Sol­dier to open out­door re­treat

Man cred­its sup­port of fam­ily for well­ness, wants to help oth­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY DAVID SHARP

Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills awoke in a hospi­tal on his 25th birth­day to learn that an ex­plo­sion in Afghanistan had robbed him of all four limbs.

He later told his wife to take their daugh­ter and their be­long­ings, and just go. He didn’t want her sad­dled with his bur­den.

“She as­sured me that’s not how this works,” Sgt. Mills said, “and she stayed by my side.”

Fam­ily sup­port aided his re­cov­ery, Sgt. Mills said, and now a foun­da­tion he cre­ated is bring­ing oth­ers with war in­juries and their fam­i­lies to Maine to con­tinue their heal­ing while sur­rounded by oth­ers who un­der­stand what they’ve gone through.

The re­treat at the lake­side es­tate of the late cos­met­ics mag­nate El­iz­a­beth Ar­den will be ded­i­cated this week­end af­ter an over­haul that in­cluded up­grades to make it more ac­ces­si­ble.

Sgt. Mills uses his per­sonal story to of­fer en­cour­age­ment: “I don’t look at my­self and pity my­self. I tell peo­ple to never give up, never quit, and to al­ways keep push­ing for­ward.”

The sol­dier’s life changed abruptly on April 10, 2012, when a bomb that evaded de­tec­tion det­o­nated when Sgt. Mills un­wit­tingly dropped his back­pack on it.

The blast dis­in­te­grated his right arm and leg, shred­ded his wrist and blew sev­eral fin­gers off. His left leg dan­gled.

As life drained from him, Sgt. Mills used what was left of his re­main­ing hand to make a ra­dio call for help for the oth­ers.

“My medic came up to me and I tried to fight him off, say­ing, ‘Doc, you’re not go­ing to save me. There’s re­ally no rea­son to keep try­ing. It’s OK. I ac­cept what hap­pened. Just tell my fam­ily I love them, and don’t waste your time,’” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

At the field hospi­tal, his re­main­ing leg came off with his pants as he was un­dressed for surgery. Two days later, his left arm was re­moved.

When it came to re­cov­ery, Sgt. Mills said, the sup­port of his fam­ily was just as im­por­tant as top-notch med­i­cal care. His wife re­mained with him. Their 6-month-old daugh­ter lifted his spir­its. His fa­ther-in-law lived with him at Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Cen­ter and over­saw construction of a home adapted for his dis­abil­i­ties.

“With­out my wife and daugh­ter, I can’t tell you that I’d be sit­ting here to­day do­ing as well as I’m do­ing,” he said. “That’s why we do what we do. Be­cause we be­lieve there is more heal­ing with the fam­ily and other peo­ple in the same sit­u­a­tion.”

His wife, Kelsey, preg­nant with their sec­ond child, said her hus­band has been com­pet­i­tive since his days as high school foot­ball cap­tain in Vas­sar, Michi­gan. He was al­ways the “life of the party,” she said, which helps to ex­plain his charisma, en­thu­si­asm and con­stant jokes.

“He’s al­ways had a strong drive, and get­ting in­jured was like a chal­lenge to him to over­come it,” she said.

These days, he trav­els 165 days a year, de­liv­er­ing mo­ti­va­tional speeches, and it seems there’s lit­tle he can’t do thanks to grit and ad­vanced pros­thet­ics. He’s gone sky­div­ing, par­tic­i­pated in adap­tive ski­ing and moun­tain bik­ing, and pad­dled on lakes. He’s writ­ten a book, “Tough As They Come.”

The re­treat is an ex­ten­sion of Sgt. Mills’ work at Wal­ter Reed, where he lifted oth­ers’ spir­its while re­cov­er­ing from his wounds over a 19-month pe­riod.

This sum­mer, 56 fam­i­lies will be served free of charge. They’ll kayak, go tub­ing and fish, al­low­ing in­jured sol­diers and Marines to see that they don’t have to sit on the side­lines dur­ing fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties, Sgt. Mills said.

Nearly $3 mil­lion in cash and in-kind con­tri­bu­tions have gone into the camp, build­ing on a pi­lot pro­gram. Sgt. Mills hopes to raise enough money to cre­ate a per­ma­nent en­dow­ment.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Travis Mills kayaks with his mother-in-law Tammy Buck in Manch­ester, Maine. The U.S. Army staff sergeant, who lost four limbs in a blast in Afghanistan, is open­ing a sum­mer re­treat to help those who suf­fered se­vere war in­juries. Sgt. Mills cred­its his fam­ily as much as the med­i­cal team for help­ing him to re­cover.

Travis Mills, a U.S. Army staff sergeant, awoke in a hospi­tal on his birth­day to learn that an ex­plo­sion in Afghanistan had robbed him of all four limbs.

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