TOUGH AS THEY COME
By Travis Mills
"People often refer to me as a 'wounded warrior,' but I'm no longer wounded. I'm just a man with scars living life to the fullest and best I know how."
-U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Travis Mills
On April 10, 2012, United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne had what he describes as "a normal day at work that turned ugly." In TOUGH AS THEY COME (written with Marcus Brotherton, foreword by Gary Sinise), he shares his story of surviving "a simple act of war" that led to the 6'3", 250-pound man becoming one of only five surviving quadruple amputees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Athletic, outgoing, and good-natured, Travis joined the military shortly after graduating from high school. He loved being a soldier and took his job seriously, though his natural ebullience always shone through. When his crew finished a patrol during which they'd had a firefight, Travis, nicknamed "Big Mills," would run ahead and sing the 82nd Airborne cadence, high-fiving each of his guys as they passed by. He was their fearless leader and their comedic relief.
After two deployments in Afghanistan, Travis could have opted out of a third tour, but felt he couldn't let his team go without him. So after promising his wife it would be his last deployment, Travis headed back to war. Six weeks in, on what was scheduled to be a day off, Travis and his team were called into action to sweep a local area for IEDs. After the initial sweep showed the area clear, Travis set down his backpack. That small act was all it took to change his life forever. Just five days before his 25th birthday, an IED instantly made him a triple amputee; his remaining arm was removed two days later.
Devastated by his injuries and made desperate by unbearable pain, Travis agreed to be put in a Ketamine coma, a controversial and extremely risky treatment to stop the pain. After experiencing terrifying and vivid hallucinations for days, Travis's mind cleared, and he was pain-free. For the first time, he felt a flicker of hope. "An enormous challenge lay ahead of me, yet the thought of that didn't dismay or repulse me anymore," Travis writes in TOUGH AS THEY COME. "The quest to succeed in the army had always been a challenge for me. My situation now as a quadruple amputee held out the same sort of dare to succeed. For higher reasons I would never know, I was being called to walk a new and unknown pathway." And so began Travis's arduous and miraculous journey of recovery-of his life, his faith, and himself.
Thirteen surgeries and hundreds of hours of rehabilitation later (it took a solid week of therapy just to learn how to sit up again), Travis can walk, drive, dance, skydive, hold his wife's hand and fix his daughter's breakfast. He now spends his time counseling others with similar injuries, giving motivational speeches at churches and corporations, and working for the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to showing wounded veterans and their families that they can overcome their physical and emotional challenges and find new purpose.