Travis Mills Delivers Inspiring Message of Resilience During President’s Lecture Series Speech
November 20, 2019
Travis Mills, who became a quadruple amputee when unsuspectingly set his backpack on an explosive device during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan - a deployment he didn't have to take but insisted on so he could be with his unit - says life is about perspective.
"Don't dwell on the past," he said. "I used to sit in my hospital bed and close my eyes and hope, wish and pray this never happened. How do I go back in time and make this not happen? About two weeks in, I just realized it's never going to be like that again. And instead of dwelling in the fact that I have no arms and legs, I just reminisced that I had 25 years with arms and legs. They were phenomenal. And I've had seven amazing years without arms and legs. And I've only had one bad day at work - a case of the Mondays, huh?"
Mills, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant of the 82nd Airborne Division, delivered his inspirational, entertaining and often humorous President's Lecture Series speech to an audience of about 400 Tuesday night in the Big Blue Room at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. He was the President's Task Force on Inclusive Excellence speaker.
Mills was wounded on April 10, 2012, about a month and a half into his deployment. After a sweep of the area indicated it was clear of mines, Mills put his 120-pound backpack onto the ground - detonating an undetected bomb.
He immediately lost his right leg and arm. His left leg and wrist were seriously injured, and he would eventually lose both.
He told his medic, "You're not going to save me. Don't worry about it. Save my guys. In my eyes, unfortunately, I've seen guys go for a lot less. In my eyes, I thought guys died with injuries that were way less than mine."
However, medics continued to treat him. When he arrived at the hospital, nine doctors and seven nurses worked on him as he underwent 14 hours of surgery. He received 400 units of blood - so much that his blood type changed to universal from A positive.
When the young husband and father of a 6-month-old daughter realized the extent of his injuries, he withdrew.
"I had questions in my head," he said. "Am I a bad person? What has God given me? What did I do wrong in life to deserve this? How can I be a husband and a father? The biggest question I had, honestly, was why didn't I just die? How is this better than dying?"
He gradually regained his motivation, setting short-term goals like learning how to feed and dress himself and to walk again, and longer-term objectives, such as learning how to drive. The couple also went on trips with Walter Reed Army Hospital, where he learned how to snowboard, model ski, kayak and canoe, and downhill mountain bike.
He said he and his wife, Kelsey, "thought we should give back and do something awesome."
In 2013, they founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to benefit and assist post 9/11 veterans who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their service. In 2017, they officially opened a property in Maine where veterans and their families receive all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacations and participate in adaptive activities and bond with other veteran families.
The first year they hosted 89 families, last year 130 and this year more than 200.
"We don't give them any excuse to not try anything," he said.
Mills, who's now the father of two young children, said one of the messages he wants to convey is that while you can't always control your situation, you can control your attitude.
"Instead of me saying, 'Oh, geez, this is awful' ... I keep pushing forward," he said.
The President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring renowned speakers who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, offering an international lineup of authors and educators, business innovators and political figures.
Next up is Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute the author of three books. Her speech, which is scheduled for Feb. 4, is a ticketed event presented in partnership with the Norfolk Forum.