AUGUSTA, Maine — A soldier who lost all four limbs during an explosion in Afghanistan aims to inspire others with the story of how he recovered from the wounds, picked up the pieces and began helping other amputees.
"My message is pretty clear. Never give up. Never quit. Find your motivation. Find your goals. And keep moving," he said Tuesday.
He joked with people at a bookstore, patiently signing books with a Sharpie, using his prosthetic hand. He's right-handed and the prosthesis is on the left hand, making it even more difficult to write.
Mills, 28, was an Army staff sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division on his third deployment when an improvised explosive detonated when he dropped his backpack on the ground during a foot patrol on April 10, 2012. The blast disintegrated his right arm and leg. His other leg dangled and his remaining wrist was shredded.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills smiles as he signs a book at an event promoting his book, "Tough As They Come," on Dec. 1, in Augusta, Maine.
Photo Credit: David Sharp/AP
The former 6-foot-3, 230-pound athlete awoke four days later, on his 25th birthday, to learn he had no limbs. He endured 19 months of rehabilitation. He told his wife to leave, but she stayed by his side.
Mills isn't alone in having lost parts of all four limbs. He's one of five quadruple amputees to survive the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he's met the others.
Mills' recovery was remarkable. He's been snowboarding and mountain biking. He's jumped out of planes. He's started a foundation that bought property formerly owned by fragrance designer Elizabeth Arden with a goal of transforming it into a fully accessible summer camp to help other wounded veterans.
He's visited war amputees at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and traveled to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston to meet with Boston Marathon bombing victims who lost limbs.
He's happy to be able to provide hope.
"I'm able to inspire and change people. I don't do it by saying, 'You think you have it bad? Then look at me.' I'll never play that card," Mills said.
Collaborating with Marcus Brotherton on a book that Mills describes as equal parts "Saving Private Ryan" and "Forrest Gump" seemed like a logical step because others draw inspiration from the story of a small-town boy from Vashar, Michigan, who's managed to maintain a positive outlook after debilitating injuries.
Using his prosthetic arm, retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills signs a book at an event promoting his book, "Tough As They Come," on Dec. 1, in Augusta, Maine.
Photo Credit: David Sharp/AP
Tuesday's book-signing event was his first. Signings also are planned this month in Texas, where he lived after leaving the hospitals, and in Michigan.
Mills said part of maintaining a positive outlook is keeping things in perspective. He said he's lucky that modern medical care saved his life. He's grateful that his wife, Kelsey, stuck with him. He's happy to be able to make waffles for breakfast and to drive his 4-year-old daughter Chloe to pre-school every day. He and his family now live in Manchester, Maine.
It's common for people to refer to Mills as a "wounded warrior."
He said he's living with scars, but he's no longer wounded.
"I don't want people to pity me. I'm not a sob story. People need to understand that it's up to them to change their outlook on life and how they view themselves," he said.