Veteran paddles 2,000 miles for cause
By Joe Reavis
A veteran of the U.S. Navy who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, new Wylie resident Joseph Mullin recently paddled a kayak from Maine to Key West, Fla. to raise awareness of the high rate of suicides among military veterans.
Mullin made the trip that took more than 10 months in support of Mission 22, a veteran-founded organization that works with military veterans with PTSD or who sustained a traumatic brain injury. The name of the organization is derived from the statistic that there are 22 suicides by military veterans daily.
“Being a disabled veteran, I wanted to do something to help other veterans,” Mullin, 67, said. “The whole purpose of the trip was Mission 22.”
He explained that he researched groups that help veterans and found that the nonprofit was giving back 100 percent of its proceeds to assist veterans, noting that it is currently 85 percent but efforts are underway to raise the giveback percentage.
Special Forces operators Magnus Johnson and Mike Kissel, and Infantryman Brad Hubbard have either battled PTSD and traumatic brain injury themselves or have friends who took their own lives, so they founded Mission 22 in 2012. Their mission to raise awareness, enlist support, and end veteran suicide in America.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines PTSD as a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD may manifest itself shortly after a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear for years after the event. Symptoms include “intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.”
Mullin served stateside with the navy from 1970-1974 as a jet aircraft mechanic. His PTSD was caused by the treatment he endured from civilians as a member of the military during the Vietnam War and from his volunteer work with an underwater recovery team that involved retrieving bodies of victims of marine accidents in
Massachusetts. An accumulation of events took their toll.
“You have to disassociate yourself from death,” he said, explaining that he has had trouble tapping normal emotions. Although gainfully employed until retirement, Mullin said that when PTSD is manifesting itself, he may become agitated, depressed, uncomfortable in crowds and unable to sleep.
The veteran was reared in Virginia Beach, Va. and has spent most of his life near and on the water. “I started out being a surfer,” he noted.
After serving a hitch in the navy, Mullin earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. and picked up a Master of Business Administration through University of Phoenix. He worked 30 years as an electrical engineer and recently moved to Wylie to be near his daughter.
While in the navy, he learned how to SCUBA dive and was recruited for a civilian underwater recovery team in Massachusetts, putting in 20 years as a member of the team.
“From SCUBA, I took up kayaking. I have to be on the water,” the 67-year-old declared.
He started kayaking in Buzzards Bay, Mass. at the mouth of the Wareham River, known for its treacherous waters. Every time Mullin went out in the bay, he would study the water and weather, which turned out to be time well spent prior to embarking on his Mission 22 kayak journey.
The trip got off to an inauspicious start in 2017 from Quoddy Head, Maine when he capsized the first day, had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and wound up in the hospital with a mild case of hypothermia.
“I was getting all that stuff out of the way at the start,” he said. Mullin discovered, however, that the kayak he was paddling was not well-suited to the Atlantic Ocean because it was too narrow and not shaped properly to handle open, rough water.
The first part of the trip took three and one-half months to weave along the shoreline from Quoddy Head to Watch Hill, R.I.
“I decided in Rhode Island that I needed a different kayak,” the mariner said.
He got a new kayak that was better designed for the trip and returned to Buzzards Bay to train and get a good feel for the new craft. Mullin resumed his trip this year on May 5 and arrived in Key West on Sept. 30.
Weaving in and out of coves and bays along the Atlantic Coast of the United States, the trip was 2,000 miles long. Along the way, Mullin reported he capsized three times off the coast of Maine and Vermont and had to be rescued twice.
He carried camping gear, freeze-dried food, clothes and a fiberglass repair kit aboard the 17-foot, 7-inch second kayak and wore a personal locator beacon.
Along the way, he was welcomed into homes when he put ashore for the night, and sometimes several nights if delayed by inclement weather. To raise awareness of Mission 22, the 67-year-old was interviewed for three television and five radio broadcasts, and was featured in stories for several newspapers.
Mullin reported that he, at first, was disappointed about raising only about $3,000 for Mission 22, until a member of the organization pointed out that he had done more to raise awareness for the group than anyone.
“The whole purpose of the trip was Mission 22,” he said. “The trip was therapeutic. You are out there on the water all alone 6-8 hours a day, which gives you time to think.”
The organization provides physical and mental care through healthcare providers to veterans suffering from PTSD and brain injuries and also is involved in a memorial art project to draw attention to challenges faced by many veterans.
“War at Home” is an art memorial built by the nonprofit featuring 20 steel plates created in the likenesses of veterans who lost their battle with PTSD. The memorial currently is set up in Norfolk, Va., and will be moved to Oklahoma next year.
Another piece of sculpture, located in Nashville, Ind. and entitled “Soaring,” is 22 feet tall and consists of 22 steel leaves representing the number of veterans who commit suicide every day.
Mullin plans to continue promoting Mission 22 at local events on land and water, and will take part in the Texas Water Safari in June 2019, a 260-mile race down the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers from San Marcos to Seadrift.