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Feature   Know Your Military

Former Soldier Stresses Importance of Blood Donations

April 25, 2022 | BY Claudia Sanchez-Bustamante, MHS Communications

In April 2012, a normal day at work turned ugly for Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills. On his third tour of duty, he and fellow soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division were on routine patrol in Afghanistan.

That day, Mills set down his pack at a rest stop, detonating an improvised explosive device.

A casually dressed man stands next to an easel displaying a placard and in front of a building with flags.
Travis Mills
Retired Staff Sgt. Travis Mills stands in front of his personalized plaque after being inducted into the All-American Hall of Fame Class of 2020 during a ceremony at the Hall of Heroes on Fort Bragg, N.C., July 9, 2020. The All-American Division inducted 12 veterans of the 82nd Airborne Division for their commitment to values, contributions to the division's legacy and valor in combat.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Solomon Abanda
VIRIN: 200708-A-VF357-108C

"I knew I was hit," he said. "I lifted my left arm and saw it was kind of tattered up pretty good." He said he heard a medic call for help to place tourniquets on his legs and arms and he wondered if he would live to see his baby girl again.

Life-Saving Blood

At the hospital in Kandahar, Mills needed blood — lots of it.

"They used over 400 units of blood, which, at the time, was the most blood ever given," Mills said. "The blood bank at the hospital in Kandahar ran out of blood that day, and people had to rush to donate [compatible blood] from their veins right directly to mine."

The blood transfusions saved his life, but the IED blast had injured him so severely that doctors amputated portions of both arms and legs.   

Army Sgt. First Class Alexander Voyce, one of the medics in Mills' unit who treated him at the scene of the blast, said he admired Mills ability to maintain a positive outlook in the face of such extreme injuries.

Never Give Up. Never Quit.

Mills said being in the military had been his dream. "I loved it. Working with soldiers every day, doing my job was the greatest for me," he recalled.

Mills' father, Dennis, said his son was destined for military service. He recalled Travis as an energetic, motivated, active, and friendly kid growing up in Vassar, Michigan. He was goofy, strong, loved to tease his younger brother, and he always stuck up for the underdogs. He left community college to enlist in the Army and excelled at being a soldier.

Two men, one in civilian clothes the other in uniform, stand in front of a backdrop noting that they are at the GI Film Festival.
GI Film Festival
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, pose for a picture on the red carpet of the eighth annual GI Film Festival at the Old Town Theater in Alexandria, Va., May 23, 2014. Mills is showcasing the documentary “Travis: A Soldier’s Story,” which features the inspiring, true story of how Mills survived and attack when he was deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. The film details Mills’ recovery as a quadruple amputee through interviews with him, his family and his fellow soldiers who witnessed the harrowing events.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Mikki Sprenkle
VIRIN: 140523-A-KH856-130

Army Sgt. 1st Class Josh Buck, Mills' friend, teammate and brother-in-law, said Mills' teammates knew they could rely on him.

"He's the guy that, when you're getting shot at, you would love [to have] him next to you no matter what because he's fearless in a gun fight," Buck said.

After moving for treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Mills set a personal goal to leave the hospital within 10 months.

He said he knew his wife and daughter were counting on him. "If I give up, I'm giving up on more than just myself," he recalled thinking. "I'd be giving up on my family." And he wouldn't do that.

"[Kelsey] and Chloe know that I'm gonna be fine — that they got nothing to worry about," said Mills. "Every day is a challenge, but it's not a challenge you can't overcome."

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Within five months, Mills had completed a 5-kilometer run in New York City using his new prosthetic legs.

A year later, he founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists wounded veterans and their families.

Now, 35 years old and a father of two, he speaks throughout the country, encouraging others to "never give up, never quit" in the face of life's challenges and reminding everyone to donate blood.

"Your donation of blood does matter."