“TOUGH AS THEY COME”

In honor of Veterans Day, MetroFocus speaks with Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, one of only five quadruple amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. He discusses his new book “Tough As They Come,” how he continues to overcome life’s challenges and why he became an advocate for veterans and amputees.

Aired on November 10, 2017.

TRANSCRIPT

> ON 9/11 OUR CITY AND WORLD CHANGED FOREVER, THE LOSS ALMOST UNIMAGINABLE, THE REACTION SWIFT AS TROOPS WERE DEPLOYED TO HUNT DOWN THE EVILDOERS IN BOTH AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ.

WE ALL HAVE STORIES OF THAT HORRIFIC DAY AND THE YEARS THAT FOLLOWED BUT FEW PEOPLE HAVE EXPERIENCED LOSS LIKE MY NEXT GUEST, MEET ARMY STAFF SERGEANT TRAVIS MILLS.

MY JOB WAS THE MILITARY.

I LOVED IT.

YOU KNOW.

WORKING WITH SOLDIERS EVERY DAY, DOING MY JOB WAS LIKE THE GREATEST FOR ME.

HAVING MY WIFE AND KID WAS THE BEST.

I HAD A REALLY GOOD LIFE MAPPED OUT.

I WAS REALLY DOING WELL.

WHEN PEOPLE CALL ME A HERO, I'M NOT SURE WHAT PART OF IT MAKES ME A HERO.

I JUST HAD A NORMAL DAY AT WORK.

THAT TURNED UGLY.

ABOUT SIX SECONDS, I GUESS, LATER.

I WOKE UP.

A MEDIC CAME RUNNING UP AT ME.

I NEED MORE PEOPLE OVER HERE, TOURNIQUETS!

> IN 20 SECONDS HE HAD TOURNIQUETS ON BOTH LEGS AND ARMS.

I SAID, MY BABY GIRL, AM I EVER GOING TO SEE HER AGAIN?

I'M GETTING TEARED UP A LITTLE, SORRY.

I WAS REALLY WORRIED ABOUT WHAT LIFE WAS GOING TO BE LIKE AFTERWARDS.

YOU KNOW, WITH ALL THIS.

WE LOVE YOU, DADDY.

TOLD THEM, I'M GETTING OUT OF HERE IN TEN MONTHS.

THEY SAID, WHY, WHAT'S YOUR BIG RUSH?

I SAID, LOOK BEHIND YOU.

I HAD PICTURES OF I MY WIFE AND DAUGHTER.

I HAVE A FAMILY.

GET ME OUT OF HERE.

JOINING ME IS ARMY STAFF SERGEANT TRAVIS MILLS, AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK 'TOUGH AS THEY COME.'

SALVE SERGEANT MILLS FOUGHT THREE TOURS OF SERVICE DEFENDING OUR FREEDOM.

THE LAST WAS VOLUNTARY ON HIS PART.

IT WAS DURING THAT TOUR HE WAS WOUNDED.

HE CAME HOME A HERO AND A QUADRUPLE AMPUTEE.

HE JOINS US TODAY TO TALK WITH US.

IT'S OUR PLEASURE TO HAVE YOU, TRAVIS, NICE TO SEE YOU.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME, ABSOLUTELY.

WE SAW A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED THERE.

GIVE FOLKS AN UNDERSTANDING OF THIS BECAUSE I WANT TO TALK ABOUT MUCH MORE WHAT YOU'VE BEEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE SINCE.

YOU'RE A MEMBER OF THE LEGENDARY 82nd AIRBORNE DIVISION.

THE BEST.

YOU'RE BACK FOR A THIRD TOUR OF DUTY.

YOU HAD SAID TO YOUR WIFE, YOU FELT LIKE YOU HAD TO GO BACK THIS TIME.

WHY DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAD TO GO BACK?

I MEAN, I HAD OPPORTUNITY TO GO, I HAD ORDERS TO TAKE ME SOMEWHERE ELSE, TO TEXAS.

AND -- TO BUILD A BRIGADE UP, THEY WANTED COMBAT NC Os.

BUT I DIDN'T FEEL RIGHT ABOUT IT.

I HAD GUYS I TRAINED WITH, GUYS THAT CAME OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL AND ARE FRESH INTO THE ARMY, LOOK UP TO ME, I TAUGHT THEM HOW TO DO EVERYTHING.

MY WIFE UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS A CALLING, IT'S A BROTHERHOOD, AND YOU DON'T TURN YOUR BACK ON THEM.

