By David VergunFebruary 29, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 29, 2016) -- "Don't pity me," retired Staff Sgt. Travis Mills told hundreds of Soldiers who came to listen to the former 82nd Airborne Division Soldier who lost portions of both arms and legs and nearly his life in Afghanistan four years ago.
Mills, who is now an advocate for veterans and disabled service members worldwide, spoke Feb. 29, at a U.S. Army Military District of Washington-sponsored Ready and Resilient event at Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
THE FATEFUL DAY
On April 10, 2012, while on dismounted patrol on his third tour in Afghanistan, Mills triggered a buried improvised explosive device.
Two of his buddies were injured as well, he said.
Mills was blown into the air. When he landed, bloody and dazed, he said he quickly assessed the situation and when the medic came, "I told them to fix those two guys first. I've seen guys done in for less than my injuries and I knew I was going to die.
"The medic told me to 'let me do my job,'" he said.
The medic applied multiple tourniquets to Mills and within 20 seconds, all the bleeding had stopped. "He saved my life."
Several others who had been injured were medically evacuated to Kandahar. One guy, who lost one of his testicles, was screaming. "I calmed him down," Mills said, adding that later that Soldier had a child and "he named the kid after me."
Mills said he was thankful to make it to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he got immediate medical attention. The medical staff is so good there that 99 percent of those who make it to Kandahar alive survive. Mills said his other two buddies survived their injuries, which were much less serious than his.
ANGER THEN HOPE
Mills admitted that at first, he felt a lot of anger and embarrassment at what happened to him. He was married with an infant girl at the time, and said he thought to himself that when the little girl grows up, she'll think he's a monster because of his disfigurement. He said he even questioned his religion.
The doctors, nurses and physical therapists at Walter Reed National Medical Center were attentive and gave him a lot of hope to go on, as did Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely.
Mills said he became buddies with Nicely, who lost all four limbs. Nicely told him to be patient and with modern technology, "you will soon be able to feed yourself, walk, run, you name it. That was very inspiring."
Rather than wallow in sorrow, Mills said he then began to set goals, the first being to feed himself with his one artificial hand, attached to part of his remaining left arm. Within five weeks, he said, he could feed himself and that was a big morale booster.
Next, Mills set out to walk. Within two weeks, using crutches, he was walking. The first day, he walked three laps around the track at Walter Reed.
The next day, Mills told his nurse who was with him that he wanted to ditch the crutches and do it on his own. The nurse strongly advised him not to.
Mills said his can-do airborne training kicked in and he threw away the crutches and promptly fell down on his face.
The nurse started crying, she was so distraught, he said. She later told him that after the first day of walking, the muscles are sore and the second day is much harder than the first.
But as the days turned into weeks, Mills began walking on his own.
He then heard about a 5-kilometer walk being held in New York City and he thought that would be a pretty neat goal so he entered.
After a couple miles, the sockets of his prosthetics were rubbing his limbs raw and the pain was so intense going through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel that he decided when he got through the tunnel he'd rest and call it a day.
But when he emerged from the darkness of the tunnel, hundreds of firefighters, many of whom had rescued people from the Twin Towers on 9-11, were there cheering him on. "No way would I sit down. So I finished the course."
His next goal was to be at the airport when his unit arrived from Afghanistan. He said he wanted to greet them all and personally tell them that he was alright.
Meeting them was an emotional moment for him, he said. He hugged the medic who'd saved his life.
And, Mills' final goal was to learn to drive. He said he tools around in an F250, using a joy stick and other gadgets to maneuver.
DON'T PITY YOURSELF
A lot of people tell Mills he's a hero for making the ultimate sacrifice. "But, I didn't make the ultimate sacrifice, he said, naming some in his unit who were killed in Afghanistan around the time he was there.
They are the ones that won't see their wives and children again. "I'm the lucky one. I'm with my wife and will watch my daughter grow up. My parents come over for the holidays. Those who didn't make it home paid the ultimate sacrifice. I'm thankful and blessed to still be here to talk about it. Don't look at me with pity."
FULFILLMENT IN HELPING OTHERS
Today, Mills is helping others through his Travis Mills Foundation. He has a resort in Maine where he invites wounded vets and their families for camping, fishing, hiking, snowboarding, mountain biking and all sorts of activities.
"I want them to be able to experience the full joys of life and to know that their disabilities are not the end of the world," he said.