Brothers’ enlistment continues proud family tradition

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As he stood there in his service dress uniform under the hot July sun at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Master Sergeant Stephen Mulford was struck by how little and also how much things had changed.

A former Marine himself, Mulford had gone through boot camp there 40 years earlier and it all looked and felt so familiar — the barracks, the parade grounds, all of it seemingly untouched. Yet here he was this past summer, recently retired from the Air National Guard after a decorated, 27-year career, waiting for his eldest son, Shawn, to march across the parade deck with the rest of the newly minted Marines.

Master Sgt. Stephen Mulford with his son, Shawn, at his graduation from Marine boot camp in July

Master Sgt. Stephen Mulford with his son, Shawn, at his graduation from Marine boot camp in July (click to enlarge)

“Shawn actually stayed in the same barracks that I stayed in, the same building,” noted Mulford, a former longtime Canton resident who raised his three children in the town. “That was cool going back. It’s a real good ceremony — the [graduates] march in and you could see them coming from like a half mile away.”

It is an incredibly proud moment for any Marine Corps parent, but it was particularly meaningful for Mulford, a third generation military man who had dedicated his entire adult life in service to his country.

Two years earlier, his middle child, Brian, also chose to enlist, joining the U.S. Army Reserve and becoming a firefighter. After boot camp in Missouri, Brian completed his military occupational specialty (MOS) training in San Angelo, Texas, and recently finished additional firefighting training in Ocala, Florida.

Now Shawn has joined the ranks, having successfully completed the Marine Corps’ grueling — and infamous — 13-week recruit training followed by advanced infantry training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He is currently at communications school — his chosen MOS — at Twentynine Palms, California, in the Mojave Desert.

An admittedly proud father, Mulford said both sons have successfully met every challenge that their training has presented and both are currently thriving after a few years post high school without any clear direction. In Shawn’s case, not only did he lose over 20 pounds and complete the rigorous training at boot camp; he also was the second highest ranked shooter across four companies of Marine recruits.

And while he would like to think that his own military experiences played a part in his sons’ decision to join, he also knows that it was a decision that they made for themselves.

“I think they looked in the mirror after five or six years and decided that this was right for them,” he said. “And the benefits are a game changer, including the educational benefits. But it’s a big commitment.”

In Mulford’s case, he decided to make a career out of his military service after joining the Air National Guard in 1989. Prior to that, he had served for three years as an active duty Marine and later as a Marine reserve, spending time at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.

For the entirety of his Air Force career, Mulford has been stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base in Buzzards Bay, assigned to the 102nd Civil Engineer Squadron. He worked on base as a plumbing specialist and also completed two tours in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, earning two Air Force commendation medals and an Iraq campaign medal.

Master Sgt. Mulford with his son, Brian, a firefighter in the U.S. Army Reserve

Master Sgt. Mulford with his son, Brian, a firefighter in the U.S. Army Reserve

During his first deployment in 2004, Mulford provided planning and guidance in the renovation of six Air Force buildings, including an F-16 alert squadron. In his second deployment, he led a rotating team of airmen that completed more than 20 utility projects at Ali Base, Iraq. He was also recognized for displaying “outstanding leadership” in support of firefighting operations.

Mulford described his deployments as the “highlight of his career,” although he was careful not to overstate the experience.

“You know, my hat’s go off to the 18- and 21-year-old men and women that are over there under constant rocket and mortar attacks,” he said. “I just kind of thrived over there, other than the second time when it was during all the hot months.”

This past June, Mulford officially retired and was recognized with the Meritorious Service Medal for his “long and distinguished career in the service of his country,” including his two deployments. He continues to work on base as a plumber, and at age 60, he still goes for a run every morning, seven days a week.

Mulford said he is proud to have followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who both served in the U.S. Army, and he is thrilled that his two sons are continuing this tradition of service — a rarity in the modern era, especially in the northeast United States, where higher education or civilian pursuits are the norm.

As for the possibility of future overseas deployments, Mulford said the chances are slim for Brian, being in the Army Reserve, although it is certainly possible. Shawn, meanwhile, could be deployed at any point during his time on active duty.

Yet Mulford said that both sons understand the risks involved and would be proud to serve if called. “It’s just part of being in,” he said, “and it’s a volunteer military so everyone wants to be there. They’ve thought about that, I’m sure, and I know they wanted to serve their country.”

“It gives you a little pride, especially with what’s going on in the world, that someone would choose to do that, knowing the risks and what can happen,” Mulford added. “But it’s what we’ve always trained for. It makes you feel like you’re part of the big picture.”

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