In 1912 an advertisement placed by British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton appeared in a London newspaper, appealing to “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”
That ad was aimed at recruiting men for Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole. And for the past 100 years, those 24 words have oft’ spawned the question among soldiers and explorers alike who’ve asked, “Just what kind of men would respond to such an appeal?”
Indeed, the kind of men the U.S. Marine Corps was looking for when they incorporated Shackleton’s words into their own recruiting ad in the 1980s. Those of us having served in the Marines – and other elite military organizations – might refine the numbers even closer to one or two good men we know personally or know of by reputation, and not always or necessarily a man we had served with.
For instance, I would suggest had Shackleton lived in the 21st century he might well-have picked as a member of his expedition – perhaps even as his second-in-command – a man like Lt. Col. Thomas Stowe Mullikin, a Camden, S.C.-based environmental attorney, military officer, and adventurer who at 51-years-old has not only hunted and bagged some of the world’s most dangerous and elusive big-game animals, but has chalked up multiple SCUBA dives in five oceans (his most recent off Antarctica), parachuted and earned jump wings with scores of foreign armies, and in 2010 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (the same year he dove in the Indian and Arctic Oceans, and hunted bear in Alaska).
What’s next? Mount Rainier in April 2012 and Mount McKinley in summer.
In a world where travel and communication take place at fractions of the speeds they once did; and diet, training, and high-tech gear and navigational aids (that are frankly better than what the Mercury astronauts had) far-better prepare adventurers for the rigors of exploring the earth, some might argue that diving and climbing are simply vacation jaunts. But when you factor in charging cape buffalos, wild boars with only a spear, and temperatures that would quickly drive a 20-year-old Olympic class athlete into hypothermia, it’s clear that Mullikin’s vacations – if we can call them that – are hardly jaunts.
Former commandos like Richard “Rogue Warrior” Marcinko, the founder and first commanding officer of SEAL Team Six have recognized Mullikin as somewhat extraordinary in adventure travel circles.
“Men like Mullikin are the kinds of men who push the envelope beyond normal human endurance to achieve life’s great summits,” says Marcinko.
Another U.S. Navy SEAL, retired Commander Mark Divine – the honorman graduate of his Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class who today operates SEALFIT (training athletes and those hoping to become special-operations candidates) – says, “Mullikin sets the example for those willing to push beyond their perceived limits.”
But the question is, “why?” Perhaps, in the words of the great New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, “Because it’s there.” But with Mullikin, it’s much more.
Born with – what were then described as – bone-abnormalities in his feet wherein it was initially believed he would never walk, Mullikin grew up having to overcome challenges in a way few children will ever experience. “Those challenges became part of my nature,” he says. “I tend not to take physical fitness and capabilities for granted, and I very much appreciate the ability to climb, swim and dive. The greater the challenge, the better.”
Mullikin adds, “Sounds cliché, but diving under ice or reaching the summit of tall mountains are religious experiences for me. Thoughts are on family, friends, those who have gone before me, and God. I love it in a way that is probably impossible to adequately describe.”
So what about hunting dangerous game? “I prefer balanced, fair hunting where the animal is hunting you back. Whether cape buffalo or Kodiak brown bear, when you enter their world your skill and nerve is put to the highest test.”
Mullikin – a former U.S. Army Reserve JAG officer who presently serves in the Joint Services Det., S.C. Military Dept. – is the founder of the Mullikin Law Firm and Global Eco Adventures. And he is widely considered an expert in energy issues, health care, the environment, and global climate change. In addition to his adventure travels, he has led environmental expeditions to every continent on the globe and lectured at various conferences and universities including – among others – Loyola, Oxford, and St. Petersburg State University in Russia. He is also a member of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team.
“I’ve known Tom Mullikin for years, and he epitomizes the warrior ethos,” says Lt. Col. Bill Connor, a U.S. Army infantry officer (Ranger) and the former senior military advisor in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. “A man of integrity, Tom has shown the courage to face dangers and challenges only those of us who have been in infantry combat would fully understand.”
Those in infantry combat, to be sure, or those with the fortitude to have responded to Shackleton’s soul-stirring ad in 1912.
– W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor who writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq and Lebanon. He directs the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. He is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. Smith’s website is uswriter.com.