James Mulkey was looking for his Army uniform for months before he saw a stranger’s viral Facebook post about it.
The Flowery Branch native, now 28, was a psychological operations specialist in the Army Reserves for six years. He did one combat tour in Afghanistan, and spent the rest of that time here in Georgia.
But in the years following his service, Mulkey fell on hard times and lost track of his uniform.
“I got a DUI in 2014, and subsequently lost my license, was unable to work and, as a result, my car was repossessed,” Mulkey said. “I basically went homeless for about a year and was going from couch to couch.”
Mulkey said before he found stable housing, he put most of his possessions in a storage unit in the spring of 2015, including one important suitcase containing his uniform and countless medals.
“I put it in the storage unit and then after a couple months I got into this program called Veterans Court,” he said. “It’s kind of like DUI and drug court, because they drug screen you three times a week and you have to go to counseling. I missed a drug screen — didn’t fail anything, but missed it — and they put me on work release.”
Mulkey spent 60 days on work release through the Hall County Detention Facility, and said during that time, he couldn’t keep up with payments on his storage unit.
A Habersham man bought the contents of that unit in an auction last fall and found the suitcase. Mulkey said the man, James May, spent decades in the National Guard, and wanted to reunite the owner with his belongings.
“I didn’t even know it was in there,” Mulkey said. “I had been looking for it, and then I saw his post on Facebook and said, ‘Wow, there it is. I found it.’”
May had posted three times on Facebook trying to find Mulkey. His first post had nearly 3,100 shares in 24 hours. The second had about 850 shares in the same time, and the third had approximately 250 shares.
Mulkey said his brother, stationed all the way at Fort Irwin, California, saw the post, along with several other veterans at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus, where Mulkey is a senior.
“I’d been getting notifications all that morning,” he said. “I kept saying, ‘Yes! This is mine.”
May returned the uniform to Mulkey, who said it is in exactly the same condition he left it in.
Mulkey said he was surprised by the attention his story received, after the post went viral and Fox 5 Atlanta did a story.
“It’s nothing special,” he said. “I lost the uniform because I got in trouble, really.”
Mulkey said he plans to graduate in May in interdisciplinary studies, with a focus on history, leadership and sociology. He already has an associate’s degree in physical education with emphasis on teacher certification, and his goal is to become a teacher, school counselor and part-time coach.
He is still a part of Veterans Court, for which he says he is grateful.
“I value being in it,” he said. “It’s definitely kept me sober, and I’ve minded my Ps and Qs since I’ve been in it. Going through some of the things I’ve gone through, I used alcohol as an outlet. But now that I’m sober, I don’t have to resort to, ‘Oh man, I’m having a bad day. Let’s go get trashed.’”
As for the uniform, Mulkey said he is happy to have it back and it is now stored safely at his father’s house.
“In the front pocket was my Army Commendation Medal, and there were a couple other medals that, when I finally opened it up, I found,” he said. “It doesn’t fit me now, but it’s more of a commodity — a sentimental thing.”