‘I’ve always believed in America’: Cowboy rides from South Dakota to D.C. for veteran’s issues awareness
Follow the journey
Tony Jones’ travels can be tracked on his Facebook page, “Cowboys Ride for Veterans,” and supporters can donate money directly to the Semper Fi Fund. 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.
In an effort to raise awareness about veterans’ issues, Tony Jones, a 54-year-old ranch hand and cowboy from Fort Pierre, S.D., recently 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. Since, White Eyes has headed home.
Currently, Jones is making his way through Iowa. He doesn’t have a timeline in mind, but he’s determined to solve some 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,” Jones said.
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.
A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report revealed that an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day in America.
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.
“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.”
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, S.D., 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.”
With a flexible goal of making it to D.C. before it snows, 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.”
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.
“Tony took it upon himself to go out there and raise awareness for veterans,” said Laura Castellvi, Semper Fi Fund spokesperson. “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.”
Since 2004, the Semper Fi Fund has provided more than $129 million to U.S. veterans. Of each dollar donated, 94 cents are given directly to veterans.
“This horse ride to D.C. is a great way to remind everybody about the sacrifices our veterans have made for us,” Castellvi said. “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.”
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,” 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.” ❖
It took over five months, but Tony Jones made it to Washington DC. “The horses seem to be doing fine. They’ve recovered from their long, long journey very well. They were sound and in good spirits,” said Mike Jennings of Professional Horse Services. After the trip his horses, JT and Semper Fi, were auctioned for more than $2,000 a piece, with the money going to the Semper Fi Fund.
You can still donate to Tony Jones’ Semper Fi Fundraiser here: https://fundraising.semperfifund.org/fundraise?fcid=698500