Guard Soldier Walks Across Country from Pier to Pier to Help Peers

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.

SPC John Ring
SPC John Ring serves with the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in the Georgia Army National Guard.

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.

SPC John Ring and SGT Jason Zimmerman
Sergeant (SGT) Jason Zimmerman of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (right), joined SPC Ring on part of his walk through Georgia.

“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.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

GI Jon: Guard Soldier’s Journey to Living His Dreams

Ever since he was a child, SPC Jonathan Mullins wanted to be a GI Joe.

“I always wanted to be just like the Soldiers in the movies.”

But sometimes life takes unexpected turns. At 19, SPC Mullins was sitting in a Marine Corps recruitment office, waiting to sign his enlistment papers when he got a call that his wife was expecting their first child.

He put his dream on the back-burner and jumped into his new role as a father, taking care of his wife and first-born daughter.

SPC Jonathan Mullins is an 11B Infantryman in the Virginia Army National Guard.

It wasn’t until the day that SPC Mullins’ fates aligned that he knew where he belonged. He was working in construction and didn’t have health benefits when he fell off a roof at work. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt badly.

The same day, he blew a tire and found himself sitting in the parking lot of a Virginia Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention office. Ironically, his wife’s cousin was once a colonel in that office. He took this as a sign that it was time to pursue his dream.  He immediately called the colonel and asked her what he needed to do to enlist.

At that point, SPC Mullins was a 30-year-old homeowner and father of three. Joining the Army National Guard rather than an active duty branch of the armed services would allow him to serve in the military without having to move his family away from home.

“I didn’t want to uproot them because we had everything right here; I didn’t want to take them away from that,” he says.

“The best part about being in the Guard is that you still get to come home.”

Now 32, he’s been able to live out his dream as an 11B Infantryman – but that’s not all he wanted to be. After enlisting, he started applying to law enforcement agencies in the area, landing the other job he’d always wanted:  police officer. For SPC Mullins, having the flexibility to serve part-time and have a civilian career at the same time has been one of the most rewarding benefits of joining the Guard.

There are other perks, too. He’s now able to provide health insurance for him and his family. He’s also using the Guard’s education benefits to work toward a degree in ministry, which will help him when he plans on reclassing as a 56M Chaplain Assistant in the future.

“I’ve worked through the ministry for quite some time, since I was 21,” he says, “and I really feel like that’s where I’m being led.”

SPC Mullins with his wife and three children.

For SPC Mullins, it’s all about making his family proud and being able to do the things he loves. His Guard experience has fulfilled him in ways he never thought possible. He dropped out of high school at a young age, went back to get his GED, and thought he would join the workforce, following wherever the dollar led him.

Now he has a new outlook: “Work hard and don’t give up.”

He reminisces about the strongest piece of advice he’d received from a drill sergeant when things seemed tough in the beginning of his Guard journey:

“If you feel like giving up, you’re only giving 40 percent. You’ve still got 60 percent left to give, so you’ve got to dig deep and give that 60 percent.”

SPC Mullins passes that advice on to others with the hopes of inspiring them to live their truths and pursue their passions.

“If it’s your dream, and it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, pursue it and live that dream.”

If you’re looking for a fulfilling career with benefits like tuition assistance, insurance for you and your family, and the ability to serve part-time in your home State, check out the National Guard job board. With more than 130 careers in fields like aviation, engineering, and transportation, there’s something for everyone in all walks of life. Contact a recruiter today to learn more about how you can join the Army National Guard.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Guard’s Flexibility Gives Soldier Ability to Jump from One Adventure to the Next

SPC Kristopher Nordby rappels into a University of Rhode Island basketball game for Military Appreciation Night.

SPC Kristopher Nordby rappels into a University of Rhode Island basketball game for Military Appreciation Night.

One of the things that sets the Army National Guard apart from other branches of the military is that Soldiers serve on a part-time basis.

For Specialist (SPC) Kristopher Nordby of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, this level of flexibility is giving the 22-year-old the opportunity to try different things, travel overseas, and go to as many Army schools as he can.

SPC Nordby joined the Guard five years ago as a junior in high school under the Guard’s split training option. Inspired partly by an older brother’s adventures as an Infantryman for the Guard, he enlisted with the Massachusetts Army National Guard as a 12B Combat Engineer. That was until he found out his home state of Rhode Island had an Airborne Infantry Unit, one of only a handful that exists within the Guard.

“Jumping out of planes and shooting the different weapons that the military has available kind of sparked my interest a little more,” he says of his choice to switch military occupational specialties (MOS) to 11B Infantryman and do an interstate transfer to Rhode Island, a move he believes might not have been as easy had he joined an active duty branch of the military.

While the regular infantry is on foot with rucksacks or using ground vehicles to arrive at a training ground or the battlefield, the airborne unit parachutes to their destinations from Black Hawk or Chinook helicopters, or C-130 planes, says SPC Nordby.

SPC Kristopher Nordby

SPC Kristopher Nordby

“We can just jump in,” he says.

One of the things that drew SPC Nordby to the Army National Guard was the number of military schools he’d be able to attend without having to enlist for full-time, active duty Army service.

“Any schools they want to send me to, I’m willing to go to because that’s what I’m into.”

So far, he’s been to six military courses in his career. The most rewarding for him was the three different trainings at Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vt.

“I really didn’t know I was into rock climbing or mountaineering until I went to those schools.”

The mountains left him wanting more, so he’s considering becoming a certified mountain guide as a civilian career and pay for it by using the Guard’s education benefits.

With deployments having slowed down, especially for infantry units, SPC Nordby is taking advantage of opportunities to better himself as a Soldier until a call to serve his country comes.

“In the meantime, I’ll just go to all of these schools and learn as much as I can military-wise. Hopefully, it will help me out once I am able to deploy.”

Another option SPC Nordby is considering later in his career is trying out for one of the Special Forces units that Rhode Island also has within the state.

But for now, he’s got a full-time Guard job on a mobile event team that sets up recruiting booths and activities at high schools and events in Rhode Island, which is also flexible enough to allow him to attend military schools and train overseas.

Just recently, his unit has been attached to the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vincenza, Italy, which has allowed him to travel to the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Romania for trainings and parachute competitions.

“I’ve been able to travel all over the place, and it’s been amazing.”

Another thing he likes about his job is the camaraderie he’s found in the Guard.

“The friendships that you build within the unit, they’re incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I can rely on anybody in my unit to help me if I ever needed it.”

So, if you’re looking for a part-time job where you can build long-lasting bonds and go on adventures, consider joining the Army National Guard.

Even if you’re not sure what career you want to jump into, the Guard offers more than 150 different jobs ranging from infantry to engineering to field artillery, and much more. You can explore all of these careers on our job board, or contact your local recruiter, who can help you find a good fit.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter