John Ring and Jimmy Mathews have spent much of the past year walking thousands of miles across the United States to raise awareness about veterans issues, most notably the suicide rate.
“It’s a real problem in our country,” said Ring, a Georgia Army National Guard veteran and founder of the Buddy Watch Walk initiative. “It’s an epidemic. We are here to do our part to help our brothers and sisters who might be going through a difficult time.”
Ring thanked The American Legion, specifically the Department of Alabama, for its role in helping them finish their coast-to-coast walk earlier this year.
“It’s very meaningful for us to be here in Montgomery at The American Legion headquarters in the state of Alabama,” he said during Buddy Watch Walk Day on Oct. 29 in the state’s capital. “It means a lot to me because this is where all the support started from The American Legion.”
The Buddy Watch Walk received an injection of support from The American Legion after Ring met last year with James Gillespie at the headquarters in Alabama. That meeting led to departments and posts lending assistance to Ring and Mathews throughout their journey that concluded when they reached the Pacific Ocean.
It also led Ring to understand what The American Legion truly represents.
“I'm really trying to encourage our younger veterans to get involved with organizations like The American Legion,” . “There's no better place that you can get help with PTSD.”
Buddy Watch Walk Day was highlighted by a 2.2-mile walk to raise awareness about PTSD, TBI and other veterans issues. The “2.2” represented 22, which some estimates indicate is the number of veteran suicides each day in the United States. “We’re just trying to do our part to lower that number, and hopefully one day, it is none,” Ring said.
Ron Bradstreet, Department of Alabama commander, was honored to attend the festivities.
“It’s quite an honor to have this walk here today, to have all these veterans here today,” he said. “Suicide is a tragedy. And my message to every veteran in the state of Alabama and every veteran in the United States and world is, ‘Don’t wait. Communicate.’”
All things considered, it was a short walk for Ring and Mathews. Last November, Mathews joined Ring in Mississippi as he walked 2,462 miles from Tybee Island, Ga., to the Santa Monica Pier in California. This year, the pair are walking eastward, starting where they met up and finishing Mathews’ route to Tybee Island.
While they have inspired others on their journey back and forth across America, the Buddy Watch walkers are motivated by what they see, too.
“When we are at an American Legion post and see people inspired by what we are doing, to raise awareness to those issues, and see younger people come out, that is what we are out here trying to do,” Ring said. “We just want to stop the epidemic of veteran suicide and we are just going to keep on going.”
For more information about the first Buddy Walk, download and list to The American Legion’s Tango Alpha Lima podcast episode featuring Ring, Mathews and Department of Alabama staff members.