Mark Whalen Sr. wanted to make sure his son, Mark Jr., was making the right decision.
As Staff Sergeant Medina, a recruiter for the United States Marines Corps, stood outside his front door waiting to pick up the younger Mark and his best friend Carlos to ship them off to boot camp, Whalen Sr. asked his son a simple question.
“He looked at me and said: ‘Are you willing to fight and die for our country if ever need be,” says Mark. “I was just like ‘Yeah, yeah of course.’ We hugged one last time and I took off with the recruiter.”
Mark didn’t think much of his father’s comment at the time. That was May, 2011. Four months later, while Mark was in the field for marine combat training, 9/11 happened. At first, Mark thought it was a joke. He had just gotten out of boot camp and assumed it was a tactic to get him and his fellow marines to train harder. If only that were the case.
“We came back from the field for the weekend and there were flags all over the houses,” says Mark, a new home sales associate for Neal Communities in Coconut Cove, a coastal-themed, single-family community in Fort Myers. “It was on every news station. It was a real shock.”
A native of Indiana, Mark didn’t have any family members in the military, but he always had an interest in the Armed Forces. It wasn’t until he was in high school and met Staff Sergeant Medina that Mark began to think long and hard about a career in the military in some capacity.
“As soon as he [Medina] stepped on deck, all of the students flocked to him,” says Mark. “He was a very motivating individual. He was outspoken, and I think he had a major impact on my decision.”
After a semester at the College of the Canyons, Mark and Carlos decided to enter the United States Marines Corps buddy program together as reservists in the hopes of returning to college and competing in track and field. Three years after leaving for boot camp, Mark deployed for Iraq for a yearlong mobilization.
“I was very fortunate to land the job of perimeter security,” says Mark. “I really enjoyed leaving the country and being able to go out and be amongst those on the battle field. I made a lot of great relationships and learned a lot of things. Looking back on it, I was blessed to have had those experiences.”
Upon his return, Mark re-enlisted to the reserves; and in 2009, he was deployed to Iraq for a second time where he helped deliver food, ammunition and other supplies to the Marines while at the same time helping with the tear down of Iraq.
Following his deployment, Mark accepted mobilization orders to the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif. where he spent three years as a platoon sergeant as well as a marine liaison for the naval hospital.
Mark recently hit the 16-year mark as a reservist and re-enlisted for another four years. As a reservist, who is a gunnery sergeant, he spends one weekend a month interacting with his fellow marines and overseeing the daily training for the junior marines.
“The saying goes ‘Once a marine always a marine,’ and it’s true,” says Mark. “I’ve never gotten to a point where I don’t want to re-enlist again. I love it.”
In the midst of being a reservist, Mark has maintained a career in sales. He dreamed of getting into real estate, but it wasn’t until November 2013, following his assignment at the Wounded Warrior Battalion, that the time was right for Mark to make the transition.
With his wife Victoria’s support, the Whalens moved to Naples; and after nearly four years in the real estate industry, Mark joined the team at Neal Communities.
“I’m super excited to be a part of a wonderful sales team,” says Mark. “I’m definitely looking forward to continuing to the learn the Neal Communities product, selling the beautiful homes and watching families upgrade their lives.”
Since joining Neal Communities in October, Mark has already sold six homes in Coconut Cove — a feat he only hopes to build upon in the future.
“A lot of the guiding principles the Neal family has are very similar and near and dear to my heart being a Marine,” says Mark. “We’re here to improve people’s lives and that’s what excites me most about finding homes for our buyers. As a new team member I am extra conscious and strive to earn our customers trust by always doing the right thing and maintaining the Neal reputation.”