Guest Column: Veteran faces spiritual as well as physical struggle

Light one Candle
By Tony Rossi
It was April 10, 2012, and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. He and his team were sent to an area to check for IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and according to their minesweeping device, there was nothing dangerous in the ground. Mills, therefore, took off his backpack and put it down next to him. But the minesweeper had been wrong.
A hidden IED exploded, ripping off Mills’s right arm at the bicep and right knee at the leg joint. His left leg was broken, barely held on by a few pieces of muscle and tendon at the knee. Medics rushed over, but Mills told them to leave him alone because he believed there was no way he could be saved. They ignored him, evacuating him to Kandahar.
As doctors prepped him for surgery, Mills’s left leg came off when they pulled his pants down. He had already lost three of his limbs. And on April 12th, his left arm had to be amputated mid-wrist.
After being under heavy sedation for several days, Mills woke up on April 14th as one of only five quadruple amputees to survive injuries in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was his 25th birthday.
His battles weren’t over yet, though. Mills was in excruciating pain, both physically and mentally. He feared that his wife Kelsey and baby daughter Chloe would see him as a monster. And then there was God. Mills had lived a pretty upstanding life, so saying he was angry at God for allowing this to happen would be an understatement.
His physical pain was eventually resolved through a revolutionary treatment called a ketamine coma, which reset Mills’s nerve endings, allowing him to live pain free. And prosthetics allow him to function normally. When he tried to convince Kelsey that she should leave him because he was too much of a burden, she refused and assured him that she would be staying true to her marriage vows. And six-month-old Chloe?
As Mills told me during an interview about his Christopher Award-winning memoir “Tough As They Come,” she just sees him as “regular old Dad.”
Spiritually speaking, Mills still had some issues. While he was recovering in the hospital, his sister-in-law brought him a plaque with the words of Joshua 1:9 on it: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
He told her to take it away because he didn’t believe those words anymore. “What did God do?” he asked her. “Did he take a smoke break? Did he quit on me?”
She left the plaque where it was despite his protests. Eventually, Mills came to a new understanding of God’s role in our lives. He said, “I realized it’s not okay to just be a believer when things are going your way. That’s not how this works. It was important for me to realize that I had my family, I had my life, I had the ability to do things. As much as I was upset about the situation, God had a plan for me to keep going forward.”
Part of that forward movement involves running the Travis Mills Foundation, which supports fellow wounded warriors and their families by showing them that they can still live a life of accomplishment, purpose, and love. That’s not just speculation or happy talk. It’s a truth that Travis Mills exemplifies each day.
(Tony Rossi is the Communications Director for The Christophers, a Catholic media company. The mission of The Christophers is to encourage people of all ages, and from all walks of life, to use their God-given talents to make a positive difference in the world. Learn more at