WHEN IT CAME DOWN TO IT, I SAID SERGEANT MAJOR, I DON'T THINK I CAN ACCEPT THESE ORDERS, IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THIS?

THIS THIRD DEPLOYMENT COMING UP FOR ME, I'VE BEEN WITH 4th BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM THE WHOLE TIME ARE I JUST HAVE TO GO.

HE SAID HE'LL LOOK INTO IT, TAKE CARE OF IT, HE DID.

IT'S JUST PART OF THE JOB.

YOU DON'T LEAVE YOUR BROTHERS IN ARMS BY THEMSELVES.

IF YOU HAVEN'T HFD, I THINK SOMETIMES IT'S DIFFICULT FOR PEOPLE TO APPRECIATE THAT.

PEOPLE WHO HAVE SERVED, TO THEM IT'S THE MOST NATURAL THING TO DO.

IT'S A FAMILY THAT'S VERY DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS.

IS THAT A FAIRWAY TO CHARACTERIZE IT?

I THINK SO.

I THINK IT'S KIND OF LIKE -- BEING ON A SPORTS TEAM.

YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE YOUR FRIENDS YOU PLAY SPORTS WITH AND YOU'RE REAL TIGHT WITH THEM, PRACTICE WITH THEM EVERY DAY.

IN THE ARMY IT'S DIFFERENT BECAUSE YOU LIVE WITH THEM, YOU EAT WITH THEM, AND YOU DO EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO, BUT WHERE ON A SPORTS TEAM YOU PRACTICE PLAYS AND WIN AND LOSE IT'S OKAY.

IN ARMY OR MILITARY SERVICE, YOU PRACTICE TAKING DOWN THREATS.

IF YOU DON'T, SOMEBODY MIGHT NOT WALK AWAY.

SO IT'S A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT.

BUT I DIDN'T FEEL OBLIGATED TO GO, I WANTED TO GO.

IT WAS VOLUNTARY TO JOIN THE MILITARY.

DEPLOYMENT CAME UP, GUYS LOOKED AT ME AS THEIR LOSS BOSS, I COULDN'T SEE ANYTHING ELSE THAN GOING OVERSEAS.

MY WIFE KNEW THAT.

WE HAD A BABY DUE --

SHE UNDERSTOOD.

SHE UNDERSTOOD.

TAKES A SPECIAL TYPE OF SPOUSE.

ABSOLUTELY.

THE BEST.

YOU'RE LUCKY.

I'M NOT SAYING THAT BECAUSE SHE'S WATCHING.

I'LL TELL YOU, YOU SAID THAT TO ME EVEN BEFORE WE WERE ON THE AIR.

YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT IN THE FILM ABOUT HOW IT HAPPENED.

ESSENTIALLY YOU'RE IN AN AREA, IEDs EVERYBODY THOUGHT HAD BEEN CLEARED, YOU SIMPLY DROPPED YOUR BACKPACK AND ALL OF A SUDDEN IT GOES OFF.

YEP.

YOU'RE ON THE GROUND.

DID YOU KNOW THE EXTENT OF YOUR INJURIES?

OH YEAH.

APRIL 10th, 2012, I WAS WALKING AROUND, GROUND PATROL, EVERYTHING NORMAL.

WE HAD A MINE SWEEPER IN GRANT, BRANDON, HE WAS GOING UP AND DOWN THE MOUNDS TO CHECK, NOTHING PINGED, NOTHING MADE A SOUND, NOTHING ACTED DIFFERENT.

SO I SAID, OKAY, COOL.

HAD MY TEAM LEADER COME UP, TOLD HIM TO GET THE GUN UP HERE, BOOK MY BAG OFF.

80 TO 110 POUNDS DEPENDING ON WHAT WE HAD IN IT.

WE PUT THEM ON THE GROUND BECAUSE WE LINK OUR ARMS TOGETHER.

INSTEAD OF HAVING OUR BIG GUN CREW WEAPONS WITH 300 ROUNDS, WE HAD ABOUT 2,000 AT ANY GIVEN TIME.

I SET MY BAG DOWN, WITHIN A SECOND, INSTANT, THE BOMB WENT OFF.

RIPPED OFF MY RIGHT ARM, RIGHT LEG IMMEDIATELY.

I DID A REAL HARD SLAM TO THE GROUND.

MY LEFT EYE SWELLED SHUT.

MY LEFT LEG WAS A COUPLE OF PIECES OF TENDON AND MUSCLE HOLDING IT ON, NOTHING CRAZY.

MY LEFT HAND WAS STILL THERE BUT THE WRIST WAS BLOWN OUT PRETTY GOOD.

