Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills (pic above) was his high school’s football star in the town of Vassar, Michigan. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served two deployments to Afghanistan without suffering anything close to a major injury. But during his third tour, an IED tore through his athletic frame, leaving him a quadruple amputee.
In this video, he adamantly insists he’s not a hero:
But his hometown folk in Vassar think otherwise.
As Elaine Quijano reports for CBS News, Oct. 11, 2012, Vassar used their annual homecoming game to give their favorite son a hero’s welcome.
“This is awesome,” he told a crowd who cheered.
Mills was on his third tour in Afghanistan. In April, a bomb exploded beneath him. He recalls, “About 5-6 seconds later I woke up on the ground.” Mills’ six-foot-three, 250-pound body bore the brunt of the blast. Two other men were wounded.
“My medic came running up,” he said, “and I looked at him and I said, ‘You get away from me, you go save my men, leave me alone, let me go.’ He told me, ‘With all due respect, Sgt. Mills, shut up let me do my job.’ He put tourniquets on me within 20 seconds on all four limbs.”
Mills woke up at a military hospital in Germany four days later. He turned 25 on April 14 and was told he didn’t have any arms or legs.
“By that time, my soldiers –”how are they doing’?” Mills recalled on what was going through his mind then. “And then I guess I was ducking my wife’s phone calls because I felt embarrassed–I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I knew the possibility of getting hit was zero, but when you get hit, I guess I just felt like I was a horrible person or something I did wrong in life, and I was getting paid back for it. But that’s not it.”
He’s been recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for six months. He’s learning to use four prosthetic limbs and to do things once routine, like feeding his daughter Chloe.
As far as what it’s like to be back to his hometown, Mills said: “Oh it’s great, I drove into town and I couldn’t believe the yellow ribbons, the signs — ‘Welcome home Staff Sgt. Travis Mills.'”
More than 6,000 people lined Main Street to honor Mills and his wife Kelsey. (That’s more than twice as many people as the total population of Vassar of 2,697 at the 2010 census.)
“‘Everything I was going through and all that,” he told the crowd, “my beautiful wife stood by my side the whole time. So I want to thank her real quick.”
Mills heard plenty of cheers when he played on this football field in high school. But never like this.
He’s still on active duty and hopes to one day train soldiers at Fort Bragg.
“This is not the end of my life, especially having my one-year-old there,” he said. “She’ll never see me give up or fail you know. I mean, she’ll see me fall down, but I’ll get back up and I’m just going to keep going.”
This isn’t how Staff Sgt. Travis Mills imagined his life. But it’s a life he is grateful to have.
Watch the news video of his homecoming here.
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