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
Well it rained a few times last night. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be a rainy day on my last paddle of the trip. I got up and started packing. Took a shower and then launched into chop and a 15 mph wind. I paddled under the bridge and turned south to join the others at the car and coffee event. They had told them I was coming and I was very welcome reception I got when I landed.
In the interest of saving time. We put the kayak on Scott’s jeep and we all headed to Duval street and the southern most point market.
When we got there there was a long line so we came up with a plan to drive around the block park in front of the market and get a pic of me, yak, jeep and marker. I gave CC my phone camera ready and we jumped out. She starts screaming that I just completed 5000 mile paddle from Maine to Key West and we needed my pic in front of marker. People cheered and moved out of the way. It was great. We jumped back in the jeep and went up the road to join Soledad and David.
We dropped the kayak off at David’s I got rid of a lot of stuff I don’t need. Took what I needed now and it lightened the kayak quite a bit.
Scott CC and I left for their house. Stopped at the Mariner for dinner but it was closed so we opted for Sonny’s BBQ.
I woke up feeling like I was a member of the Cudjoe Key Pistol club, drink all night…piss-to dawn. I woke up about 5 times to pee what a nuisance.
Breakfast consisted of a banana and a sugar cookie. I finished packing the kayak and moved it to the boat launch. I had to stack the stones on top of the wall. Launched the yak and headed for Key West. I stopped and talked to 3 guys at the channel end opened to the ocean.
Before I left Cudjoe Bay my gf called to explain why she didn’t call back. It was great to talk to her.
Then a while later a reporter called that Monica got a hold of. We had a funny conversation and it wasn’t the first on water interviews.
Made Key West and Boyd’s campground. Set up tent. The bow handle pulled out again so I patched it.
I am sitting here in the covered picnic pavilion because its shady and cool. The guy that was here is listening to some stupid rabbi that keeps repeating himself and everything he says is for you to feel guilty and unworthy. I am dam glad I am smart enough not to listen to idiots like that.
There is only one place for manipulative people like him…hell.
Woke up and made myself some oatmeal. Then went out and fixed the left rudder. Put some silicon grease on both foot pedals. Spent rest of day relaxing. Keeping the 2 dogs company. They are so well behaved it makes it a pleasure to be with them.
Sunday, September 30, 2018 Mark’s the end of an epic journey. A total of 9 months on the water. The trials and tribulations of such a long journey.
The wear and tear on equipment, the solitude, the people that I have met and those that open their homes and or shared meals with.
Now that I lay here awake at 3:19AM thinking I am just days away from the end a mere 20 nm from the finish I reflect on the mission.
One man one mission to save thousands.
I have no way of knowing how many combat veterans saw the 3 times I was on tv, or heard me the 5 times I was on the radio or read the many newspaper articles I was in but I would like to think many did. I would like to think that they understood the sacrifices that I made just to get the word to them that they had a better option than ending their life. That ending their life didn’t solve the problem it only changed it or created a new one.
I look back at the time in North Carolina when I was down and depressed and wanted to quit, wallowing in self pity and then focusing on the Mission22 sticker on my bow realizing my life was much better than those I am trying to help which renewed my purpose.
My own struggles at the KOA in Myrtle Beach with my PTSD triggered by tour helicopters. There are 2 sides of me the regular me and the trained/react me. The first morning as I was laying in my tent the tour helicopters started at 10 am. They fly right along the beach at low altitude. To a normal person it’s just a tour, to the react side of me someone drowned and it’s a call to action. I bolted from my tent and started for the beach in a near run.
One of the other campers asked where I was going in a rush. I said there is a search and rescue going on and I have to go help. He said no it’s just a tour helicopter. I stood there dazed and confused bouncing back and forth between normal and react me. He showed me it was a tour helicopter and I went back and layed down. I tried to deal with this conflict for 3 full days. I even went to the beach to watch them to better deal with it. It didn’t help. Other emotions started building up and I had to leave.
Damage was done I got further down the coast where it was quit and moved further 2 more times but my demons were winning the battle. I was losing it and called my brother in Florida to come rescue me. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t clear my head, I was losing my mind. I knew the dark road I was heading down and I didn’t want to go there.
KARMA has been with me the whole trip. It has been a compelling force to talk to certain people like you know your meant to. I was destined to meet and talk to these people for a reason. Some of the people would tell me god sent you to me. The people who o had met who lost people to suicide seemed to have found peace from our encounter had a better understanding. I am glad I could help.
I will finish the trip at the southern most point with a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Knowing I survived, persevered, overcome the odds, and grew more.
Well after a good night of sleep I had a hearty breakfast. Caught up on blogs waiting for David to contact me. Went to flag pole to get pics of me at pole with Mission22 flag above me. A pic of me in front of Faro Blanco sign. Met the marina crew had a good conversation with the harbor master.
Had good conversation with the front desk.
David arrived and was driven to his house on Cudjoe Key.
30 nm run today. Woke up tired but determined. Good start the current and wind were in my favor and I made good time down islamorada and then crossed your gulf side. Made good time again down both Macrombe keys then current changes slowed me down and I had to find better track. Found one making up time. Funny everytime I opened up nav chart and expanded it there seemed to be more new keys showing up. Determined I kept paddling. Well 12 turned to 1 which turned to 2 which turned to late afternoon.
When I reached Grassy Key the loo left rudder cable broke. I tried to run the cable on the outside to where I could control it but it didn’t work well.
I looked for place to take out. Notified David he would have to come get me.
Take out turned out to be a bitch. First over the rocks then up a slope to the road. I had to get the kayak out of the water enough to get the dollie under it. Then try to get it up to the road.
I got to a point where the wheels were both in ruts and I couldn’t get a good footing to pull it out. So I unpacked all the heavy bags. I then could easily pull it up to the road. Sent David my location spread out the tent fly and used the tarp bag as a pillow and went to sleep until David arrived.
Woofed down the burger he brought drank the milk packed the jeep then mounted the kayak strapped it down then off to hotel.
I am 67 and push myself to near exhaustion to the point of stumbling around and blacking out. I know it can’t be healthy.
Taking the day off to relax. Monica took me to breakfast to Mrs. Mac diner great food friendly service.
Worked on drying out front hatch and tightening cover straps. I can’t see any other way for water to get in.
Monica gave me a couple of decals for the yak I put one on the back and one on the front hatch cover.
She also gave me pop ne of the shops tee shirts then took my picture with the yak.
She gave me a discount card for the restaurant up the road but I have $10 that has to last me 6 days.
Sleeping at the shop again then launching tomorrow after the good bye and thank yous.
Well after getting interrupted most of the night I did get a few hours of sleep.
I packed camp lost my reading glasses thankfully I had a spare pair.
Since I wasn’t successful the day before I decided best course of action was to follow the shoreline. The other thing was I had very little water so I had to resort to drinking small amounts of mouthwash. I finally came upon 3 guys fishing and asked if the could spare a bottle of water. They gave me 4 bottles. I drank one almost all the way. It was enough to get me to the kayak shop.
I hit one batch of rain coming uersnder the bridge. Then as I was paddling toward the other side of this cove a thunderstorm was rearing its ugly head booming and flashing streaks of lightening. But it went away from me.
I landed at the shop. Met the workers. Set up camp.
Hey if you are in Key Largo stop at Florida Bay Outfitters say hi to Monica and Frank. Give them your business.
Easy to find they are next to the famous Caribbean Club from the film Key Largo.