FORT KENT, Maine — Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills and his team from the 82nd Airborne were checking out reports of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan when one detonated underneath him.
His right arm and leg disintegrated. His other leg dangled and his remaining wrist was shredded.
Mills eventually lost all four limbs. These days, he’s making it his mission to help other wounded warriors, hosting a camp for them in Maine and traveling the country as a motivational speaker.
“Hey, I’m wounded. I have scars. But I don’t need a violin playing behind me with sad music to make me feel like a sob story,” he said. “Get on with life.”
On Saturday, Mills showed he’s getting on with his life in a big way by jumping from an airplane along with the wife of Maine Gov. Paul LePage, first lady Ann LePage, with a parachute team in Fort Kent. His feat raised money for a veterans center and museum in the town in northern Maine.
Mills said he wants to help others, especially veterans who’ve suffered debilitating injuries. That’s the reason for the camp, the fundraiser and his visits with injured veterans and victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
He doesn’t dwell on the day he nearly died, but he isn’t shy about discussing it. He and fellow soldiers re-enacted the scene for a documentary, “Travis: A Soldier’s Story.”
Mills, who was on his third deployment, said April 10, 2012, started as a routine foot patrol. The area had been checked twice for land mines, but the improvised explosive device buried in the ground was made from glass and plastic instead of metal to evade detection. It exploded when he dropped his backpack.
Conscious of his injuries, he barked at a medic to help others, thinking he was a goner, before he was eventually sedated.
He awoke four days later — on his 25th birthday — to learn he had no limbs.
The former 6-foot-3, 230-pound athlete spent 19 months in rehabilitation, and his recovery has been remarkable.
He’s been snowboarding and skiing in Colorado. He jumped previously from an airplane with the Army Golden Knights parachute team. He drives a Ford F-250 truck.
The Vassar, Michigan, native is also building a new life in Maine with wife Kelsey and daughter Chloe.
Next month, a new home adapted to meet his needs will be finished in Manchester. It’s being built by a foundation established by Hollywood actor and director Gary Sinise.
Ann LePage met Mills after learning of his efforts to create a camp for wounded veterans and their families. She said she couldn’t turn Mills down when he challenged her to join him on the jump – even though she’s afraid of heights.
“He talks 50 mph. He has so much to say. He just looks at the positive in everything. His attitude is, You don’t give up. You don’t quit. You don’t say, ‘I can’t,’” she said.