South Dakota National Guard
WASHINGTON, April 12, 2012 – Three South Dakota National Guard brothers are currently serving in simultaneous overseas deployments.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Mullen and Army Sgt. Erik Mullen are serving with the 200th Engineer Company in Afghanistan, and Army Staff Sgt. Kristian Mullen is serving with the 139th Brigade Support Battalion’s Logistics Task Force in Kuwait.
While all three brothers share a family history of deploying overseas – their father, Patrick, deployed to Germany during the Vietnam War – their call to serve is for different reasons.
“I wanted to serve my community and country,” said Kristian, 35, of Miller, S.D. “Deploying was never on my mind when I joined the National Guard, but I did understand that it was always a possibility.”
“I joined during the timeframe of the first Gulf War. I wanted to join to get help with school benefits and to serve,” said Michael, 39, of Pierre, S.D. “By putting on this uniform, you have to plan on deploying.”
“Mike and Kris kept telling me that I needed to enlist when I was in high school,” said Erik, 30, of Madison, S.D. “However, for some reason, I never did until I graduated college.”
Kristian, who works full-time for Company A, 139th Brigade Support Battalion in Miller, S.D., as a truck driver, is performing duties in administration and customs in Kuwait.
With 15 years of service in the military, five on active duty with the Army, Kristian is not new to deployments. He deployed to Iraq in 2007.
“This deployment is very different … in every way,” he said. “On my last deployment, we provided base security and convoy escort. On my current deployment, we are providing logistics support to Special Operations Command.”
Michael, who works full-time as an operations noncommissioned officer for the 200th Engineer Company, also is on his second tour. He deployed to Iraq in 2003. As the operations NCO for the unit, he is responsible for running the operations section and tracking its 180 soldiers.
“The support sections have been busy fixing and maintaining vehicles, and the recon teams have been conducting inspections and looking at possible new bridge sites,” said Erik, a fire team leader and a bridge crew chief. “While the bridge platoons have been building, deconstructing, and repairing all military bridges in theater.”
Michael said living conditions have improved since his last deployment.
“During my last deployment, we pushed into Iraq and were on an undeveloped camp that had little life support. We lived on [field rations] and took water-bottle showers,” said Michael. “Currently in Afghanistan, we are on a well-developed base that supplies us with all needed personal items and nice-to-have things.
With nearly six years of service in the National Guard, Erik, a teacher with the Todd County school district, is on his first deployment, and said his deployment experience has had its times of fun and heartbreak.
“It has been challenging at times, both mentally and physically,” he said. Although there are challenges, he added, he believes he is making a difference in Afghanistan and finds ways to cope with the stress.
“While at the bridge sites, we have had some Afghan National Army and Police helping with security, and that’s a promising sign,” he said. “The Afghanistan people use our bridges as much as we do. They depend on the bridges we build and maintain for their livelihood.
“During my downtime, I like to send emails to family and exercise,” he continued. “With my squad living in small quarters, there tends to be a lot of jokes played on one another.”
Even in a challenging environment, Michael and Erik still have the comfort of being near each another in Afghanistan.
“I speak with Erik on a daily basis when we are on Camp Leatherneck together,” Michael said. “We were fortunate to have Thanksgiving dinner together, along with going home on mid-tour leave at the same time.”
“It helps knowing that when I am not outside of the wire I can see Mike every day,” Erik said.
However, contact between them and Kristian is a bit more difficult.
“It’s a worry not knowing what they are doing,” Kristian said. “However, I did get to see them both when they were en route on leave and had to make a stop in Kuwait.”
While staying in contact with each other is not easy for the Mullen brothers, perhaps even more difficult is maintaining contact with their families back home.
“Being away from my wife and daughter has been a real challenge,” said Kristian, who left behind his wife, Rhona, and daughter, Kloe, 4. “It has been rough on them. My wife and I married on March 30, and I left in June. We enjoy motorcycling and are planning a trip for when I get home.”
“It has been difficult for them, since she is so far away from family and friends,” said Erik of his wife, Danielle, and son, Parker, 22 months. “I can’t wait to hold my family and spend time with them.”
“It’s been challenging being away from my family,” said Michael of his wife, Lori, and three children, Tyson, 20, Jory, 15, and Jayd, 14. “It’s hard, but my kids are older and understand the complexity of the mission at hand. I would like to be eating at Cattleman’s Club in Pierre or Ricks Café in Mobridge with Lori and the kids right now.”