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.
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – The New Jersey Army National Guard’s Psychological Health Program recently welcomed its fifth team member, although instead of wearing combat boots, he has four paws. Ace is a rescue dog, and at 8 months old, he’s been making waves throughout the State as a therapy animal in training.
Ace can be seen sporting military gear with a large “PET ME” patch emblazoned on the side.
“He’s going to be a tool that we’ll be able to use in order to connect Soldiers and provide emotional and therapeutic support throughout the State,” says Captain (CPT) Melissa Parmenter, a behavioral health officer with the New Jersey Army National Guard.
“Sometimes when we’re struggling with mental illness or just life stressors, it’s hard to get that courage to come forward and ask for some help, so Ace’s role will be to help open that door.”
When CPT Parmenter was pondering what to name the dog, her husband noted that Batman had a dog named Ace. She immediately took to the idea when she realized it fit the Army acronym for Ask, Care, Escort.
“A.C.E. teaches Soldiers at the lowest level, if you have a battle buddy in need, this is how to get them to the right place, and not to leave them alone until they’re in the right hands,” she says.
Ace has already been helping Soldiers, providing comfort to those in need.
“Everybody’s body posture and everything changes automatically when they see him. He’s licking everybody, and everybody is trying to touch him, hug him, and get kisses from him. The whole demeanor of wherever he walks in changes.”
CPT Parmenter hopes that Ace will break down barriers when it comes to mental health.
“I think Ace will help change the thinking that therapy has to be sitting at a desk and talking to someone,” she says.
“I think it will help us get the message across that there are different modalities available, and there are different ways to receive therapy that can be helpful and really beneficial.”
Making an impact is ingrained in the Army National Guard’s mission. If you’re passionate about helping others and making a difference in someone’s life, consider joining the National Guard. With hundreds of positions available in the medical field, including mental health specialists, you, too, can serve part-time in your home State, and take care of those who may need you the most. To see all current job opportunities, visit the job board or contact a recruiter to learn more today.
From an original article by MSG Matt Hecht, New Jersey National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October 2019.