MY RING AND PINKY FINGER WERE GONE.

I REACHED UP, HIT MY MIKE, 'HEY, LT, I THINK I HIT A BOMB, WE'RE GOING TO NEED YOUR MEDIC OVER HERE.'

I HAD A MEDIC ALREADY WITH MY ELEMENT.

MY MEDIC WAS WORKING ON ME, I TOLD HIM TO SAVE MY GUYS, MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS MY SOLDIERS.

AGAIN, IT DOESN'T SURPRISE ME, KNOWING WHAT I'VE LEARNED ABOUT YOU THAT YOUR FIRST THOUGHT WAS FOR YOUR GUYS, YOUR SOLDIERS.

DID YOU THINK AT THAT TIME YOU WERE GOING TO SURVIVE?

NO, NO.

I'VE SEEN WOUNDS A LOT LESS SEVERE -- TO ME, A LOT LESS SEVERE THAN WHAT I HAD, AND THOSE GUYS DIDN'T MAKE IT.

I DIDN'T WANT TO GO OUT CRYING.

I TOLD MY MEDIC, GET AWAY FROM ME, IT'S COOL, DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT, I GET WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN, TELL ME FAMILY I LOVE THEM, AND SAVE MY GUYS.

HE TOLD ME, I'M DOING MY JOB.

I KEPT TELLING HIM, SERIOUSLY GO.

HE WORKED ON ME, THE OTHER MEDIC WORKED ON ME, WITHIN TEN MINUTES THEY HAD ME GETTING READY TO GO TO THE HELICOPTER.

WHILE I WAS ON THE HOCKEY, TWO OTHER GUYS THAT GOT HURT WERE WITH ME.

AND I WAS TRYING TO YELL AT THE FLIGHT CREW, HEY, HEY, TAKE MY HELMET OFF, BECAUSE I CAN'T HEAR.

I FINALLY GOT THEM TO TAKE THE HELMET OFF.

I TOLD THEM, GIVE MY GUYS WATER.

A LOT OF GUY WAS YELLING OUT IN PAIN, HE HAD EVERY RIGHT, BIG HOLES IN HIS LEGS.

THEY COULDN'T BELIEVE THAT.

WROTE A NICE PIECE IN THE BOOK, 'TOUGH AS THEY COME,' NICE THINGS THEY WROTE TO MY WIFE THAT THEY DOESN'T BELIEVE IN MY SITUATION.

MADE TO IT THE AMBULANCE, OPERATING TABLE.

I KEPT TRYING TO SIT UP, QUIT TOUCHING ME, I'VE GOT TO GET BACK TO MY GUYS.

THEY SAID, I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU'RE STILL COHERENT, YOU NEED TO GO TO SLEEP NOW.

THE LAST THING I SAID, MY BABY GIRL, AM I EVER GOING TO SEE HER AGAIN?

AT THE TIME I HAD A 4-MONTH-OLD WHEN I DEPLOYED, A 6-MONTH-OLD WHEN I GOT HIT.

AS SOON AS I REALIZED THE SITUATION, GOING INTO OPERATION, MY GUYS ARE TAKEN CARE OF, IT'S TIME TO START THINKING ABOUT OTHER THINGS LIKE MY FAMILY, MY WIFE, MY KID.

YOU SHOWED ME A WONDERFUL PICTURE OF THAT LITTLE BABY GIRL, JUST TURNED 4.

JUST TURNED 4.

SHE'S MY BEST FRIEND, WE HANG OUT.

YEAH, THEY PUT ME ON THE OPERATING TABLE, TWO DAYS LATER THEY CUT MY LEFT HAND OFF THE REST OF THE WAY.

BACKTRACKING, THEY PULL THE MY LEFT LEG TO OPERATE ON ME, THE LEFT LEG CAME OFF WITH THE PANTS.

THAT WAS EASY, DIDN'T HAVE TO CUT THAT OFF.

I CAN JOKE AROUND ABOUT IT NOW BECAUSE IT IS WHAT IT IS --

I WAS GOING TO ASK ABOUT THAT.

YEAH, BETHESDA, WALTER REED, GREAT CARE, AWESOME PLACE.

17th OF APRIL, MY WIFE HAD TO TELL THEM TO CUT MORE OF MY LEG OFF.

I CAME OUT OF SURGERY, TALKED TO HER THE 18th OR 19th, AND I TOLD HER, YOU DON'T SIGN ON FOR THIS, TAKE EVERYTHING THAT WE HAVE, IT'S YOURS.

