Johnathon Mullen loved being a soldier. At 17, he enlisted in the Army, became a machine gunner with the 10th Mountain Division and spent days on patrol. It is a job he would do again if only he could.
"If I had the choice to start all over again, I would sign the contract again,” said Mullen, now 21 years old. “Even knowing this was going to happen, I would sign the contract again. There's the negatives and the positives that came out of this situation.”
Mullen was only 19 years old when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in a village outside Kandahar.
There was a terrible blast, a flight to Germany and nine months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed -- a place where he had plenty of time to think -- what next?
"I started taking photos in Afghanistan and I had just a cheap camera that I picked up at Wal-Mart because I didn't want to bring anything crazy over there,” Mullen said. “But I printed out the photos and gave them to the battalion commander when they came to see me and I think they put them up around the barracks where my guys were staying.”
It was just some of the encouragement the Army veteran needed to think bigger than just being an amateur. So he began taking classes where the real world was a teacher with a sobering thought.
"I think my teacher said, I think there were 11 people in my class and he was like, only two of you will probably make it in this industry,” said Mullen. “It's tougher than people think it is and a lot of people try to become photographers because they think it's easy. I'm going to take pictures and get paid for it, but there is a lot more to it than that.”
As you might imagine, as a double amputee, Mullen was concerned potential clients would question whether he could do the job, so he created a visual to prove it.
The double amputee had a friend shoot footage of him climbing over a fence, going upstairs and rolling on the ground. All the while taking photos of a model. The fun little video featured funky music and showed the 21-year-old hamming it up a bit.
"A lot of people don't know I'm an amputee when I'm wearing pants, but once they have put their trust in me, then I will kind of break the ice and say, ‘Oh by the way, I don't have legs,’” he said.
Mullen’s new life has some challenges for sure, but with the ups and downs come moments like this.
Allison Leotta, a former sex crimes prosecutor and the author of three novels set in the District, has chosen one of his portraits for her next dust jacket photo.
"I think it's really amazing that I'll be, that it will potentially be, or it will be on all of her books,” he said.
Not a bad way to start, huh?
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
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