Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Riding for veterans

link Staff photo: Tony Bullocks

Matt Littrell of Elbert, Colorado, rests during his coast-to-coast horseback ride Tuesday at the Curry County Fairgrounds with Big Country, one of seven horses he and two companions are using on the trek. They started at Marine Camp LeJune, North Carolina, on May 1 and plan to make Marine Camp Pendleton, California, by mid-December to raise awareness about high suicide rates among veterans.

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To hear Marine veteran Matt Littrell tell it, this coast-to-coast horseback ride found him.

It was about the time he placed the pistol that was to end his suffering on a table in front of him.

“I just didn’t pick it up,” Littrell, 32, recalled during a day-long rest, camped under a shade tree Tuesday at the Curry County Fairgrounds.

Littrell, a two-tour Iraq veteran, picked up the telephone instead and called a Veterans Affairs suicide hotline.

“I spoke to a person at VA who was literally reading a script,” said Littrell. “He could care less. I was just another caller.”

Littrell said he woke up a few days later from his usual fits of tormented sleep, “and I knew I had to do this. There wasn’t any question it was going to happen.”

Littrell, an Elbert, Colorado farrier by trade, and two friends, Kristen Fuhrmann and Raymond Avery, mounted up on May 1 outside Marine Camp LeJune, North Carolina. Their destination is Marine Camp Pendleton, California.

A little more than three months and eight states later, they decided Monday to give it a rest, loaded up the horses outside Bovina and trailered to Clovis for some much needed R&R.

Littrell’s goals are to raise awareness and maybe some cash to help all veterans, perhaps end high suicide rates that have become a national concern. He posts updates daily to his Facebook page, The Long Trail Home, along with a link to the nonprofit Semper Fi Fund for those who wish to help veterans.

They average 15 to 20 miles a day, rotating seven horses. They plan to make Camp Pendleton by mid-December.

They take no cash and have relied almost entirely on friends made along the way to pasture or feed the horses. They have camped in front yards, back yards, parking lots and, now, fairgrounds. More than 100 places, Littrell estimates, where folks “fed us ... let us shower in their homes.”

“People care about these Vets,” said Littrell, “and it’s things like this that show them other people care.”

Littrell says on average 22 veterans kill themselves each day, a figure cited from a VA study published in 2013. It includes all veterans of all ages, not just those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the men and women Littrell hopes to focus on bringing awareness and help.

“There’s some kind of disconnect when these guys come back,” said Littrell. “I believe it to be they are just ignored.

“They are alone. He or she comes back and has nothing in common with anyone else. Those who know them say, you’ve changed but they have no idea. It does change you, the things you see and have to do. If you weren’t changed or affected by that, then you were defective when you started.”

“You finally reach a point,” said Littrell, where you end up isolating yourself ... you’re just done with it.”

For anyone who knows a vet, Littrell offers this based on his own struggle:

“Be a neighbor. Take him or her to dinner. Buy them a beer. We were somebody once. We mattered. You come home, and you don’t. Let them know you care.”

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