After fighting for our country, many times veterans come home to a feeling of isolation and loneliness. But thanks to one organization, veterans across the nation are coming together. And thanks to one local organization, veterans in Alabama can now take part in the organization Irreverent Warriors.
Jonathan Matlock hasn’t lived in Alabama very long, but when he moved here, he knew he had to start a chapter of Irreverent Warriors in Birmingham. The organization focuses on bringing veterans together with camaraderie and humor. The purpose is to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicide.
“We put on hikes,” said Matlock. “Nationally and internationally. We have two international hikes, one in London and one in Normandy. Next year, we will have one in Frankfurt, Germany.”
Matlock, a local coordinator for Irreverent Warriors, said those hikes bring together our nation’s heroes even at times when they don’t realize they need help. He said when he was living in New Hampshire in 2019, he was introduced to the nonprofit and it changed his life.
“They have a hike up there every year in a little town, and there was a guy in that group of veterans and he [dragged] me to that hike, kicking and screaming,” said Matlock. “I did not want to go.”
But he went, and the experience was one Matlock said he hopes other veterans come to realize. He said the discussions he had and the relationships he formed took him out of a deep, dark place.
“I had a blast,” Matlock said. “It was phenomenal. The experience, the camaraderie, the people that I was hanging out with. It was like being back in the Marine Corps, without all the other stuff.”
Since that hike, Matlock has focused much of his attention on making hiking events happen and on getting other veterans involved.
“I love this organization so much and the mission means so much to me, I can’t walk away from it,” said Matlock. “Even though I have moved so much, I either join wherever I go or start my own if it’s not there.”
Veteran suicide has become a national crisis. Matlock said it is important to him that fellow veterans know there are others there for them and that this organization can help them when they feel there is no other way.
“We get back home and we’re alone and don’t have anybody,” said Matlock. “When we get out of the military, we deserve this so what better way is there to talk and to be around others with the same experiences that we have been through?
The hikes get everyone together, but the conversations that happen during hikes are what Matlock said stick with participants for a lifetime.
“People that come out to these hikes and people that participate in these hikes talk to each other after the hikes,” said Matlock. “Just keeping in touch and reaching out to each other. It’s good to know that even if we are not able to be together, we still have connections, whether it is through Facebook or whatever, and in the middle of the night we can reach out and get in touch in some way with someone.
"It saved my life. I quit drinking and I feel like I have a purpose again."
The Birmingham, Ala. chapter of Irreverent Warriors will have a benefit concert, to fund the next hike. The benefit will be at Ferus Artisan Ales and the outdoor stage in Trussville’s Entertainment District on July 21. The night of live music will start at 6 p.m. and go until 9 p.m. Marines Sam Steadman and Randy Jackson will be performing.
The event is free, although a $10 donation is suggested. You can also donate here.
The next hike for veterans will be on Aug. 13. It is open to veterans only. For more information on the hike and for tickets, click here.