“IT IS THE HONOR OF MY LIFE TO DO THIS RIDE.”
BY MELANIE BUCK –
On a journey to bring awareness to suicidal veterans, Matthew Littrell and friend Raymond Avery, are expected to pass through Mena on Saturday as part of their cross country trip on horseback. Both from Elbert, Colorado, they began their journey at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on May 1 and will end the ride at Camp Pendleton, California. They expect the journey to last until December or maybe even as far away as January.
Littrell, a former Marine Infantryman, wants to bring awareness to suicidal veterans and let them know that they are not alone. “There are 22 veterans a day committing suicide, every single day. There’s only 22 states out of the union that report veteran suicides, not including Texas or California so we can assume that the number is much higher than that, around 50 to 70,” stated Littrell.
The idea for his long journey began in January 2013 when Littrell himself came dangerously close to taking his own life. “I spent a long night looking at a pistol on the table in front of me, didn’t do it. I called up the VA Crisis Line that night just to talk to somebody and the person I got on the other end of the line just didn’t care, somebody just reading a script. I woke up a few days later and just knew I was doing this. I never came up with the idea for this ride, it was never a question of what am I going to do to help, This ride was meant to happen and somehow, someway, the ride picked me.”
About a month before the trip, longtime friend of Littrell’s father Raymond Avery, asked if he could join the venture. Littrell didn’t want Avery to feel obligated to come to which Avery replied, “this is one of the biggest things I’ve ever heard of anybody doing and I want to come.” Littrell stated, “I looked at him and said well, I guess there’s only one thing left to say…’Woodrow, you wanna go to Montana?’”
Traveling on with a mustang and three quarter horses, they only ride about 15-20 miles per day. Littrell chose to ride a mustang because they have to fight everyday in the wild to survive, like a soldier. “They have a hard edge to them and that’s what it takes to get across the country. They are rough and edgy like me,” stated Littrell.
Every place they’ve been and every act of kindness they’ve received “is not for us, it’s for the guys that are suffering. Everyone who has seen us and brought us a cold drink of water during the heat of the day, or put us up, we want them (veterans) to see that those people are not doing it for us, they are doing it for the veterans.” They want them to know that they are not alone, that people do remember them, that they are not forgotten. Through their Facebook page The Long Trail Home, the veterans they ride for are seeing those good things happen. “We’re still fighting for them,” said Littrell. “We can raise all the money in the world but money is meaningless without meaning behind it. These guys are seeing that people still care and that’s the point of all of this.”
The name of the journey has significant meaning to Littrell, “I call it the Long Trail Home because these guys that are coming back home from overseas are physical back home, but we’re not, we’re still fighting. It’s a long, arduous, hard, gut-wrenching journey to get back home.” His journey here reflects that same long, hard road. The destination point, Camp Pendleton, California was Littrell’s home military base, when he wasn’t on one of his two tours to Iraq. So in a sense, he’s heading home.
Sometimes having no place to stay, Littrell and Avery have slept next to the road and in fields along the way and eating only peanuts for dinner. Such was the case on July 4 when they stopped to stay in a field and were later surprised when a man pulled up to bring them BBQ and cold beer. “They weren’t going to let us not have a decent meal on the 4th of July,” smiled Littrell. “It was incredibly touching. It was a reminder that we’re not overseas, we’re back home. That guy will never know what that meant to me.”
When asked if he felt the journey has helped others, Littrell replied, “Absolutely! I’ve gotten 4 messages on our Facebook page from guys that said they thought they were completely forgotten, that they were all alone and about to pull the trigger. But after seeing what these people do for us and all the words of encouragement on the page, they didn’t do it.”
Polk County has come together to make sure these gentlemen feel welcome. Staying at the Johnsons’ in Pine Ridge Thursday night, Friday night were spent in the hospitable company of Juliann Boyd of the Yocana community who took them into town for a good meal and a haircut. With a good place for their horses and a nice bed for themselves, the pair enjoyed good company, good food, and good music.
Traveling through town on Sunday, the two caused a stir at Skyline Café when they stopped for lunch and met several locals. After traveling west on Highway 8, Littrell and Avery found sanctuary at the home of Jeff Jones. From there, they were transported to Talihina to attend a barrel racing event that was held in their honor and raised over $700 for the Semper Fi Fund. Coming back to Jones’ late Sunday the pair got a short rest before heading out early Monday morning and leaving Arkansas, and the people they met, changed forever.
“We loved Mena, it was really great to us. Everybody there was so welcoming and you guys have our gratitude,” stated Littrell.
Their journey will resume early each morning as they head west. They still have many miles to go, but neither Littrell, or Avery are averted, as Littrell relayed,
“It is absolutely the honor of my life to do this ride.”
If you would like to support Littrell’s cause, you can donate to Semper Fi using the on link The Long Trail Home Facebook page or by clicking here: Semper Fi Fund.