Leukemia doesn't stop Key Field's Darren McMullen from serving his country
By BIANCA MOORMAN | The Meridian Star | Published: September 29, 2020
MERIDIAN, Miss. (Tribune News Service) — Nine months ago, Darren McMullen was battling leukemia.
With the disease now in remission, he's glad to be back doing what he loves: serving his country.
“The only way that it's really happened is the blessing of the good Lord,” he said. “I promise you that. That's a rough road to hold I'm telling you."
McMullen was recently named the 8th Command Chief Master Sergeant for the 186th Air Refueling Wing at Key Field Air National Guard Base in Meridian.
In his new role, McMullen will advise the wing commander on morale, wellness, readiness training, health, welfare, quality of life and professional development, according to a news release. McMullen will officially take the post during a private ceremony Sunday, when current Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Arthur will relinquish his position.
“I think it's phenomenal," McMullen said of the job. "Because I've always been a people person and loved taking care of people. Now I get to do it.”
Before serving in this new position, McMullen served as the 186th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent and a crew chief on the KC-135R aircraft. He entered military service in 1986 as a crew chief and was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Lauderdale County native, who comes from a family of service members, has also worked as a firefighter for the city of Meridian.
The road back
One night late last year, while on a temporary duty assignment in Spokane, Wash., McMullen became sick. By lunchtime the following day, his condition had worsened.
“I was admitted to the hospital immediately and about three days later I was diagnosed with APL leukemia,” he said.
After the diagnosis, McMullen was treated in Spokane until he could be transported back to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. McMullen received treatment from Dec. 6, 2019, until August 2020. After being discharged, he did outpatient chemotherapy.
While the cancer treatment was difficult, there were bright spots, McMullan recalled. Fellow service members would often visit, bringing patriotic get well cards.
“It just raises your spirits when you can read those personal notes, that someone wanted to tell you,” he said.
His spirits were also lifted during Christmas when family members set up a Christmas tree in his room. Well wishers would write notes on the the ornaments, he said.
McMullen plans to bring the tree to Key Field this Christmas to serve as a reminder of those fighting cancer.
"It means a lot to me as a cancer survivor," he said.
Returning to duty
When McMullen was told he could return to duty, he was overjoyed.
With 27 years of service, he didn't want his illness to keep him from staying in the military.
Even while he was on medical leave, he participated in meetings via phone, he said.
“I felt like I had more to give to my country, and I didn’t want to go out that way,” he said. “I told my kids I want to go out with my boots on, I didn’t want to be medically retired."
McMullen's return and promotion is like a family homecoming, said Lt. Col. Jason McElhenny, a longtime friend and colleague.
“He made us happy, because he's a valuable resource and we didn’t want to lose him,” McElhenny said.
McMullen said the one lesson he learned from his fight with cancer is to be humble and treat people with kindness.
“My statement is to always be humble and kind,” he said.