TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — On Saturday afternoon during a stay at the Admiral’s Inn, Georgia Army National Guard Infantryman John Ring and his son, Wyatt, returned to the Tybee Beach Pier.
It’s where Ring’s long cross-country journey in support of veterans first began eight months ago.
On Oct. 1, 2019, the Richmond Hill resident set off on his walk from Tybee Island to California’s Santa Monica Pier — a trek of 2,462 miles across eight states.
Ring’s goal was to shed light on issues facing those who have served the country, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), homelessness, unemployment, addiction, traumatic brain injury and high rates of suicide.
Buddy Watch Walk – Pier to Pier started off as a solo mission for Ring, who serves with the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Along the way, however, three fellow passionate comrades later joined him.
A lot of people think veterans serve, they come home, they’re taken care of, and it’s just not the case, so as far as Buddy Watch Walk, we’re gonna stay in that fight.”John Ring, Buddy Watch Walk – Pier to Pier
Ring, retired United States Army Master Sergeant Jimmy Mathews, U.S. Navy veteran Jason Hanner and U.S. Army veteran Eli Hawkins finally reached their destination on June 14 following a 53-day setback due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Jimmy walked with me for approximately 1,900 miles [from Pearl, Mississippi], Jason [from east Texas] was with us for about 900, and then Eli, just a little over 500 [from Tucson, Arizona],” Ring told WSAV.com NOW.
“I got the [Buddy Watch Walk] tattoo with four shadows before I even left for the walk, and somebody commented on social media and was like, ‘four shadows on your tattoo, four guys finished the walk,’” Ring shared.
“So it really meant a lot,” he added. “We’ve got lots of other stuff that we’re doing to help veterans, but just having them there with me at the end, it was everything.”
Throughout their journey, which wrapped during National PTSD Awareness Month, Ring says he and his three veteran friends encountered many people struggling with the disorder.
“Everybody deals with it in their own way, and some people haven’t found a way to deal with it,” he said.
He says Mathews, who has experience coping with the issue, was able to connect with veterans and offer insight on what he’s been going through.
“I mean, 25 years in the Army — he just got out — multiple combat tours, lots of soldiers lost, you know, and even as we were walking, [Mathews] was getting messages and seeing on social media that some of his soldiers became one of the 22 in the statistic,” Ring said, referring to the fact that 22 veterans die by suicide each day.
“It’s all over the country,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which gender, which branch of service, what race you are, veterans are dealing with issues.”
Making changes to help veterans
While Ring, Mathews, Hawkins and Hanner met with several supportive veteran organizations including American Legion, Ring says unfortunately, those in the political system that could play crucial roles in assisting veterans were mostly “nowhere to be found” on their journey.
“From here to Santa Monica, I had three state senators really step up and show concern for what it is we were walking for; that’s bad, that’s not good,” Ring said, adding that they reached out to every governor from the states they passed through, along with congressmen, congresswomen and senators.
I was just like, ‘I’m not done, I just walked nearly 2,500 miles, but veterans are still suffering,’ and that whole time that I was walking, veterans were committing suicide.”John Ring, Buddy Watch Walk – Pier to Pier
“The response was poor, and I really think we need to hold our political leaders accountable,” Ring said. “We see a lot of rumbling going on about things being done in D.C. to help veterans, but at the end of the day, it needs to be local, it needs to be a bottom-up, top-down fix, and I don’t see it.”
Still, Ring remains optimistic. He says to ensure those who have served the country receive the assistance and resources they need, he also hopes to see increased collaboration among veteran organizations in the future.
“A lot of them kind of stand alone in battling for their own funding, and it doesn’t help, so I’m going to work with every veteran organization I can and do some good,” he said.
What’s next for Buddy Watch Walk
Overall, the cross-country journey was an inspiring endeavor for the dedicated group of comrades, who Rings says encountered many amazing people along the way.
He shares that though he’s completed the walk, his mission is not yet complete.
“I was just like, ‘I’m not done, I just walked nearly 2,500 miles, but veterans are still suffering,’ you know, and that whole time that I was walking, veterans were committing suicide,” he said.
Ring, Mathews, Hawkins, Hanner and several others dedicated to their cause plan to continue working to help as many veterans as possible.
“A lot of people think veterans serve, they come home, they’re taken care of, and it’s just not the case, so as far as Buddy Watch Walk, we’re gonna stay in that fight,” Ring said.
The group plans to write a book about their experiences on the long journey and the memorable people they encountered.
Oct. 29 has been recognized as Buddy Watch Walk Day in Montgomery, Alabama.
On that day, Ring is planning a 22-mile walk across the city.
“Then on March 25, 2022, we’re going to walk from Normandy, France; to Berlin, Germany; in remembrance of World War II veterans and allies included,” Ring said.