More than one year ago, Matt Littrell sat at his kitchen table staring intently at his pistol, wondering whether the next day was worth living for.
Now he hopes to show the nation’s veterans that it is.
He said he realized there was a greater good he could accomplish by sending a message to those who may someday contemplate suicide. Over the next eight months, Littrell will ride horseback from Camp Lejeune to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund and raise awareness that suicide is letting the enemy win the battle from across the globe.
“I don’t think the average American is aware that we are losing more than 22 veterans per day (to suicide) in our country,” said Littrell, a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Belbert, Colo. “I want this to open their eyes that they are losing their sons, daughters and neighbors. If it does, it is worth every inch of every mile I travel.”
Searching for inner peace since his return from Iraq, Littrell said that riding horses taught him how to control his emotions since a horse responds to a person’s attitude, which when negative, can cause a dangerous situation.
Beginning his ride today, Littrell said that his nerves have subsided because he isn’t looking at the overall distance of 2,700 miles. Instead, he said, he is focusing on the smaller goal of 20 miles each day. With every mile and with every person he meets or sees, he said he hopes that they care enough to know why he is on his journey and that there are still service members dying in Afghanistan, a war he thinks the average American has forgotten about.
“I wanted to do something more than writing a check to someone or put a yellow ribbon on my vehicle,” said the former infantryman who served from 2001 until 2005 with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton. “It’s more than saying thank you for your service because veterans need more than that. I want a fellow grunt who sees me on the news somewhere across the country to put down their pistol, find a purpose and look toward tomorrow. I want to save at least one life through doing this ride.”
One other issue he said he hopes to confront is that less than half of the 50 states require records to be kept of veteran suicides. By states not reporting veteran suicides, he said, the 22-per-day number that’s in the media is misleading, because it may not include reports from the entire country. Because of this, the veterans of the United States, according to Littrell, deserve every penny he raises throughout his ride. Now, having raised $5,000, he said he is a long way from his $7 million goal, which he hopes to reach before arriving to California.
“I think the $7 million goal is achievable and I realize it is crazy,” he said. “Veterans deserve a crazy goal, not a small one, because they didn’t give a small part of their life. They deserve every bit of crazy we can give them.”
The funds raised will go to the Semper Fi Fund, a nationwide nonprofit that assists wounded, ill or injured service members. The reason Littrell said he chose the Semper Fi Fund because when he compared to other charitable organizations, he was impressed that the fund uses 94 cents of every dollar earned to help service members and veterans while others were significantly lower.
The Semper Fi Fund volunteers, according to Vanessa Keane, a case manager with the Semper Fi Fund, will be supporting Littrell as much as they can throughout his journey across the country by posting his progress on social media and cheering him on as he passes through towns in various states. They have also given him an assortment of clothing and gear to assist him in his journey, she said.
“I think there’s a real sense that we’re all in this together — active duty or veteran, wounded, ill, or healthy, service member or family member, the Semper Fi Fund and our community make it our mission to provide support for everyone who needs it,” Keane said. “We especially appreciate when our service members and veterans, like Matt, get involved, continuing to serve their brothers and sisters beyond their uniformed service.”
Through his journey, she said, he will he build awareness of the Semper Fi Fund’s mission as well as foster support for injured and ill service members across the country as they navigate their own recovery processes and rejoin communities across the nation.
“For an individual to not only ride across the country, but to do so on horseback with only his two mustangs for companionship, is an incredible feat,” Keane said. “He’s about to traverse over 2,600 miles of terrain in an adventure to raise funds and awareness. …We are incredibly impressed and really amazed by Matt.”
To follow Littrell’s journey, visit facebook.com/Thelongtrailhome. To donate, visit fundraising.semperfifund.org/fundraise?fcid=249300