Turning Life's Strikes into Home Runs

Barksdale Air Force Base -   Seventy-two hours after U.S. Army Ranger Max Mullen, was on his way to falling into a forced road march unit formation at Fort Lewis, Washington he found himself combat rigging his parachute not once, but twice in route to being deployed at just under 500 feet above the ground of the small caribbean island of Granada.  

The combat airborne assault would end up adding to Max’s career of two combat deployments, along with having served in every US Army Ranger Battalion as well as Regiment and Ranger School as a lead instructor.   In the end, Master Sergeant Howard “Mad Max” Mullen, US Army Ranger Hall of Famer, retired can easily attest to ‘your next at-bat can be a home run’  theory of living.. he now has a robust career in acting and brand ambassadorship for several major companies. 

This week, American300 returns to United States Air Force Global Strike Command’s 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, with a traditional 9/11 remembrance message: ‘Never Quit’ delivered by special guests: Mad Max, A.J. Hunter and Austin Wahlert. 

For Wahlert, life’s strikes came in the form of the professional bull rider ending up in the hospital twice, the result on both occasions - a broken back.  “Ya know us cowboys aren’t the sharpest crayons in the box at times when it comes to personal injury management,” says Austin, adding, “we get so wrapped up in the here and now, love of sport that we become blind to the clear and present dangers of our sport.” 

In the end it was a physician that was able to break through to Austin and make it clear that if he kept riding bulls, he’d end up dead or eating through a straw from a wheel chair for the rest of his life. 

“Austin’s body was wrecked, if he was your average type there’s a good chance he’d have filed for disability and coasted through the rest of his life, but Austin is anything, but average,” says, Jeff Chadwick, Director Wrangler Jeanswear, adding, “ so he picked up a guitar like the one his grandpappy use to play while fighting over in Korea and started a musical career.” 

Today, Austin is a professional musician and produces of his own television series on the Cowboy Network. 

It seems like all of us have experienced that moment in life when we just know that something is going to happen.  A.J. had his ‘moment’ when the mounted patrol he was rolling with rounded a corner onto a street in Iraq. It was a street that A.J. knew well, and for whatever reason on this particular day, he just knew something was going to happen.  Moments later things went dark, the result of a I.E.D. 

“It was the second time I got rocked in Iraq, but the first time around was just shrapnel from a M203 grenade round that ricochetted and sent mental into my stomach.” says A.J. with a chuckle, but, adds that the reality of dealing with Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] has been anything, but a laughing matter.   

“A.J. continues to work through issues that are a direct result of his time in combat. From the lose of too many battle buddies to his own mental gyro being out of whack at times, he’s in the fight on a daily basis.” says Rob Powers, founder of american300.org mentoring, adding, “ but, A.J.’s love of the outdoors, fresh air and going vertical, whether that be on a slab of vertical granite or ice or a huge snow-covered mountain that he can split board skin up and then snowboard back down has helped clear his mind and provide him with a sense of purpose and release.” 

Today, A.J. is a professional mountain climber and guide and is a member of American300’s ‘Purple Heart Summits’ project, where he is helping others like himself experience the outdoors through experiential outdoor learning and living. 

American300 has been bringing guests like these to Barksdale Air Force Base and other bases around the world for the past 13 years in the hopes that sharing real world stories can provide perspective and a way forward for fellow service members. 

For more on American300 visit: www.American300.org 

American300 is a non-government organization 501c3 nonprofit with a mission of supporting our Department of Defense and Department of State missions worldwide.  

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