Cowboy rides for veteran awareness | TSLN.com

Cowboy rides for veteran awareness

Fireworks and backyard barbecues are staple traditions for many Americans on Independence Day, and as the nation celebrates this holiday on the fourth of July, it's also a great time to thank the men and women who have served our country to protect our freedoms.

These veterans have made great sacrifices on behalf of the red, white and blue, and although they come home heroes, they face monumental challenges when it's time to get back into their regular routines back in their own communities.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are approximately 50,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. with another 1.4 million others at risk for becoming homeless.

What's worse, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report revealed that an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day in America.

“People have come out in droves to visit with me, offer support, shake my hand and share their appreciation. Without their support, this trip wouldn’t be possible. I’m very thankful for the help I’ve received along the way so far.” Tony Jones

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Struggles with combat-related injuries, mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, not having access to proper care and resources, difficulty adjusting back to civilian life, and a weak support system back at home can lead to a variety of challenges.

Tony Jones, a 54-year old ranch hand and cowboy from Fort Pierre, S.D., believes it's time to do something about these problems. In an effort to raise awareness about the challenges veterans face, Jones has embarked on a one-man trail ride from Fort Pierre to Washington, D.C.

He's calling his journey, "The Quest for Constitution in honor of Vets: A 1,500 mile journey from Fort Pierre, South Dakota, to Washington, D.C." Jones started his journey with friend and fellow cowboy Orville White Eyes on June 5. Together, they trekked across South Dakota until they reached the Sioux Falls area, where they stopped to visit veterans at the VA hospital.

"We've made several stops along the way visiting with folks in every town we can about veteran issues and our mission for this trip," said Jones. "Orville headed back home already, but he was a great companion to start off my journey. I'll definitely miss him, and I hope he can join me further down the road."

As of June 25, Jones and two horses were making their way through Iowa. He doesn't have a timeline in mind, but he's determined to solve veteran issues before he gets to the nation's capital.

"It doesn't matter when I get there, it matters more about the people I talk to along the way," said Jones. "I've been so fortunate to have so many great people put me up overnight and offer feed and water to my horse. People have come out in droves to visit with me, offer support, shake my hand and share their appreciation. Without their support, this trip wouldn't be possible. I'm very thankful for the help I've received along the way so far."

Jones' inspiration for this journey comes from his family members and friends who have served in the Armed Forces.

"I've always believed in America, and I'm going to solve this problem on by the time I get to D.C.," he said. "Twenty-two veterans committing suicide each day is just too damn many. We have veterans who are homeless, and they don't need to be. We have veterans who die before they can get treatment for injuries or depression. We have veterans who have to fight just to receive their benefits. We owe our veterans more than that. We can do better. I couldn't look myself in the mirror anymore knowing about these problems and not do anything about it, but by the time this trip is over, we are going to solve these problems."

Jones said these veteran issues aren't just happening in big cities or on army bases, they happen in quiet towns in rural America, too.

"It seems like our veterans are getting abandoned," he said. "They don't have the support they need once they get home. Right around Reliance, South Dakota, which barely has 50 people living in it, eight veterans have committed suicide in that small community. It's a big problem, and if I can raise awareness and get even one person to help, it will be worth it. I'm not quitting, that's for sure."

With a flexible goal of making it to D.C. before the snow flies, Jones doesn't plan to meet with the state's Senators and Congresswoman. Instead, he has a vision of getting his horse onto the White House lawn and auctioning it off with the proceeds to support veterans in need.

"They might shoot me at the White House gate, but that's my plan," he said. "We are free because of the people who served this country. It's time to pay it back. This isn't about politics; it's about responsibility. It's about taking the time to do good. It's about reuniting America and soldiering her problems one at a time, and this time, it's to insure that the men and women who fought and fight to protect our freedoms, along with their families, are taken care of. First and foremost, it's about doing our duty as citizens, and more importantly, just saying thank you and we haven't forgotten you. This is why we ride!"

Jones has teamed up with the Semper Fi Fund to raise money for veterans along his journey. The Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post 9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their families, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back to their communities.

Learn more about the Semper Fi Fund by going to semperfifund.org.

"Tony took it upon himself to go out there and raise awareness for veterans," said Laura Castellvi, Semper Fi Fund senior manager of community relations. "His sister Wendy Bushmire researched ways to support the veterans and discovered the Semper Fi Fund. They reached out to us, and we've offered them support by helping them set up a Facebook page to track Tony's travels, as well as setting up a fundraising page for people to donate money to the cause. We are coaching them along the way and sharing our resources as Tony makes his way to Washington, D.C."

Jones' travels can be tracked on his Facebook page, "Cowboys Ride for Veterans," and supporters can donate money directly to the Semper Fi Fund at https://fundraising.semperfifund.org/fundraise?fcid=698500. With a goal of raising $100,000, donations are just starting to trickle in, but Jones hope as he logs miles, more folks will be aware of his mission and will help with the cause.

"This horse ride to D.C. is a great way to remind everybody about the sacrifices our veterans have made for us," said Castellvi. "We are so grateful to people like Tony who are making the effort to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress. With Independence Day right around the corner, I can't think of a better time for people to be thinking about the needs of our veterans."

Since 2004, the Semper Fi Fund has provided more than $129 million to U.S. veterans.

"We donate 94 cents of every dollar donated directly to veterans," she said. "We are a group of military spouses and daughters who have created this grassroots organization to offer support to veterans and those serving our country. The money we've raised sounds like a lot, but it's come to us little by little. Every dollar donation helps and can have a big impact on the life of a veteran."

Jones can cover anywhere between 15-30 miles each day, depending on the conditions and how well his horses are handling the miles. Jones has never been to Washington, D.C., but he hopes his first trip to the nation's capital will yield positive results for the veterans of this country.

"This trip is starting to gain momentum as people become more aware of what I'm doing, and I just have to keep pushing forward," he said. "I want to meet as many veterans as I can and hear firsthand what their challenges are and how they think we can better address them. There's a lot to be done, and I hope this trip raises awareness and gets people to take action."

"My brother is very passionate about this, and I believe that this is an honorable cause," said Bushmire. "We need to raise awareness of the sacrifices that have been made by service men, women and their families. I believe Tony's ride across the country allows him to connect with folks in small towns and reach out to a segment of our country that may otherwise be overlooked. We can't change things overnight, but if we can get the attention of millions of Americans, perhaps we can do more to improve our veterans quality of life."