QUANTICO, Va. --
The Marines and Sailors of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment are no strangers to adversity. Dramatic shifts in their health, lifestyles and careers are commonly known challenges that many Marines have never navigated before joining wounded warrior as recovering service members. Luckily, there are staff that dedicate themselves to providing wounded, ill and injured Marines assistance. One such person is Vicki Mullen.
Mullen is the Supervisory Transition Program Manager for WWR. She develops and oversees the transition program for the WII Marines, whether it be back to full duty or to civilian life. She is unwavering in her support to recovering service members. However, her career trajectory was not entirely intentional.
“My federal career just happened. I started at Fort Belvoir, while in college, and never left,” she recounted. “My first several positions were by chance. Someone would ask me to come and work for them and I did.”
Eventually, Mullen became the Spouse Employment Manager at U.S. Army Base Fort Belvoir Army Community Service. In that position, she assisted retiring service members as well as spouses.
“Early on in [Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom] we were tasked with setting up the first Soldier and Family Support Center," Mullen said. "The difference between thought processes, dealing with wounded, ill and injured then and now is huge.”
Mullen took notice of what areas of care could be improved. Wounded Warrior programs as a whole have come a long way since their inception, and Mullen witnessed much of that evolution firsthand.
“We would love to see all of our transitioning service members, each and every one, have a successful transition." Vicki Mullen, WWR Supervisory Transition Program Manager
“At the beginning we were purchasing Xboxes, PlayStations and computers for the center.," she stated. "No one was really looking at employment or education. We had soldiers that were coming back from combat, and this was in 2003 and 2004, and they were getting billed . . . for equipment they had left on the battlefield. There were a lot of regulations that had to be changed or special ones created.”
Her mission has always been to take care of the wounded service members in the best way she could, no matter what stood in her way.
“To do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to help these wounded warriors," she said. "If there's a regulation that prohibits it or gets in the way, go around it, change it or ignore it."
Mullen continually expressed her gratitude and reverence for the wounded warriors she’s encountered that risked life and limb in defense of this country.
“I don't have to go to combat, none of my kids have to go to combat,” she said. “I haven't done anything other than my job. They're the ones that went to combat. I find it just so easy to help them and want to help them.”
Mullen humbly cherishes the appreciation she receives from the wounded warriors she serves.
“Receiving a ‘thank you or you made a difference’ from a wounded warrior is awesome," Mullen stated. "It’s what makes the hard days worthwhile. For our wounded, ill and injured to see hope at the end of their military careers is the best feeling ever.”
Spirit of Hope
Photo by Sgt. Benjamin Whitten
She recalls a number of exceptional people she’s met over her career. Each one of them left an impact on her, one double amputee in particular.
“He was in a Humvee that hit an IED,” Mullen said. “To see him up and all the things he was doing, it made you think twice about complaining about if you have a headache.”
Mullen is diligently serious about her job at the Regiment and continuously prioritizes recovering service members.
“It's not about us. It's not about the staff members,” she stated. "I don't care if you're a civilian or if you're military, this is no place to try to gain rank, this is no place to try to promote yourself or get your name in the news."
Her passionate advice for anyone that thinks otherwise: "Get out if you don't like doing it for the service members."
Mullen looks towards the future of the Wounded Warrior Program with optimism.
“We would love to see all of our transitioning service members, each and every one, have a successful transition," she said. "That's our goal. To develop a program, contacts and referral systems . . . so that they can walk out and be just as successful in civilian life as they were in their military careers.”
Mullen grew and changed a lot during her 41-year career, and was a part of the growth and change of the wounded warrior program as well.
“It's the service members themselves that make me love what I do. I love what I do and I love the people that I do it for," Mullen stated.