TAKE ANYTHING IN THE ACCOUNT THAT WE HAVE, NOT THAT WE HAD A LOT OF MONEY, BUT WHATEVER.

I'M NOT GOING TO HOLD ANY GRUDGE.

YOU DON'T GOT TO DO THIS.

WHAT DID THEY SAY?

SHE SAID, DON'T BE SILLY.

I SAID, I CAN'T OPEN ANYTHING, JARS, I CAN'T PICK ANYTHING HEAVY UP.

SHE TOLD ME, THAT'S NOT WHAT I GOT MARRIED FOR, TO LEAVE YOU AT A TIME LIKE THIS I'M GOING TO BE HERE FOR YOU.

THEN IT WAS TIME TO MAKE A DECISION.

HAVE SOMEONE SPOON FEED ME OR BE A FATHER FIGURE TO MY DAUGHTER, WHO IS MY BEST FRIEND, AND TEACH HER HOW TO DO EVERYTHING.

I GOT TO LEARN HOW TO WALK WITH MY DAUGHTER.

PARENTS SAY THEY LEARN HOW TO WALK WITH THEIR DEADS.

Jimmy: I KNOW YOU WERE ACTIVE, AN ATHLETE IN, FOOTBALL PLAYER, HIGH SCHOOL, JUNIOR COLLEGE.

IS PART OF THIS -- AND ALL THESE PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES NOT JUST FOR YOU BUT TO SHOW OTHERS ALSO?

I THINK IT'S VERY IMPORTANT TO LET PEOPLE KNOW, WITH MY SITUATION, I'M NOT, YOU KNOW, LIVING LIFE ON THE SIDELINES.

I'M OUT THERE BEING ACTIVE.

DOING WHATEVER I CAN DO.

AND THAT'S THE REASON THE FOUNDATION'S AROUND BECAUSE I BRING OUT GUYS THIS THE MY SITUATION, GIRLS IN MY SITUATION, AND SHOW THEM.

YOU CAN ADAPT AND DO THINGS.

I THINK IT WAS THE MOST REWARDING TRIP I'VE EVER DONE.

I WENT TO BRECKENRIDGE, COLORADO.

I LEARNED HOW TO SNOWBOARD AND LEARNED HOW TO MONO SKI.

I DON'T REALLY CARE FOR MONO SKIING THAT MUCH, I CAN'T REALLY DO IT AS INDEPENDENTLY.

SNOWBOARDING, I LEARNED HOW TO SNOWBOARD ON MY SHORT LEGS FIVE MONTHS AFTER MY EXPLOSION.

I NEVER LOOKED BACK.

LIKE OKAY, THIS CAN BE DONE.

YOU'VE GOT A GREAT PROGRAM THAT YOU PUT TOGETHER UP IN MAINE, WHAT IS THE PROGRAM DOING?

WE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO, WE WANTED TO GIVE BACK, THOUGHT ABOUT CERTAINTYING CARE PACKAGES OVERSEAS.

PEANUT BUTTER AND M&Ms, PEPPER BEEF JERKY, GUM, GUMMY BEARS.

THAT'S ALL THEY WANT.

THAT'S ALL I WANTED, ANYWAY.

SOMETHING SIMPLE.

MAYBE $3,000 TO $5,000 HOPEFULLY A YEAR WE COULD RAISE OR GIVE BACK, BECAUSE ALL THE LOVE AND SUPPORT WE WERE SHOWN.

BUT REALLY, WE HAD A CONVERSATION WITH A GENTLEMAN ABOUT ALL THE THINGS I WAS DOING, HOW GREAT IT WAS.

WE KNEW -- MY WIFE WANTED TO MOVE TO MAINE SO WE WERE GOING TO MOVE TO MAINE.

WE THOUGHT, LET'S HOST A CAMP, SEE HOW THIS GOES.

PHENOMENAL, WE BROUGHT UP GUYS IN MY SITUATION AND THEIR FAMILIES.

AND SHOWED THEM HOW TO KAYAK, CANOE, BOAT, FISH, SWIM, TUBE.

LITERALLY, ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE.

AND SO THIS PAST YEAR WE PURCHASED A PROPERTY.

THE ELIZABETH ARDEN ESTATE.

SHE BUILT THAT IN 1929.

SHE WAS LIKE ONE OF THE PIONEER IN COSMETICS AND PRACTICES AND THINGS.

NOW WE'RE UNDER A MASSIVE, MASSIVE RECONSTRUCTION.

WE'RE LOOKING TO RAISE $2.7 MILLION.

AND ALL THE UPDATES ARE ONLINE.

WE KEEP PEOPLE REALLY INFORMED.

