Pay It Forward: Combat-Ready Balm

In this week's Pay It Forward, we give you the chance to truly help some veterans who have sacrificed in the name of service.

We first introduced you to John Mullen back in December. His story was inspirational back then, but we found the need to spotlight him again because despite the cards he has been dealt, he has found a way to pay it forward and would love for you to help.

Mullen is relatively new to the photography business. He moved into a Takoma Park studio just two months ago.

He often plays Garth Brooks while he works. You could say he has an ear for country and an eye for finding just the right angle.

But there is something this 22-year-old is missing.

"We were heading on this little trail on the south side of the village," he recalled. "I basically turned around to send back some word to my lieutenant, and when I turned back around, my foot must have nicked the pressure plate. I stepped on the pressure plate, the IED went off and instantly it took my legs off."

That was nearly three years ago. And while his time in Afghanistan forever altered his existence, it also was the start of his future.

"I kept a camera in my jacket pocket, and just while we were on patrols or pulling security or in between firefights, any safe chance I could get to pull out the camera, I would put it out and try to capture some of the details from deployment," he said.

And those photos were the ones he shared during his nine months of recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

The reaction? Just the dose of encouragement this wounded warrior needed.

"I went and explored some options, took some workshops and I got a camera," Mullen said.

He graduated from a professional photography program. He even established a business website showing just how able he is. But through it all, he discovered his favorite subjects were commercial ones. But the clientele were hard to come by.

"I was trying to find someone who'd be willing to let me photograph their products in my studio," he told us.

That is when Gemma D'Eustachio, Mullen's girlfriend of two years, had an idea.

"When I was in high school, I actually used to work for this local newspaper and I had interviewed this really nice lady Sara who was just starting out at the time," she said. "She was really open and friendly, so I thought that if she was still around and still doing products, that she would be interested in talking to him."

Like many do these days, D'Eustachio looked Sara up on Facebook.

"I was just checking my Facebook and saw that Gemma wrote me," said Sara Damelio. "The timing was funny because when I got the message, I was looking for a photographer to take product photos."

Damelio is the brains behind Combat-Ready Balm. It is a product she first produced in her kitchen in 2000. Today, it is still the foundation of her all-natural Skincando product line.

"The labels are designed to look like bandages," said Damelio. "It's just a very healing cream."

While working with Mullen, Damelio admittedly didn't think of it at first, but then it dawned on her.

"And so I told him, ‘Johnathon, why don't you just try this?'" Damelio said.

"It took like maybe a week for me to realize that it's absolutely amazing," said Mullen. "The combat balm has made such a difference in my life as far as pain and irritation -- that I can't wake up without putting it on."

The relief was so great, Mullen felt an urgency to share.

"If it can help other amputees as much as it's helped me, then we definitely need to get these products out to amputees as quickly as possible," Mullen said.

That is why Mullen and Damelio are teaming up to get as many Combat-Ready Balms donated as possible. And whatever they get, they will then deliver this summer to Walter Reed.

"If this can help them walk, function, deal with their prosthetic legs better, why wouldn't I want to do it?" Damelio told us.

"In my opinion, them using this is going to benefit their lives in more than just one way," said Mullen. "Not only just them being able to walk, but if they want to start a career or if they just want to retire, but use their legs or their prosthetics for other ways."

So here is how you can donate. Go to Mullen's website and learn more about Operation Sand Flea, which is through Skincando. Select the Combat-Ready Balm at whichever size at wholesale price, and then when you place your order, make sure you indicate that it's for Walter Reed.

And don't forget if you know of someone like Mullen Damelio that is paying it forward, we want to know about it. You can nominate them on our Pay It Forward page on our website.

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