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Marine Corps Systems Command Sgt. Maj. Allen Goodyear, left, looks on as Gen. Eric M. Smith, middle, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, congratulates Col. Kirk D. Mullins (right) on his retirement from the Marine Corps after 31 years of faithful service. The ceremony was held at Marine Corps Base Quantico’s 395-acre Transportation Demonstration Support Area on Sept. 29, 2022. Mullins was instrumental to the development, acquisition and fielding of the ACV, designed and built to replace the Corps’ legacy AAVs, which have been in service since 1972.

Photo by Cassandra Merchant

First ACV Program Manager Retires with a 20 Mile Bang

7 Oct 2022 | Johannes Schmidt, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication Marine Corps Systems Command

The anticipation was palpable as a crowd of Marines, civilians and family members gathered at the end of gravel path at Marine Corps Base Quantico’s 395-acre Transportation Demonstration Support Area, eagerly waiting to greet former Marine Corps Systems Command chief of staff Col. Kirk D. Mullins as he completed his final journey as a U.S. Marine: a 20-mile hike to symbolize his 31 years of service.

Yet as Mullins approached the crowd – to sounds of cheers and music from the beloved Marine Corps Band – it quickly became evident that he was not marching alone. At his side was his 8-year-old grandson, Blake -- a self-described “future Marine.”

“I was fortunate enough to be accompanied throughout the 20-mile hike, but I felt it was important to reserve the last mile for my grandson,” the now-retired colonel told the crowd as he wiped a single drop of sweat from his brow. “As my path in the Corps comes to an end, the next generation of Leathernecks are just getting started.”

Although Mullins admitted that he would have been partial to a small, intimate send-off – preferably ending his 31-year career where it first began on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego’s legendary yellow footprints – he recalls how a longtime friend and fellow Marine reminded him that ultimately the ceremony wasn’t about him at all.

“It's not about you at all, to be honest with you,” Mullins recalled his friend saying. “This is about your family, and all the folks that that have been a part of your life that want to share this final piece of this chapter.”

It was for this reason, perhaps, that Mullins’ retirement was attended by people from all walks of Marine Corps life – from flag officers and Senior Executive Service members to his drill instructor from basic training back in 1991, retired First Sgt. Curtis Howard.

“[First Sgt. Howard] made me the Marine I am today,” Mullins noted. “He changed my life, and he might not even realize it.”

The keynote, however, was delivered by Gen. Eric M. Smith, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, and Mullins’ longtime friend. Before making his remarks, the ACMC pointed over his shoulder towards two parked vehicles unique to the Marine Corps – the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and its predecessor, the Assault Amphibious Vehicle.

Mullins – a longtime amtracker prior to his career change to Marine Corps acquisitions – managed the Advanced Amphibious Assault program encompassing both the AAV and ACV programs at Program Executive Officer Land Systems. Mullins was instrumental to the development, acquisition and fielding of the ACV, designed and built to replace the Corps’ legacy AAVs, which have been in service since 1972. The Marine Corps began fielding the ACV in November 2020.   

Although fleet modernization is still ongoing, Mullins’ programmatic guidance has the potential to enable many of the fundamental concepts—like expeditionary advanced base operations and distributed operations—that the Corps is focused on for the future.

Smith, however, did not fail to also recognize the sacrifices made by Mullins’ family over the years, noting that the American people owe them a debt of gratitude for their own service.

“We are all very mindful that we stole your husband, your dad, your brother, your grandpa,” Smith told Mullins’ family members as they listened from the front row.

“We stole him for many years when you wanted him home for anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, graduations. We asked him to put his country first, and he did. But today, we’re finally giving him back to you – hopefully in a way that’s befitting of 31 years of faithful service,” he added.

The full extent of Mullins’ service, however, was outlined in a letter from Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps. Noting Mullins’ humble beginnings as a reserve infantryman, Berger described the evolution of Mullins’ notable 31-year career, including various deployments to warzones around the globe.

The letter’s focus, however, was Mullins’ significant contributions to the Corps amphibious vehicle fleet.  

“In the rank of Colonel, you were lauded as the product manager and program manager, Amphibious Combat Vehicle and Advance Amphibious Assault, Program Executive Officer Land Systems, demonstrating exceptional leadership and acumen for defense acquisitions which were the principal drivers toward the program achieving a successful Milestone C decision on the Marine Corps’ largest ground acquisition program,” Berger explained.

“On behalf of the Marines who served with you, and who will serve after you, thank you for your devotion. Your contributions to the Corps’ warfighting legacy and its future are immeasurable,” he added.

But at the end of the day, it was Col. Mullins who was offering words of appreciation to his family and guests.

“The reality is that every single one of us are a product of our experiences,” Mullins told a captive audience. “You are all represented here because you represent my experiences. What stands behind me is something that we built together over 31 years. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

As the program came to an end, Marines – both past and present – stood up and together sang the “Marines’ Hymn,” their voices coming together in a tangible expression of a lasting connection that not even retirement can break.

“First to fight for right and freedom, and to keep our honor clean; we are proud to claim the title of United States Marine.”

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