By Amanda Duncan, Wood County Now
August 17, 2020 7:30 p.m. CST
On average, one mile is approximately 2,000 steps. Imagine walking 2,462 miles, nearly 5,000,000 steps, on a cross-country trek with your life on your back, and the mission to meet with veterans, their family members, community leaders and people all across the country to discuss the challenges veterans deal with every day.
Imagine being 601 miles into that journey when a stranger joins you to share in the mission and experience. What if, after completing the 2,462 mile journey from east to west, that stranger - now brother and best friend - wanted to complete the entire trek by walking the 601 miles he missed? Would you do it again? John Ring, founder of Buddy Watch Walk, would.
After gazing out at a majestic sunrise from the Tybee Island Pier on a October 1, 2019, Georgia Army National Guardsman John Ring, briefly accompanied by his youngest son, supporters and veterans, departed the pier heading for the Santa Monica Pier in California. The goal of his walk was to raise awareness of veteran issues such as homelessness, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), addiction and lack of benefits that contribute to a high rate of veteran suicide.
"Veteran suicide is an epidemic in our country which is most likely a result of our veterans being ignored and not getting the proper treatment,” insists Ring.
While searching on social media for programs to help himself and fellow veterans, Retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant Jimmy Mathews learned of Ring and his walk to raise awareness of veterans’ issues. On November 18, 2019, only four days after retiring, Mathews joined Ring in Pearl, Mississippi, with the intention to walk across the state of MS with him. After one day, he decided to walk the remaining 1,854 miles with Ring.
"I saw John out there walking for veteran issues. The walk was Buddy Watch Walk, but John had no buddy. He needed a buddy,” says Mathews.
While walking, they would often discuss Mathews completing the 601 miles from Pearl, MS, to Tybee Island, GA, that he had missed. John would laughingly say, "I already walked that. I’ll see you when you get to Savannah.”
The pilgrimage across eight states started with one person and ended with four. Jason Hanner, a U.S. Navy Veteran, joined Ring and Mathews in East Texas for a week. He later surprised them in El Paso, Texas, and walked the remainder of the journey with them. Eli Hawkins, a U.S. Army Veteran who had served with Mathews, met the three in Tucson, Arizona, and stepped out the remainder of the walk with them.
After a delayed ending due to COVID-19, John Ring, Jimmy Mathews, Jason Hanner and Eli Hawkins completed Buddy Watch Walk Pier to Pier on June 14, in Santa Monica, California. Nearly 200 dedicated supporters from all over the nation joined Ring, Mathews, Hanner and Hawkins after the final 13 miles ended at the Santa Monica Pier. Among them was U.S. Army Veteran Paco Baltazar, founder of the Rogue Interview Show, who had previously walked with them in Phoenix, AZ. In addition to Ring, Mathews and Hanner, Baltazar has made the commitment to walk the 601 miles from Pearl, MS, to Tybee Island Pier, GA, beginning on October 1.
"When I was feeling alone and tired, a stranger, now my brother, was sent to me. Jimmy saved me and motivated me to keep going. We did it for each other. When we were both feeling tired and drained, another amazing person would enter our life. So even though I already walked those 601 miles, my brother didn’t. Just like he was there for me, I will be there for him. We need more thoughtfulness and caring like this in the world,” says Ring.
When asked what the most meaningful part of the journey was, all the guys had a similar answer, “We are so thankful for everyone that was a part of this journey. Whether you walked with us, encouraged us, fed us, lodged us, gave us a few dollars or sacrificed your own journey like Willie, Brandi, and Hooch did, we love you all. We enjoyed getting to meet so many wonderful and passionate people. We each had a family prior to this journey, but it has grown with every step we took. We’re looking forward to meeting and helping as many veterans as possible.”
Buddy Watch Walk East will begin at 9 a.m. on October 1, 2020, in Pearl, MS. The starting location and the walk schedule through Alabama and Georgia will be released at a later date. We are waiting for a few more details. Visit: www.buddywatchwalk.com
All donations will help with travel expenses and the remaining will be split with Veteran organizations.