EVERYBODY CAN GO TO TRAVISMILLS.ORG AND KEEP IN TOUCH.

IT IS SOMETHING WE BELIEVE IN.

WE'VE HAD SUCH GREAT SUCCESSES.

FOUR OF THE SIX FAMILIES THE LAST TWO YEARS.

WE WANT TO BRING PEOPLE UP AND SHOW THEM THAT THEY CAN DO THINGS.

AND BUILD A NETWORK.

HONESTLY, NEW YORK CITY HAS I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE, AND I HAVEN'T SEEN ONE OTHER AMPUTEE WALKING AROUND HERE THE LAST 12 HOURS.

I'M TRYING TO BUILD THAT NETWORK SO PEOPLE IN MY SITUATION KNOW THEY'RE NOT ALONE, THAT IT'S OKAY TO FEEL COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN SKIN.

PEOPLE STARE AT YOU, JUST SAY HELLO AND OPEN UP.

IF THEY HAVE ANY QUESTIONS I'D LIKE TO HAVE THEM CALL ME, E-MAIL ME, TALK TO ME ABOUT ANYTHING THEY'RE GOING THROUGH.

I WAS FORTUNATE TO BE A PEER MENTOR AT WALTER REED.

AT FIRST, HEY, TALK TO THIS GUY IN THIS ROOM, I CAN'T TELL YOU HIS NAME BUT HE'S NOT IN 48, HE'S NOT IN 50, HE MIGHT BE SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN THERE.

THEN I WENT TO, OKAY, TRAVIS, JOE UPSTAIRS, HIS MOM, DAD, SISTER AND BROTHER, HERE, AND HE'S IN ROOM 830 OR WHATEVER.

THEY'RE EXPECTING YOU 2:00 IF YOU CAN MAKE IT, I TOLD THEM YOU COULD.

EVENTUALLY THEY STARTED REFERRING TO YOU AS THE MAYOR?

THEY DID, YEAH.

THE BUILDING WE LIVED IN, BUILDING 62, I WOULD STRAP CHLOE IN WITH A SEAT BELT, SHE KNEW THE SIGN LANGUAGE FOR GRAPES.

BECAUSE SHE COULDN'T TALK YET.

GO TO THE CAFETERIA, GET A BOWL OF GRAPES, THREE OR FOUR.

DRIVE AROUND AND STOP IN PEOPLE'S ROOMS AND ASK HOW EVERYTHING'S GOING.

SEE IF THEY HAVE ANY QUESTIONS.

I WAS HIGHER RANKING THAT WAS MOST OF THE GUYS THAT GOT HIT.

THEY HAD ANY ISSUES AND THEY COULDN'T TALK TO THE COMMAND, I WOULD DO IT FOR THEM.

ONE OF THE THINGS WE'VE LEARN THE I THINK OVER THE YEARS IS THAT THE REAL HEROES NEVER THINK OF THEMSELVES AS HEROES.

I KNOW YOU'VE SAID THAT.

OH, YEAH.

THAT YOU'RE NOT A HERO.

I'M GOING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING, TO US AND A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE, YOU ARE.

I APPRECIATE THAT.

THANK YOU FOR SPENDING SOME TIME.

THANK YOU FOR THE GOOD WORK YOU'RE DOING FOR OTHERS.

A PLEASURE MEETING YOU.

I APPRECIATE THAT.

YOU KNOW, IN THE BOOK I TOLD THEM THEY HAD TO WRITE IT SPECIFICALLY AS I WANTED IT.

THE BIG THING I TELL PEOPLE, I DIDN'T SIGN UP AND DO ANY MORE THAN ANYBODY ELSE.

I JUST HAD A ROUGH DAY AT WORK.

ANYBODY THAT SERVED, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

I TELL PEOPLE THAT MY PROBLEMS ARE NO MORE THAN ANYBODY ELSE'S.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE TRAUMATICALLY INJURED TO READ THIS BOOK AND GET SOMETHING OUT OF IT.

NO MATTER WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH, I DON'T THINK I'M ANY MORE SPECIAL, I JUST HAD A PLATFORM TO TALK AND I APPRECIATE IT.

ALSO I'LL TELL YOUR CHLOE SHE HAS A SPECIAL DAD.

THANKS.

THANKS, MAN.

DO WELL.

THE BOOK 'TOUGH AS THEY COME.'

WRITTEN BY A TRUE AMERICAN HERO, ARMY STAFF SERGEANT TRAVIS MILLS.

WE'RE DELIGHTED HE SPENT SOME TIME WITH US.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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