PARIS, Tex. (KXII) — A South Dakota man on his second horseback journey across the United States rode through Texoma Thursday. He rides to meet and talk to veterans, bringing awareness to veterans’ needs.
“We need those veterans, we can’t be letting them go. They’ve done too dang much for us and what does that say about us if we’re not willing to stand up for them,” said Tony Jones of Fort Pierre, South Dakota.
Jones served a couple years in the National Guard, but doesn’t consider himself a veteran.
“There’s no sense bringing awareness to something if you don’t go out and find solutions for it,” said Jones.
Admiration of his veteran grandfather and veteran friends from over the years inspired him to take action to prevent veteran suicides.
“So one morning I woke up and I looked in the mirror. And the guy staring back at me, I didn’t like him very much because he was a talker, not a doer,” said Jones.
A 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs shows that more U.S. veterans committed suicide between 2008 and 2017 than those that died in the Vietnam War.
“They need to have that support, that’s what’s keeping them alive. And that’s why we’re losing so many is because a lot of them don’t have that support. They come back, they wander off. We haven’t been where they’ve been, we haven’t seen what they’ve seen, we don’t know what they know,” said Jones.
In 2016 Jones rode horseback from South Dakota to Washington D.C. to meet veterans, and share their stories and needs with Congress.
“Four months, 21 days and 1,600 miles later I was standing in Washington D.C. with a lot of information and a lot of heartbreak,” said Jones.
One veteran he met along the way committed suicide before he could make it to D.C. This time Jones has 2 helpers, Deanna Lehrkamp and Rodney Wallace, who believe in the same cause.
“I was so inspired on his first ride, just following the website book in Pierre. And a friend of mine said that he’s taking another ride. I’m like yes I’m going,” said Lehrkamp.
“You don’t gotta ride 1,600 miles, go find a veteran and talk to him. See what he’s doing, see what’s bothering him.,” said Jones.
He’s headed for Texarkana next, and hopes to meet as many veterans as possible. His Facebook page, Cowboys Ride for Veterans, shares where he’s headed next in his journey, and how you can help his non-profit.
“If you see a problem and you’re not willing to roll your sleeves up, put your hands on that problem and actually get to work to see what the heck it takes to change it and make it better, then you should just shut up because you’re wasting air. You’re wasting time, you’re making noise that makes no difference,” said Jones.
Visit his Facebook page here.