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Wounded Veteran Shares His Passion for Life

Travis Mills loved serving in the United States army even though it meant extended time away from his wife and six month old daughter while deployed in Afghanistan. He says, “My wife understood that I enjoyed my job. She understood that I enjoyed the brotherhood of it all. The fact that we went overseas, we were all one. The person next to me would take a bullet, have my back on anything. You go over to protect the guy to your left and right. I mean, your government and your nation say it, you know, tells you to go over, so you do. And you fight tooth and nail to take the Taliban out, help build schools and wells and give the population a better life like we have here back in the States and to keep the terrorists at bay.”
        
April 10th 2012, four days before his 25th birthday, Travis and his unit received a report of enemy activity near their camp. “You know, we had reports there was IEDs in the village, which we knew they were there. We watched it at nighttime actually put bombs in the ground. But due to the strict rules of engagement, we weren’t allowed to go out at nighttime and do anything about it. We weren’t allowed to drop mortars or like use our combat strength to stop the enemy. But then the next day you’re supposed to go out there and try to find what they did.” The next morning Travis and his team set out with a mine sweeper to find the buried IEDs.  “And nothing alerted them or alarmed them on the mines sweeper or what was going on. And, you know, got the all clear. So I said, ‘All right, cool.’ I put my bag on the ground and my bag hit one of 13 IEDs that were in a row that the minesweeper had went over.”

His backpack triggered the IED. A massive explosion sent shrapnel ripping through his body, tearing off limbs. Travis was bleeding profusely. His men worked quickly, applying tourniquets in an attempt to save his life. Travis remembers, “I went ahead and told the medic to save the guys that were injured. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I’ve seen a lot of guys overseas not make it home with a lot less injury from what I thought. So I thought that it was a waste of their time and it would all be over soon anyways, so it’s okay. Then it kind of hit me, like I might not see my daughter.  I might not wake up to see my wife again.”   
    
He was airlifted to a medical base where teams worked around the clock to keep him alive. When he finally came to on his 25th birthday, he was told the extent of his injuries. Travis had lost all four limbs. “I got real angry and upset and embarrassed and I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t talk for three hours. I just kind of sat there. And, you know, questions run through your head, am I a bad person? Does God hate me? You know, is there something I did wrong in life? You know, why would this happen? I pay my taxes, you know, how am I going to be a father and a husband? And just all these things go through your faith –through your head.”

When he arrived back in the States a family member hung a plaque with a Bible verse in his hospital room– ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid;  for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’ Joshua 1:9. “I said turn that over, I don’t want to read that no more. My mom just kind of was like ‘that’s not how this works. We’re not doing that.’ I mean, I couldn’t get out of bed and move it. To be honest, it took awhile, to be honest. I mean, I don’t want to lie to anybody. Because I mean, you have faith and yeah, everything’s all great with it when life’s going your way or, you know, even when you have a bad day, it’s nothing like losing your arms and legs and then trying to still have faith with everything.  But then after a week or two you realize, you switch gears from being down on yourself and angry and upset to, ‘Okay, well if my wife’s going to stay and my daughter’s sitting here in the bed with me, and she’s smiling and giggling and she’s 6 months old, they’re going to be there.’ So you’re given the ability to still live. Yes, you had something tragic happen but your family’s still going to be your family. They’re going to stay. Well, then it’s determination and grit and it’s all about, you know what, I’m not going to let this get me down. I’m going to find a way to do everything I want to do. Life goes on, you can’t be a believer only when things are going great for you and going your way. And I have the ability to still live, where a lot of my friends don’t. So let’s, you know, let’s get back on track.”

With the help of staff at Walter Reed Military Hospital and encouragement from others with similar wounds, Travis tackled his recovery head on. “Every day was just, how am I going to get better so my wife doesn’t have to dress me or put food in my mouth. So my daughter can see her dad striving for, you know, to be better and thriving in life instead of letting this get him down. And after five weeks I was able to put my left arm on for the first time and feed myself. And I started dressing myself. And then seven weeks and four days I put my legs on, not the legs I’m wearing today, but my shorter legs. And I started walking again. When I learned I could still kayak and I could still do things adaptively like canoe and go downhill mountain biking or snowboarding or mono skiing, I thought geez, these are activities I can do with my family if I really want to take them out and do this stuff.”

He turned his renewed passion for life into helping others with similar injuries. Now through the Travis Mills Foundation Retreat Center he helps wounded veterans overcome physical obstacles and strengthen family bonds through activities and rest. “These guys still have a purpose, these men and women that have been through so much, amputation, paralyzation, spinal cord injuries, can still do things with their families instead of live life on the sidelines. They come here, they’re comfortable, they build a network, they have someone to lean on, to reach out to, to believe, you know, to believe in, to understand they’re like them. And the children can know that, you know what, my dad can still do things and we’re just trying to do good here and give back and thank people for their service and let them know that we care about their sacrifice that they made and their families made.”

His book ‘Tough as They Come’ tells the story of his tragic experience and his determination to keep going. “I can’t always control my situation. And I couldn’t control what happened to me. But I can always control my attitude and my mindset. So with God I made peace. With everything that goes on, I’m thankful for the opportunity. I know there’s a bigger purpose and a bigger calling for me. So I’m just doing the best I can to live life to the fullest every day. I still believe that everything happens for a reason. He’s not done having me spread His message and doing good things in the world. I have no regrets. I mean, I wish I could take back what happened to me, but I can’t. So it is what it is. And I’m just thankful to have the abilities that I do today to go out there and walk and drive and, you know, do the things that I do.”

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