a horrific rate.
“The VA put out a report about 6,000 veterans a year committed suicide in the past decade, so that’s about 60,000 veterans, more casualties than we had in Vietnam,” Ring said. “So it’s actually becoming quite an epidemic that needs to be addressed. So, having worked with veterans, having seen and listened to their struggles, I think it’s really important that you know, when you serve, that you help those who have served.”
Along the Walk Ring’s focus changed after meeting a Vietnam veteran.
“When I first set out to do so I wanted to do it in 90 days. When I got to Alabama, I met a Vietnam veteran who basically broke down to me and told me his story and made me realize that this isn’t about steps or a time frame, it’s about speaking to as many people as possible.”
Early in the walk he also met Jimmy Matthews, who retired from the United States Army after 25 years. Matthews retired on Nov. 14.
“He reached out to me and he said ‘hey man, you know I want to walk across the state of Mississippi for the same reasons you are.’ I reached back out to him and said, ‘well, if you’re inspired by what I’m doing, then I invite you to walk with me’ because I hadn’t reached Mississippi yet.
“He got held up with his retirement, met me on Nov. 18 at Pearl, Mississippi. We walked together for one day and he decided that he wanted to go the entire trek with me and we’ve been together ever since.
As of Jan. 14, when The Community News conducted a telephone interview with Ring, he had walked 970 miles. In 280 miles he will be halfway across the country.
“It started out a little rocky, a little rough in Georgia,” Ring said. “I was mostly by myself. I had a few military friends come out and walk with me for a day here and day there. But as far as getting the attention that I was looking for towards the issues, I really didn’t get anything until I got to Montgomery, Alabama. From the point when I walked into the state American Legion office, the American Legion has been very supportive of the walk. They helped with blogging posts all over Mississippi.
In Mississippi I didn’t sleep outside one day.”
Ring said all the way to Vicksburg, Mississippi, post commanders would go out and pick up his bag and take it to his destination for that day.
“Louisiana was the same. We had really good support from the District Five and the District Four commander of the American Legion.”
If you are following this story geographically, you may anticipate what’s coming next.
“And now the Texas American Legion has been very supportive as well. They’re taking care of our stay in Dallas — we’ll be there for from the 17th through the 24th [of January]. So we’ll be there for seven days.”
In addition to the American Legion, Ring said the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and DAV (Disbled American Veterans) have also been helpful in the walk.
“The VFW has been very supportive — we’ve gone to several of those posts and they’ve been really supportive with donations and kind of just helping us out with our needs and our travel. And the DAV has been supportive of the mission and what we’re doing. Not really too much from the military. Other than visiting a few Air Force bases and getting a little tour here and there, but, you know, the military is not going to support what it is that we’re doing.”
The walkers’ itinerary brings them to Willow Park/Hudson Oaks on Saturday, Jan. 25. According to their website, lodging has already been offered for the 25th, but not on the 26th when they will reach Weatherford.
The Community News will provide social media updates of the walkers’ location as they pass through east Parker County on Jan. 25. For more information, visit the Buddy Watch Walk Pier to Pier on Facebook.