7‑Eleven, Inc. is proud to support UCLA Health’s Operation Mend program in healing and supporting our nation's military and family members

Army Specialist Joseph (Joey) Paulk knows firsthand just how daunting it can be to try to return to society after sustaining life-altering injuries on the battlefield. Paulk, now retired and living back in southern California where he grew up, was injured in Afghanistan when his tactical vehicle was hit by anti-tank mines, flipping it over and igniting the fuel tank.

Joseph Paulk

Tragically, his team leader lost his life during the attack, and Joey was left with major injuries after being engulfed in flames. He suffered significant burns to his body and face, paralysis of his vocal cords and complete amputation of all 10 fingers. Paulk narrowly survived thanks to his doctors’ efforts, but his subsequent pain and suffering were just beginning. In fact, he had so many follow-up surgeries that he and his family eventually stopped counting — all while having to re-learn how to walk, talk, swallow, and cope without the use of his hands.

“I tried to go back home and blend back into society, but all I wanted to do was hide,” said Paulk. “If I did go out in daylight, I would wear long sleeves, a hat and hood even if it was 80 degrees to cover my scars, because of how disfigured I was. I was really uncomfortable and started isolating myself from everything.”

The same year Paulk was injured, Operation Mend began a collaboration with the U.S. Military and Veterans Health Administration to provide specialized care free of charge to wounded warriors and their families. The nonprofit program — which 7‑Eleven has supported with a significant four-year grant starting in 2018 — provides advanced surgical and medical treatment for those injured during combat or while training for service, as well as comprehensive psychological healthcare and social support for both wounded soldiers and their family members.

Joseph Paulk

Through funding from donors, all care, care coordination, travel and lodging are provided at absolutely no cost. And for Paulk and his family, the physical and emotional transformation has been profound thanks to successful facial reconstruction and extensive support from Operation Mend staff. Today, Paulk is an active contributing member, and spokesperson, for the tightknit organization.

“Operation Mend changed Joey’s life for the better. It changed all of our lives in a big way,” lauded his mother, Judy Soper — who is excited that her son is back to leading an active, happy life that includes fishing, playing golf, soccer and other activities that seemed impossible not long ago.

Paulk’s father, Daniel Soper — a retired 7‑Eleven executive who introduced the company to Operation Mend — added, “7‑Eleven has always gone above and beyond to support veteran causes, and Operation Mend is no different. As a nonprofit organization, the program needs support and funding so it can continue helping our wounded heroes who are truly in need.”

The UCLA program continues to do the hard work necessary to transform wounded warriors’ lives for the better, so heroes like Paulk can regain some of what they lost while serving our country. And for that, he is enternally grateful.

“They really take care of us like family. Thank you Operation Mend for everything you’ve done and will continue to do for me,” he said.

Click here to learn how Operation Mend is changing lives.