County man having different holiday happening

Jared McMullen.
Jared McMullen. Photo provided.

Many in Huntington have cookouts and family gatherings planned for Memorial Day.

Others are hard at work defending our right to do so and will be unable to spend time with those that matter the most.

Senior Airman Jared McMullen, a Huntington resident, is currently stationed in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, as an intelligence specialist with the Navy Reserve.

McMullen was sent to Afghanistan in October 2009, and will remain on assignment until October of this year. He describes his position as helping "to develop governance and security" for Afghanistan and its people.

McMullen works with American, Afghani and NATO forces, including those from Great Britain, France, Spain and Italy, to achieve this goal. He notes that he has seen substantial progress in Afghanistan even in the few months of his assignment.

"It's rewarding to see how much change there has been," McMullen says in a phone interview from Afghanistan. "It's starting to get a lot more secure and people are more willing to go out."

McMullen notes that under the Taliban, Afghanis were often afraid to go out, but with a new government in place, people are given much more freedom to move about. But still, Kabul, he says, is "nothing like the worst places in the U.S," as far as municipal services and quality of life is concerned. At the same time, McMullen points out that the Afghani people are appreciative of the Coalition's presence in the country.

"It's really nice to see them going out more and how thankful they are to not be oppressed," McMullen says. "It's really humbling to see."

Through the Americans' help, road, water, electricity and sewer projects are all being constructed to improve the quality of life in Afghanistan.

"Our biggest progress is giving the Afghan people a sense of security," he says. "That's what I feel I've helped with."

But despite McMullen not yet having experienced any combat engagements, he knows he needs to keep in mind that Afghanistan is still far from being at peace.
Tuesday, May 18, two of McMullen's friends died in combat.

"It was the hardest thing I've been through," he says. "It reminds you that you're in a war zone. Kabul is not as busy as other places, but it reminds you of how dangerous it can be."

With the Memorial Day holiday approaching at the time of the interview, McMullen says the death of his fellow soldiers "completely changed [his] view of Memorial Day."

"I will think about those guys every Memorial Day from now on," he says. "It has to be hard for their families."
The senior airman's time in Afghanistan has also been a learning experience through the people he works with.
Although he doesn't work specifically with everyday Afghani citizens, he does work with members of the Afghani military.

"A lot of people think that there's only terrorists," McMullen says. "It's not like that. They're people just like us."

As for the media stereotypes of the war, McMullen says he thinks Americans need to focus more on the positive things going on in Afghanistan.

"For example," he says, "we are having girls' schools built where women didn't used to be able to go to school."

McMullen says that working with soldiers from other European nations is an additional positive experience.

"It's interesting to see how different societies interact," he says. "And I've been able to get to know people from countries that you never hear much about, like Norway and Sweden. It's really cool."

After working 14 to 16-hour days seven days per week, McMullen finds little down time. But when he is free, he says he visits the gym and watches TV and movies on his computer. And because he is stationed at a base, he is able to talk to his wife, Allissa, on a daily basis and keep current on his friends and the news via the Internet.

"Social networking makes keeping in touch much better," he says. "I try to keep up with everything so I'm not oblivious when I get back."

McMullen credits the support of his wife, family and friends for encouragement to go on.

"My wife has been really supportive," he says. "I'm appreciative of my friends and family for supporting me and keeping me in their thoughts. That's what keeps all this going."

Back in Huntington, Allissa says not having Jared around is difficult, but is made easier by being able to talk nearly every day. The two were married in August 2009, just two months before Jared had to leave for Afghanistan.

"It's hard to make plans during the day because I have to talk to him in the afternoons when it is evening there," she says. "Sometimes he calls in the morning there which makes it the middle of the night here."

The McMullens resided in Fort Wayne until Jared's deployment, but moved back closer to their parents before Jared left. Allissa attends IPFW as well, and the two plan to move back to Fort Wayne to finish school once Jared returns.

"I love every second I get to talk to him," Allissa says. "After we graduate, we're going to move somewhere, but we're not sure where yet."

Jared says the most important thing anyone can do to support the troops is to keep soldiers in our prayers and pray that they come home safely. He adds that if someone is says something bad about the troops, he would like others to stand up and say something, regardless of how he or she feels about the war.

He graduated from Huntington North High School in 2007, and is pursuing a chemistry degree from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and is the son of Troy and Lori McMullen of Roanoke. He is the grandson of a Korean War veteran and his older brother, Darek, is also in the Navy Reserves.

Jared's mother, Lori, says that knowing Jared is in Afghanistan is a constant worry, but is made better through much prayer and talking to other families who have gone or are going through the same experience.

"We're actually really lucky because we do hear from him a lot," Lori says. "It's quite a worry, but we're really proud of him, it's a big sacrifice."

Lori says that her neighbors have gone through the same experience with their son, who grew up with Jared.
"I talk to her almost every day," Lori says.

Lori said she also keeps in contact with the parents of one of Jared's friends from South Dakota, who he met in basic training, and is serving with in Afghanistan.

"You don't realize a lot of things until you actually have children over there," Lori says. "We do worry, but we just pray a lot and know that God will take care of him."