Veteran kayaks through WB on months-long mission to educate on military mental health

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On the shore of the Intracostal Waterway, just north of Wrightsville Beach, Joseph Mullin reflected on how far he has come on his mission, which is not just to kayak from Maine to Texas, but also to educate the public on the problem of veterans’ mental health.

After capsizing his kayak three times, having to be rescued twice, and ending up in the hospital with mild hypothermia in April of last year, Mullin stepped back and reevaluated his mission.  Now, more than a year later, Mullin passed through Wrightsville Beach last week, nearly halfway through with his plans to kayak from Maine to Texas, while also raising fund for Mission 22, an organization focused on veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention.

“I don’t know what ‘quit’ means,” Mullin said.

Following the setback last April, Mullin spent six months researching kayaks and continuing his training in Buzzard’s Bay, Mass.

On May 5, 2018, Mullin began his journey again, this time with a kayak more suited for the long journey ahead. On July 17, he arrived in Wilmington, where he spent two nights before commencing his trip once again on the morning of July 19.

Mullin grew up in Virginia Beach and served in the U.S. Navy. Following his military service, he worked on one of the largest professional dive teams in the country doing underwater recovery for 20 years. In this job, Mullin helped recover bodies, vehicles, and evidence in homicide cases, through which he developed PTSD. Far too often, PTSD, among other causes, leads veterans to suicide, Mullin said. Twenty veterans commit suicide every day, one every 65 minutes. Mullin decided he needed to do something to help bring this number down, so he partnered with Mission 22 and committed to his own personal mission in order to raise awareness and support for this cause.

“There’s a bond between veterans, you can’t explain it, you can’t break it. So, when the call goes out, we got to answer. I’m answering the call,” Mullin said.

Mission 22 is an organization started by combat veterans. They realized too many veterans were taking their own lives, and after one of its founders almost committed suicide, they came together and formed Mission 22. Mission 22 creates a community for veterans struggling with similar problems and provides resources for them in order to bring down the number of suicides.

“We’re trained to be strong for ourselves and everybody around us and the perception that everybody has is that if you have PTSD you’re broken, so that shows up as a sign of weakness. We will never admit that we have a weakness; we’ll hide it. It takes a much stronger person to ask for help than to try and do it alone. The new analogy that I have is: you’re sent out on patrol and everything’s fine, then all of the sudden you’re in the thick of it. You’re depending on yourself, you’re depending on your buddies, but what else do you do? You call for support. Think of Mission 22 as your support. Call us. We’ve got your six. If you have PTSD and you’re in the thick of it fighting your demons, you need support. Call us up,” Mullin said.

Because hurricane season is kicking up, Mullin estimates that it will take him anywhere from eight months to a year for him to get from Wilmington to Houston, Texas. On the days that he is paddling, Mullin typically travels 20-40 miles within 6-8 hours, though he says depending on the weather, there are some days when he plans for 20 miles and only conquers 5. He carries 95 pounds worth of gear with him, including two stoves, 30 days worth of food, and solar panels, to name a few things. At night, Mullin camps on beaches, in nearby campgrounds, or stays in hotels near the water. However, he has also found himself in the homes of strangers who are touched by his story and offer to put him up. In Wilmington, he is staying with Jeanne King, who found him through a blog site.

To donate to Mission 22 and Joseph Mullin’s mission, visit aske2017.org.

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