Amid the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan, Travis Mills is on a mission to support servicemen who “have done good”

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ROME – The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat was buzzing with substandard late-summer activities.

No family was in residence on Wednesday, and volunteers and staff were on the job to complete all the tasks, big and small, that keep the organization going. The expansive lawn that stretches from the retirement home to the shore of Long Pond was being mowed, while elsewhere in the resort staff were coordinating the delivery of a grill that will be used in a pickup. of funds later in the day. Two other workers made their way to a maze where a roof to cover it is being built.

In the middle of it all is Travis Mills, the charismatic ringmaster. In 2012, while serving with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan, he lost parts of both his legs and both arms when he unknowingly put his backpack on an improvised explosive device. The retired Staff Sergeant is one of the few to survive such severe injuries and spent over a year and a half at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before launching his historic foundation and becoming withdraw years later.

Now he’s on a new assignment.

Travis Mills stands on a second-floor terrace during a Wednesday visit to the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in Rome. Joe Phelan / Journal Kennebec

While the conduct of the retreat operations and planning for its future remain a top priority, Mills recently commented very publicly on the controversial withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. As the August 31 deadline for the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches, the two-decade-long war that began in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks is once again on the agenda as violence erupts in across the country and foreign nationals and Afghans scramble to get out within days.

According to the White House, around 105,000 people have been evacuated from the country since August 14, the day before the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul. Since the end of July, around 110,600 people have been evacuated. Meanwhile, a suicide bombing at Kabul airport on Thursday killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, while at least 20 Marines were injured.

News of the chaotic and deadly pullout from Afghanistan brought more attention to the Mills Foundation and its work helping wounded veterans, but he said it would not change the foundation’s essential and ongoing work.

Some of that attention has come from his recent media appearances on local and national television, where he has been outspoken about the value of service of military personnel who have served in Afghanistan. On CBS Sunday morning, Mills said he had a three-word message “to my fellow veterans who have courageously served in Afghanistan for the past two decades and to all the Gold Star families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“We did well,” he said on the national broadcast, amid images and videos showing the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. “I know it may not be feeling that way at this immediate moment.”

The view from the Second Bridge of the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in Rome. The foundation also has buildings across the road on Long Pond. Joe Phelan / Journal Kennebec

Mills expanded on this message Wednesday during a visit to the retreat.

“I think it’s important that the veterans who sacrificed their lives, their bodies and their time to go overseas and fight, know that we haven’t failed,” Mills said. “It wasn’t a mission failure. If anything, we weren’t allowed to win. But what we won on were the structures we built and the people we helped. We did a very good thing there.

While some people wonder what the war is for, Mills said the U.S. military has done the job it was supposed to do. Mills expressed support for the withdrawal of US troops and believed it should have happened years ago.

“We won’t have any more Afghan families coming here because of the loss of a limb,” he said, “so I guess that’s positive, and we’ll just keep on trucking, you know? “

PART OF THE WORK

As he pointed out the historic features of the former summer estate of cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden and the family characteristics that the renovated retreat offers in residential and leisure spaces, Mills does not lose sight of the foundation’s mission which named after him: helping injured veterans and their families overcome physical and emotional barriers.

“We all joined the military voluntarily, and no one was forced to do so,” he said. “We did the job assigned to us and some unfortunate things happened with myself and other guys I know personally who didn’t come home or were injured. It was just part of the job.

With the end of August, the eight week summer retreat season is over. This year, 52 families were able to take an all-expense-paid week-long vacation to spend time relaxing and learning coping strategies.

Mills, who is a motivational speaker, author, and business owner, doesn’t spend much time in retirement; he will spend time chatting with veterans and their families at mealtimes. The work of pension management is at the center of its qualified staff and a host of volunteers.

He is now focusing on the next set of events. On September 11, the Building Strength Gala will be held at the retreat to benefit the foundation’s health and wellness center. Tickets for the gala are sold out, but the silent auction being held at the same time is online and open to the public.

Travis Mills stands inside a tiny house with elaborate log cabin-style wall coverings on a Wednesday visit to the Travis Mills Foundation veterans retreat in Rome. Joe Phelan / Journal Kennebec

The foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH program, a program designed for veterans and first responders to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth and turn moments of struggle into moments of strength and growth. It consists of a seven-day on-site initiation followed by 18 months of training. The Travis Mills Foundation is one of 10 sites where the program is currently offered.

Warrior PATHH stands for Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes.

“We stay within what we do because our donors and the people who champion our mission with us or for us expect us to do what we do,” he said.

DO NOT LOSE STEAM

Mills rushed into the main retreat building on Wednesday, stopping to speak to the Kelly Roseberry Foundation COO and staff members he said are late. It’s like he’s still a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, keeping everyone on a schedule.

Mills and his wife, Kelsey, had already started an outreach effort, donating $ 5,000 of their own money to send military care packages starting in 2008. After her recovery, they took that impetus a bit. further, by creating the Travis Mills Foundation, which opened its lakeside retreat in the summer of 2017.

Going forward, more PATHH sessions are planned and a Vietnamese-era veterans assistance program is on the horizon.

The 9,800-square-foot wellness center, connected to the retreat by a tunnel, will feature an indoor pool, fitness center and massage rooms. When it was first announced in 2019, the project was valued at $ 4.3 million. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of construction has been delayed and costs have increased to around $ 7 million.

An addition to a retired Travis Mills Foundation veterans lodge in Rome is planned at the site. Joe Phelan / Journal Kennebec

An open house will be held the next day to allow the public to view the facility which is otherwise closed to protect the privacy of recalibrated veterans and their families.

In October, the Travis Mills Plane Pull at the Portland International Jetport is open for teams of 20 to compete to pull the fastest 80-ton FedEx 747. There is still room for teams to register and for sponsors.

Mills and his staff have information on these and other events at their fingertips, and during the tour, he takes time to highlight the contributions individuals and organizations have made to the Retreat: The Bridge, courtesy of Maine Cabin Masters, the obstacle course and climbing wall provided by Mike Rowe of fame “Dirty Jobs”, and interior design and furnishings donated by Wayfair.

The importance of fundraising is clearly on Mills’ mind, as it is also a bridge to what will happen next for the foundation. Mills said he’s been approached by people interested in open retreats in other parts of the country, and he’s not ruling out that.

He has a five-year plan to create an endowment of $ 50 million, but that’s not something he can talk about yet.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to really lose speed. What we’re doing is helping veterans, and we’re kind of leading the charge by bringing nonprofits together to determine which nonprofits are best for which situation, ”he said. declared. “We don’t want people to have desperate and urgent needs and contact us and we don’t have the right response or treatment for them. We have the right answer for who they need to call.


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