Sloane, Dean, and I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting two amazing men on a journey from Camp Lejeune, NC to Camp Pendleton, CA. Did I mention they were on horseback? Yes, that’s right. These guys are riding mustangs from coast to coast to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund and raise awareness for all of the brave veterans who have risked it all for our country.
Matt Littrell is a former Marine infantryman from Colorado who served in the Marine Corps from December 2001-December 2005. He served two tours to Iraq during his enlistment. He and close friend, Raymond C. Avery, are on a mission to raise $7 million for the Semper Fi Fund. Littrell says Avery has been instrumental in making this whole thing happen and he couldn’t ask for a better companero to ride with.
We all understand what he’s talking about after meeting Mr. Raymond. He’s such a wonderful person and as hardworking as they come. We heard stories from Mr. Raymond all evening then after he went to bed Matt filled us in on even more! You can hear the passion in Matt’s voice as he speaks. You can feel the loyalty and trust the two have for each other. Each looks up to the other for different reasons, but both are heroes to each other. They are quite a special duo.
The pair left Surf City, NC on May 1 and began their journey using I-40 as a guide. They’re traveling with four horses now, after picking up a beauty named Siren in Georgia, a contribution to the ride by Eddie McFarlin. Matt is riding his horse named Crow, Raymond rides his girl, Tequila Shelia, and Roy is a pack horse. For now, Siren is helping carry the load of packs to give Roy a break, but in the future Matt will give Crow time to rest and ride Siren along the journey. She certainly seems ready and willing to take on this monumental task.
Matt explains, “The Semper Fi fund is an organization that provides assistance to wounded veterans who suffer from visible and invisible wounds suffered in combat. The need to help our veterans is great. Government funded organizations such as the VA are so back logged and inadequately staffed that claims are taking too long to help our vets in time.”
There are 22 veteran suicides each day in this country. We cannot begin to understand what these men and women are going through, and it isn’t our job to. Matt speaks so passionately about the need to show up. He says there isn’t a need to say “thank you” or to try to feel empathy. These warriors have been through hell for us and they bare that burden. They don’t want us to know what war is like for if we do they have failed their job. That’s why they made the sacrifices that they did. They just need us to be there for them when they return home. They need us to show support, to help them in their transition to becoming a civilian again, to listen to what they have to say, to respond with “I have your back” and to mean it. They need to be acknowledged, but want to be shown that they are relevant and wanted and an important citizen of the country they risked their life defending, not just told, “Thank you for your service.”
Matt and I spoke about his love for animals, horses and dogs in particular. I asked him his opinion of PTSD service dogs. I’ve been interested in training them for quite some time, but haven’t made the leap and actually gotten a dog to train. He feels they are so important for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. He knows first hand what the human-animal bond can do for someone. It’s no surprise that a relationship with an animal can help veterans overcome emotional numbness, panic attacks, and isolation. Veterans are able to trust dogs and get out of their own heads.
Talking with Matt helped me decide that this is something I want to do. I don’t know whether Dean’s future is in the PTSD service dog world, but I can guarantee that there will be a puppy here soon with the goal of becoming a lifelong friend for one of the brave men and women who keep us free everyday.
If you want to follow Matt and Raymond along their journey please visit their Facebook page, The Long Trail Home. You can also help them reach their goal of $7 million dollars by donating to the Semper Fi Fund through this link.
Be sure to share the Facebook page with your friends. This isn’t just about raising money. This is about letting people know there are people out there who need them. These people were there for us by fighting the wars of this country, and now they need us. Let’s show up for them.
“I have witnessed too many of my own brothers die long after the shooting stopped to remain idle any longer. This is my mission, this is our Long Trail Home.” -Matt Littrell