Specialist (SPC) John Ring doesn’t personally know any fellow service members who’ve died by suicide, but, “I didn’t need to know them. Just the fact that they served our country – that’s a brother or a sister.”
The Georgia Army National Guard Soldier holds veterans’ issues near and dear to his heart. A member of a Veterans’ Military Caucus in Georgia, he’s walking across the country to raise awareness and money for his fellow Soldiers. The funds he raises will benefit Buddy Watch Inc., a non-profit that plans to build a counseling center surrounded by tiny homes for homeless veterans close to Ft. Stewart, Ga.
With a 55-pound rucksack on his back, SPC Ring stepped off Georgia’s Tybee Island Pier on Oct. 1 to embark on a 2,462-mile walk across the nation, which will end at the Santa Monica Pier in California.
His mission is called “Buddy Watch Walk Pier to Pier,” and besides referencing the beginning and ending points of this journey, the name carries another significance.
“The words aren’t spelled the same,” he said, but, one way or another, “peer to peer, we’re all the same, we’re all in this struggle.”
The struggles SPC Ring is referring to are veteran addiction, military sexual trauma, PTSD, homelessness, and suicide. First-hand, SPC Ring, 40, knows what it’s like to battle on and off with a cocaine addiction that he has only recently opened up to family and close friends about. One of the things that has helped him overcome his struggle was planning his trek.
“It’s helped steer my mind to be more focused on helping people,” he said.
If he needed additional motivation, he got it in September when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported that between 2008 to 2017, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide each year. That’s 22 veterans a day.
“It really woke me up,” he said. Still, “Talking about veteran suicide is important, but I think we need to spend more time talking about what is leading our veterans to commit suicide rather than the end result.”
When On Your Guard caught up with SPC Ring he was on day 16 and about 175 miles into his journey.
“The support I’m getting is phenomenal. I have not slept in the woods yet,” he said, referring to the offers he’s gotten for lodging, a meal or a simple thank you.
The journey isn’t just about walking, it’s also about talking to everyone he meets along the way. Stories like those from a woman who shared that her nephew, a service member, had recently killed himself, drive SPC Ring to keep going.
“That fuels me,” he said. “That motivates me to push another 10 miles, another 20 miles.”
SPC Ring joined the Georgia Army National Guard six years ago, “right at the cutoff age” of 34, insistent on serving as an 11B Infantryman to carry on a tradition started by his grandfather and great-uncle who served in the infantry in World War II. His great-uncle, who was awarded “two or three Purple Hearts,” he said, was an airborne infantryman who was killed in action in Normandy.
Still recovering from an injury he received three years ago on his civilian job, SPC Ring was planning to leave the Guard at the end of his contract this year, but reconsidered right before he started his trek. His readiness Non-commissioned Officer drove to SPC Ring’s location so he could sign a 1-year extension of his contract on the side of the road.
So far, two of his fellow Guard Soldiers have come out to walk with SPC Ring on part of his journey. He hasn’t had a lot of alone time on the road, but when he does, he reminds himself why he’s on the mission. When he’s at his most tired, “I just start saying the Infantryman’s Creed in my head. It really does help me.”
Originally, SPC Ring had hoped to finish his walk in 80 days, but he has since decided to abandon that timeline.
“It’s a matter of completing the mission,” he said. Even if he gets injured, “I’ll heal, and I’m going to keep going. I’m going to pick up where I left off and I’m going to finish this regardless, no matter what.”
There are stops to make along the way, too – a visit to a VA medical center, a tour of the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Fort Benning, and time set aside to get a tattoo that symbolizes each State he will pass through on his journey. That last tattoo will commemorate what he’s hoping will be a picture-perfect ending to his walk.
“I’ve always wanted to see the sun set on the Santa Monica Pier,” he said. He’s also hoping to write a book about this experience and retrace his cross-country trek by car, stopping to thank the people who’ve shared in his walk, which he’s documenting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and his website.
In part, the Infantryman’s Creed reads, “In the race for victory, I am swift, determined, and courageous, armed with a fierce will to win. Never will I fail my country’s trust. Always I fight on – through the foe, to the objective, to triumph overall. If necessary, I will fight to my death.”
It takes a special person to promise to defend the American way of life at any cost. The Army National Guard has been defending each State and the nation for 382 years, making this branch of the U.S. military older than the country itself. If you want to be part of a proud legacy of serving part-time in your community during a crisis like a natural disaster, or protecting your fellow citizens overseas when your country needs you, contact a local recruiter to learn more.
PHOENIX, Arizona – Practices in the hot, sticky North Carolina summer last six hours a day on the turf field, making conditions grueling. Sweat flows, feet hurt, and the heat will only intensify as athletes like Specialist (SPC) Samantha Coleman prepare for their upcoming tournament.
SPC Coleman bounced around schools playing basketball and learning mixed martial arts, and she began playing rugby about a year ago. While playing with her team in Tucson, she learned about the All-Army Women’s Rugby Team.
“I’ve only been playing less than a year,” she says. “You never know unless you try.”
With encouragement from her teammates, she decided to go through the competitive application process. She made the team that consisted of Officers and Non-commissioned Officers. She felt as if she wasn’t good enough to play alongside those leaders.
At first, she thought, “I don’t deserve to be here. I’m so outclassed. But, it’s like, you know what? The worst they can do is say no.”
First Lieutenant (1LT) Kasey McCravey, captain of the All-Army Women’s Rugby Team and member of the U.S. Women’s National Rugby Team, attributes SPC Coleman’s success to her desire to learn.
“She has an ability to take information and apply it immediately,” says 1LT McCravey. “She would do the extras, and she was a positive light to the team.”
“You may feel like you’re just a regular Specialist, or whatever you may be,” says SPC Coleman. “But the work you do matters.”
Making the team was just the beginning. She and the team had to endure a summertime training camp in North Carolina.
“That training camp is honestly the highlight of my life,” she says. “Everyone’s on the same page and trying to get better and grow.”
“She came in having defensive strength, and she was weaker on her passing,” 1LT McCravey recalls. “She stayed longer with the coaches and other players and improved her passing skills.”
The team’s hard work was in preparation for the Armed Forces Sports First Women’s Rugby Championship in Wilmington, N.C. in July.
Army dominated, going undefeated in the tournament. The victory garnered an invitation to the Cape Fear Tournament, where Army faced tougher competition and placed third.
“The whole concept about rugby is community and family, more so than any other sport I’ve been a part in,” says SPC Coleman.
Her rugby team is family, just like being in the Arizona Army National Guard. “If you’re having a moment of weakness, or whatever, you’re just like, we’re in this together; embrace the suck.”
“The Army has let me pursue a lot of my passions,” she says. “That’s a real family. They would do anything for you, because you would do anything for them.”
The self-doubt SPC Coleman felt when she first joined the team has given way to a better sense of worth.
“Don’t count yourself out before you even try – don’t let other people make you small.”
When you join the Army National Guard, you gain family, experience, and skills for life. With benefits like tuition assistance and the flexibility to serve part-time in your home State, you can achieve your goals while making a difference in your community and country. To explore available opportunities, explore the job board where you’ll find careers in fields like aviation, engineering, and technology. To learn more, contact a recruiter today!
From an original article by SPC Jacob Dunlap and SPC John Randall, 123rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October 2019.