When Staff Sgt. Travis Mills became one of only five quadruple amputees from the Global War on Terrorism, his personal life’s mission changed to supporting Veterans like himself and their families
The Travis Mills Foundation (TMF) supports recalibrated Veterans and their families through various programs that help Veterans overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation.
TMF supports Veterans through their flagship retreat located in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. Veterans who have been injured on active duty or as a result of their service receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses-paid, barrier-free experience in Maine where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other Veteran families, and enjoy much-needed rest and relaxation in Maine’s outdoors.
Born and raised in Vassar, Michigan, Travis Mills served with the Army’s famed 82nd Airborne Division. On April 10, 2012, he was critically injured by an IED during a routine patrol on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. The explosion blew off portions of all four of his limbs.
While recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, family was a crucial component to his healing. Mills, along with his wife Kelsey, their daughter Chloe, and their families, spent 19 months at Walter Reed, recovering alongside other Veterans and their families.
During his recovery, Mills maintained his lifelong mantra to “Never Give Up. Never Quit,” and credits Kelsey and Chloe as the driving force behind his positivity and persistence. He had to learn how to feed himself again, drive a car, and walk, which he re-learned with the help of his daughter.
He and Kelsey later attended adaptive sports programs, learning that he didn’t have to live life on the sidelines. It was then that Mills began to refer to himself as a “recalibrated Veteran.” He didn’t like the term wounded warrior since his wounds had healed. He realized that he had to reexamine his thinking and correct it in accordance with his new way of life. He recalibrated. From there, his new mission was born.
What started as sending care packages to the soldiers that Mills served with transformed into the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat, nestled in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine.
“Serving my country was the best job I’ve ever had,” said Mills. “Since I couldn’t do that anymore, I started the Travis Mills Foundation to give back to not only my fellow service members, but their families.”
TMF offers seven distinct programs for post-911 recalibrated Veterans and their families, all at no cost to them. The Foundation serves Veterans with life-changing physical disabilities they received while in service to our country whether they were injured during combat or not.
Each program was carefully and thoughtfully developed in response to the needs of our Veterans. Rehabilitation is a life-long process and the needs of these Veterans and their families vary as they navigate through those phases.
Family Program: For the recalibrated Veteran, spouse and children, or a guest. The schedule is packed with adapted sports and activities to meet the needs of all. However, participation is not required; families are welcome to use the time to rest and relax. Family programming is offered year-round, including kayaking, zoo visits, wheelchair basketball, archery, dog sledding, ice fishing, snow shoeing and more.
Warrior PATHH: Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes is funded by a grant from the Avalon Action Alliance to teach combat Veterans and first responders how to “struggle well” and achieve post-traumatic growth. This program is offered monthly, the first 7 days are held at the retreat; the remaining 3 months are delivered virtually with check ins.
Caregiver Program: TMF provides programming designed specifically for caregivers of recalibrated Veterans to encourage self-care, rest, relaxation and bonding with others in relatable situations. These include spouses, partners, parents and even siblings.
Ambassador Program: Recalibrated Veterans who have attended a program at TMF’s Retreat are selected and trained to represent TMF at various events across the country. It is a way for TMF participants to continue to be more involved with the organization, give back, and share the impact the Foundation has had on them.
Virtual Programming: Virtual programming was developed in response to the pandemic. TMF recognized that interacting with others without the hassle of travel and missing activities, school and work is better for some families. Participant families receive boxes of supplies and then they spend part of their weekend with TMF virtually, using the supplies for crafts, yoga a cooking class and more.
Offsite: TMF has established nation-wide partnerships to support activities that aren’t offered at the Retreat. TMF holds quarterly trips to the Atlanta Aquarium to allow Veterans to either snorkel with whale sharks and other gentle giants of the sea or to shark dive. TMF has also provided funding to allow families to accommodate their recalibrated Veteran on another trip, such as skiing, or other adapted activities.
The Recalibrate Program: New in 2022, the Recalibrate Program capitalizes on a participant’s motivation after attending the Retreat by providing financial assistance, goal setting, and long-term follow up. The program has helped pave a driveway, provide in-home cleaning services, bought a computer to help with a home business and more.
New programming in 2023 includes TMF’s Health & Wellness Center, featuring small and a large fitness rooms, a massage room and indoor pool. TMF aims to teach recalibrated Veterans and their families how to use mainstream fitness equipment at the Retreat so they can return home with the knowledge to stay healthy beyond their visits to Maine.
To apply for Family or Caregiver Programming at the Travis Mills Foundation: https://travismillsfoundation.org/request-an-application.
In 2019, TMF became one of only 10 locations to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) to post-911 combat Veterans and first responders to help achieve Post-Traumatic Growth.
To learn more, visit www.travismillsfoundation.org.
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