COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - After walking thousands of miles across America, the same small group of military veterans is on a new mission, which includes Alabama and Georgia, raising money and awareness for vet homelessness, suicides, and more.
“I started a 2,500 mile walk across the country to raise awareness for veterans issues like PTSD,” said John Ring, the founder of Vet & Buddy Watch Walk.
Ring, a Georgia Army National Guard veteran, walked from Georgia to Santa Monica, California, a coast-to-coast Buddy Watch Walk that ended this past summer. By his side for most of that was newly retired Army Master Sergeant Jimmy Mathews. Now, the pair and a few others are continuing to raise awareness for military issues, especially veteran suicides, with a special walk across the southeast.
"It’s 601 miles total from Jackson, Mississippi to Tybee Island, Georgia,” Mathews explained during the Buddy Watch Walk East. "They just recently made their way through Columbus on their way to Savannah, escorted by the fire and police department, with a proclamation from the mayor.
Matthews knows the area well. He spent 12 of his 25 army years on Fort Benning. As he walks, this veteran thinks about his comrades from multiple combat deployments.
“Yes, they’ve taken their lives. I’ve also been in a dark place where I felt as if my back was against the wall. Luckily, by the faith of God, I pulled through,” he said.
Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide, and that number has climbed to 26 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fort Benning graduate Ring said we need to do better for our vets, which is why he started this movement and named it Buddy Watch Walk.
“The army, it’s battle buddy, so Buddy Watch is keeping an eye on each other,” Ring said. “It’s very much needed right now, just with everything that’s going on plaguing veterans. We’ve had family members reach out to us that lost a veteran to suicide.”
And as they walk their way across the Southeastern U.S., these vets hear stories from families left behind.
“They say, hey if we can’t walk, let me get you lodging or a hot meal, or socks or shoes. They try to help wherever they can to keep awareness in the forefront,” Mathews added.
In 2022, they’re planning a walk from Normandy, France to Berlin, Germany for World War II veterans.