Veteran paddling from Maine to Texas for suicide prevention
Thursday, July 19th 2018, 2:21 pm EDTbyChelsea Donovan
Thursday, July 19th 2018, 7:20 pm EDT
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) –If 66-year-old Navy veteran Joseph Mullins can save just one life, he says he’ll go the distance to do it — a distance of 4,000 miles.
“I’ve been around the water all my life…surfing, fishing, scuba diving, and 20 years doing underwater recovery,” Mullins said. “Then I took up kayaking, so the natural way for me to raise awareness was to take to the kayak.”
He launched in Maine on April 30, 2017, in a 17-foot long, 24-inch wide white kayak, but the number he wants people to remember is 22.
“At the time I joined Mission 22, we were losing 22 veterans a day to suicide,” Mullins said. “That’s far too many.”
Mission 22 aims to prevent veterans from committing suicide. According to data released by the Veterans Affairs Department, approximately 18-22 veterans take their lives each day as a result of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mission 22 was founded by three veterans whose goal is to eliminate the symptoms of trauma by addressing underlying physiological and psychological imbalances.
Mullins hopes the money he raises on this two-year mission will help save lives.
“I have PTSD myself from doing search and rescue and underwater recovery,” Mullins said. “With this journey, I am out there trying to figure out my own demons, my own triggers, and the water is therapeutic. I found peace out there.”
While his mission continues, it hasn’t been smooth sailing.
“On my first day in the water, just two hours in, I capsized off Bailey’s Mistake (off the coast of Maine),” Mullins said. “It took the Coast Guard an hour to get to me. I was in 38-degree water and went to the hospital as I had mild hypothermia.”
Despite the setback, as well as two more capsizings, Mullins said nothing will slow him down in this fight.
“For most people, they would probably quit right then,” Mullins said. “I don’t panic and I don’t know what the word quit means.”
Mullins made a stop in Wilmington on Thursday. He is paddling an average of 40 nautical miles a day — about six to eight hours on the water — telling boaters and anyone who will listen about the goal of Mission 22.
“Being a veteran, there is a bond,” Mullins said. “You can’t explain it and you can’t break it. It’s like this is a calling.
“Veterans are in trouble. We need help. The vets need help. We need help getting the word out to them and I am here to answer their call.”