GREENCASTLE — With 50 pounds on his back and an American flag waving in his hands, 28-year-old Matthew Watson is trying to ignite patriotism in his Putnam County community.
“The flag represents the hope of this country. It represents the sacrifices that’s been put into keeping this country free and maintain the rights and liberties we have. People come from all over the world, America is called the melting pot of the world, but instead of melting together as one, right now we’re just a bunch of pieces of metal sitting in the same pot that’s not even burning anymore," Watson said.
Watson has been in the Indiana Army National Guard for over 10 years and his known in his community as the “Patriot Runner.”
He was inspired to serve by his great-grandfather and World War II veteran Donald Ellis.
“He was captured by the Germans and was in a POW camp for 18 months. Listening to his stories, I’d always go and visit and he would sit down and talk all about the war stories and things like that. Seeing the way he lived his life inspired me," he said.
This month, he’s participating in Mission 22’s 48-mile ruck march challenge.
On Saturday, he marched about eight miles on the sidewalks, shoulders and streets of Greencastle.
“I use it to help ignite some patriotism in the local community, as well as, now I’ve been able to use it as a platform to raise money for military and first responder nonprofit organizations," Watson said.
Mission 22 is a nonprofit that provides support to veterans and their families through treatment programs, raising awareness, and memorial assistance.
One of its goals is to prevent soldier suicides — an issue that hits Watson close to home.
He lost his friend and fellow soldier Jordan to suicide in 2018.
“It hit us real hard. Didn’t really see it coming so now I want to do something to help prevent that," he said.
Watson says veterans can face traumatic brain injury, PTSD and other mental health issues that contribute to suicidal ideation.
He encourages you to lend a helping hand to those who may be struggling.
“Just being there. Being someone that they can trust to talk to about some of the deepest issues they’re dealing with. That’s the biggest thing."
Watson estimates that over the years he’s helped raise $2,000 for veterans organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project, Running 4 Heroes, Stop Soldier Suicides and more.
For more information about the Patriot Runner, click here.