‘He's Still Here'
Less than a month after Staff Sgt. Travis Mills lost his arms and legs in a southern Afghanistan terrorist attack, his wife, Kelsey, paused to reflect on an unimaginable ordeal.
"I can either curl up in a ball and cry or keep going," Kelsey told The Unknown Soldiers by phone from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on May 8. "I choose the latter."
Amazingly, Kelsey's husband has also kept going. From the moment he woke up without his limbs after an enemy improvised explosive device detonated on Apr. 10, Staff Sgt. Mills has been preoccupied with the well-being of his fellow 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers still fighting in Afghanistan.
"He worries about them constantly," Kelsey said. "He makes me message them daily to make sure they're safe."
While fellow soldiers were injured in the attack, Travis was relieved to learn they are healing. In this brave soldier's mind, if anyone was going to live out his life as a quadruple amputee, it was going to be him.
"He wouldn't have let this happen to any of his guys, and that's why it didn't happen to any of his guys," Kelsey explained. "He was always the first in line anywhere they went."
The 23-year-old Army wife had one source of comfort after the shocking news of her husband's severe wounds changed her life. Her brother, Staff Sgt. Joshua Buck, was also deployed to Afghanistan at the time of the attack and accompanied Travis home to the United States.
"I woke up in Germany, and I would have been alone," Kelsey quoted her husband as saying at Walter Reed. "I couldn't have faced it without Josh."
Through searing pain and the thick haze of medication, Travis' biggest fear wasn't death or adjusting to life as a wounded warrior. It was the panic his wife and their seven-month-old daughter, Chloe, would endure the first time they saw him without arms and legs.
Travis, 25, has spent his entire adult life putting others before himself.
"He'd give you the shirt off his back without hesitation," the soldier's wife said. "If you meet him, you'll never forget him."
Kelsey's quote is demonstrated by a national outpouring that started in the soldier's hometown of Vassar, Mich.
"Sometimes he says, 'Oh my God, why do people care so much, I was just doing my job,'" Kelsey said. "And I say, 'You did a lot and have given a lot for all of them.'"
After Fox News aired a segment about the wounded soldier and his family, hundreds of supporters became hundreds of thousands. Contributions poured in to the Travis Mills Family Fund, and stellar charities like the Fisher House Foundation, Gary Sinise Foundation, and Travis Manion Foundation stepped up to help Travis, Kelsey, Chloe, and close relatives.
"He gets letters at the hospital daily," she said. "People write such nice things."
While grateful for the media attention her husband's ordeal has garnered, Kelsey worries that the war in Afghanistan is fading from our daily national consciousness.
"I wouldn't have known any of these stories if I wasn't here walking through the hospital," she said. "I never would have met these families or known what they're going through."
Kelsey believes the overwhelming support for Travis proves that if the national media reported more frequently about the sacrifices of our troops in Afghanistan, the country would rally around the military community.
"This shows me that people will pay attention," she said.
All of Kelsey's attention is devoted to making sure her husband knows he has a wife and baby girl who will always love him unconditionally.
"I'm looking forward to living a normal life," Kelsey said. "But right now, I don't know what normal is."
The next time life gets you down, think of Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, his remarkable wife, and their courageous loved ones. Amid some of the most daunting physical and emotional challenges that human beings can experience, they are — incredibly — staying positive.
"I'm happy that my husband is still alive," Kelsey Mills said. "He's still here."
To find out more about Tom Sileo or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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