This week, to celebrate Zeagle’s 40th Anniversary and honor our veterans, we’re profiling retired United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne. A recalibrated warrior, motivational speaker, actor and advocate for veterans and amputees, Mills is also an author. In fact, after getting published, his memoir, Tough as They Come, became a New York Times bestseller.
Travis’ life changed forever after he was caught in a bomb blast during his third deployment in Afghanistan. On April 10, 2012, he was critically injured by an IED (improvised explosive device) while on patrol, losing portions of both legs and both arms.
“I take my backpack off and set it on the ground,” he recalled during a speech, “It hits the ground, and underneath it, is a bomb. It took the right arm and right leg automatically. … They rush me into surgery and they cut my left leg off because it’s already gone. Two days later, they cut my left arm off, so I became a quadruple amputee.”
On April 14th, 2012, Travis woke up in a hospital bed in Germany and asked an attendant if he was paralyzed—he couldn’t feel his limbs. “You’re not paralyzed,” they told him. “You just don’t have them anymore.” It was Travis’ 25th birthday.
Mills’ road to recovery began that day, but mostly transpired at Walter Reed Medical Center. Suffering from phantom limb pain and heavily dosed on painkillers, one day Travis was visited by a corporal who sought to give him hope. “Welcome to the club,” the officer told Travis.
The corporal was a man named Todd Nicely. He was the second ever quadruple amputee, and Travis was the fourth.
“He showed me that with hard work and determination,” Mills said, “I could walk again and drive again.”
Filled with renewed purpose and inspiration, Travis set out on a path of healing and rehabilitation that would culminate in him learning to walk again through the use of prosthetics. He is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries.
Despite losing portions of both arms and legs from an IED while on active duty in Afghanistan, Travis continues to overcome life’s challenges, breaking physical barriers and defying the odds. Thanks to his courage, will to live, the heroic actions of the men in his unit, the prayers of thousands, and all the healthcare providers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Travis remains on the road to recovery. Every day is a battle, but Travis continues to astound friends and family alike with his progress and with his amazing spirit.
In September 2013, Travis and his wife Kelsey founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization, formed to benefit and assist post 9/11 veterans who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their service to our nation. Veterans and their families receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacation to Maine where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy much-needed rest and relaxation in Maine’s great outdoors.
On the day-to-day, life is still a struggle for Mills, but he continues to inspire others through his words and actions. Like Todd Nicely had done for him, Mills now likes to visit amputees at Walter Reed and remind them that recovery is possible. Over time, he’s even become known as the mayor of Building 62, and a documentary was eventually produced covering his advocacy work.
“I don’t think my problems outweigh anybody else’s,” he says. “I I feel fortunate to live in a nation where I can wake up in the morning with no arms and no legs, strap my legs on, throw my arm on, go out and live life to the fullest—take my wife and my daughter wherever we want to go.”
“The two life lessons that I have learned,” he continues, “is number one, don’t dwell on the past. I learned that, because when I was sitting in my hospital bed closing my eyes and wishing this did not happen, I realized, you’re not going to change the past. I can’t change what happened yesterday, and I can’t change what happened six years ago in Afghanistan. So I reminisce 25 great years I had with legs and arms and I’ve had six pretty great years without them.
“You can’t always control your situation, but you can always control your attitude.”