COLUMBIA, S.C. – Two South
Carolina Army National Guard members volunteered to deliver needed
supplies to Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian in five flights on a small
Carolina Army National Guard
Second Lieutenant (2LT) Sam Evans, 1-118th Infantry Battalion, Bravo Company
platoon leader, and 2LT William “Cole” Sanford Jr., Charlie Company, 1-151st
Attack Reconnaissance Battalion platoon leader, found the opportunity to volunteer via
an online forum from a group that had organized the collection of supplies but
needed pilots and planes to fly them to the Bahamas.
“I reached out to get more
details, and asked Sanford if he was interested in making the relief trips with
me, to which he said yes,” says 2LT Evans.
Hurricane Dorian inflicted
heavy damage on the Bahamas Aug. 24, 2019, killing at least 50 people and
leaving about 70,000 people homeless.
2LT Evans, a graduate of
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and
ROTC cadet, obtained his private
pilot license before commissioning and then returned to South Carolina. 2LT
Sanford, a graduate of Wofford College in South Carolina and an ROTC cadet, earned
his private pilot license for a single-engine, land, and fixed-wing aircraft
while attending school.
The two flew back and forth
from South Florida to the Bahamas five times in September on a two-seat
single-engine prop 1943 Luscombe Silvaire, delivering more than 500 pounds of
toiletries, tents, and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
“We were limited on space and
weight,” says 2LT Evans, who is pursuing a commercial pilot license. “We could
take about 100 pounds of supplies each trip and would pack aid into every space
“At the end of the day, what
we did was small,” says 2LT Sanford. “But it felt good that the toiletries and
other things that we brought could be helping someone. It may just have been a
pick-me-up for someone who had just lost their house.”
National Guard gives Soldiers like 2LTs Sanford and Evans the opportunity to
pursue civilian careers, education, and other training while serving
part-time in their home State, so there is time to further your career
while staying close to home.
earn benefits to help pay for education and
expenses while serving their country and their community.
(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.”
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
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