Breaking News
More () »

Saluting true heroes: Quadruple amputee helps injured vets live by his motto of 'Never give up. Never quit.'

'The other life lesson I always tell people I learned is, you can’t always control the situation, but you can always control your attitude.'

CLEVELAND — Retired United States Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills saw his life at a crossroads back in 2012. He had received orders to report to Fort Hood, but he didn't want to go.

Instead, he did this:

“I had orders to take me to Fort Hood, Texas. But I didn’t want to go to Fort Hood because my men were deploying again. In the brotherhood and the calling, people come from all across the nation to serve in the Army, and they served underneath me. So I thought, you know, I’d better go overseas with my brothers,” Mills said.

When he arrived in Afghanistan for his third tour, it was a different climate than the rest. 

“It was a very intense zone. Lots of firefighting, things like that."

After about a month and a half in, a day mission would change the course of his life forever.

RELATED: More than 1,500 mourners honor veteran they didn't know at Rittman funeral

RELATED: Veterans Day 2019: Here's where to find deals, discounts, freebies

"We got a phone call from the village elder to come help with something. So we did and it was just a regular, everyday normal experience," Mills described. "We swept the ground not once, but twice. And I’m marked 'clear.' So I walked up where it was marked clear to take my backpack off, and put it on the ground, and then my back hit the ground underneath.”

Mills had set his backpack down on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). The blast immediately took his right arm and leg. His left side, was in dire shape.

“I saw the aftermath, and my medic came up to me and I told him, ‘Don’t worry about me and save my guys,'” Mills recalled.

Brothers from his 82nd Airborne provided critical and immediate first aid before a helicopter rushed him off to surgery. When he woke up in the hospital, it was his 25th birthday, and he was suddenly a quadruple amputee.

“And the biggest question was, you know, why didn’t I just die? Like, how is this better?”

At the time, he wasn't sure of his purpose. He told his wife, Kelsey, to move on without him. The couple had a 6-month-old daughter, Chloe. Mills said, it's not what he wanted for his family.

“Look, this isn’t what I choose for you. This isn’t a burden you need to bear,” Mills told us, recalling that conversation with his wife.

“She was like, ‘That’s not how this works, we’ll get through this together.’ So, you know, I had to suck it up,” Mills said. “I learned very quick at the hospital about two, three weeks in, that no matter how many times I closed my eyes and I would hope and wish and pray that this didn’t happen, I can’t go back in time. It wasn’t going to change.”

The Mills family didn't just get through the ordeal, they started a movement. In 2013, they founded the Travis Mills Foundation, which provides help to injured veterans and their families. A camp in Maine affords these heroes opportunities they never thought possible.

“We have people with, you know, no legs kayaking. People with spinal cord injuries doing the ropes course."

But the rewards aren't just for veterans.

“It’s about the service member, but it’s also just as important that we bring the spouses and the children and we get them out there, knowing, hey, life goes on," Mills said.

There are other things, too. Big things. 

Mills gives motivational speeches across the nation. He's a best-selling author and has appeared on several national talk shows, including Ellen.

Every day is still a battle, but he has his wife of 11 years, daughter Chloe, and son, Dax. He says they make it easy to see the blessings right in front of him, propelling him to live by his motto: "Never give up. Never quit."

“I need about three minutes a day, when I have to depend on somebody to really help me put my legs on and my arm on. Like, that’s the worst part of my day. I can drive anywhere I want to drive. I can walk where I want to walk, I can feed myself or whatever. I keep pushing forward and I realize every day I’m just so fortunate to be here.”

For him, his accident provided his greatest of life lessons.

“I don’t really dwell on the fact that I have no arms and legs. And the other life lesson I always tell people I learned is, you can’t always control the situation, but you can always control your attitude.” 

Mills continues to raise funds for his camp for veterans in central Maine. Last week, he stopped in Cleveland for this interview, and to appear on several local broadcasts, including Live on Lakeside. While there, he sat with local businessman David Mortach, who pledged to match $500,000 in donations toward the Travis Mills Foundation. Mills says, that gets him halfway to his goal of raising $1 million for injured combat vets and their families.

If you'd like to help the Travis Mills Foundation, click HERE.

Before You Leave, Check This Out