Afghanistan War Vet Travis Mills Tells His Story At Boise State

Jan 25, 2017

Travis Mills at Boise Fry Company.
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio

Wednesday evening, St. Luke's Men's Health Clinic is hosting a motivational speaker at Boise State University. Travis Mills has a New York Times bestseller and loads of confidence. But what he doesn’t have is a key part of the story.

Travis Mills is in his late 20s. Casual and conversational, he greets you with a fist bump. He’s a quadruple amputee – both arms, both legs. Five years ago, the army sergeant was on his third deployment in Afghanistan when he set his backpack down. On a bomb.

“And it tore off my right arm, right leg, automatically disintegrated them, my left leg was snapped through the bone, dangling by the thigh," Mills recalls. "And my left arm was blown out the wrist. And I still had my hand, even though my pinkie and ring finger were mangled up.”

He later lost that hand, too. Mills didn’t know the extent of the damage until he woke up from his coma at a German hospital. It was his 25th birthday.

Back in the U.S., at Walter Reed Hospital, he  saw his wife for the first time since the explosion. He told her she should leave him. She said she wouldn’t.

Today, he has artificial limbs. But years of physical therapy was only the start. The true test was mentally accepting the change as his new normal.

“Once I had the basics down, once I knew what I had to do, it was all about how can I reconnect with my family," Mills says. "How can I be the father figure and the husband that I want to be, with having, in my situation, no arms and legs anymore. And just being able to go out there to take my daughter kayaking. I actually enjoy snowboarding, believe it or not."

At first, he had a few weeks of depression. But that was short-lived.

“You know, for me, I don’t have PTSD. I don’t have TBI, which is kind of crazy. Everyone thinks I should or I would. I’m just fortunate I wasn’t affected in that way. I think it’s because I know I have my daughter and my wife left to live for. I have my ability to still work. And I just, I’m kind of more of a hard-truth kind of counselor.”

Mills convinces fellow soldiers that by staying positive, they honor their friends who weren’t able to leave the battlefield. On a recent trip to Utah, he inspired a suicidal veteran to stop dwelling on the past and to keep pushing forward.

In addition to giving speeches, Mills runs a foundation in Maine that this summer is opening a recovery center for disabled vets. His memoir is titled 'As Tough As They Come.'

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