US Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was supposed to have the day off on April 10, 2012, about six weeks after his third deployment to Afghanistan.
But late in the afternoon, a civilian informant tipped them off about improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near Maiwand, a town about 40 miles west of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city. .
Mills went out with his team around 4:30 p.m. to sweep the area. If they located an improvised explosive device, they would mark it and have an explosive ordnance disposal team come later to dispose of it.
Just 400 yards away, as one of his team’s minesweepers was scanning the ground, Mills dropped his backpack on an IED, setting off an explosion that would rip off both legs above the knee, his right arm below the shoulder and left arm under. the elbow.
Mills survived the blast and became one of five quadruple amputees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. After undergoing emergency medical care on the other side of the world, Mills was flown back to the United States to begin the healing process at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.
“I was visited in the hospital by a lot of amazing people, but it turned out that Gary Sinise came and met me and said, ‘Hey, you know, I’m Gary Sinise.'” And I said, ‘No, I know exactly who you are, sir,'” Mills told Fox News Digital.
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That 2012 encounter with Gary Sinise, an actor best known for his “Forrest Gump” portrayal of Lt. Dan, a soldier who loses both legs in Vietnam and initially resents Gump for saving him, but later learns to live a fulfilling life with his Injuries: sparked a decade of friendship and partnership.
“He’s a wonderful, inspiring guy,” Sinise told Fox News Digital. “I love him so much, and he’s done amazing things with his challenging situation. He just took that and turned it around.”
This month, the Gary Sinise Foundation is donating $1.5 million to the Travis Mills Foundation, funds that will go towards bringing veterans and their families to a new health and wellness center recently opened by Mills in Rome, Maine.
The center serves “recalibrated veterans,” a term Mills coined to refer to former soldiers who are learning to live full lives despite their physical injuries.
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Mills gives much of the credit to Sinise, who built him a smart home through his foundation’s RISE (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program in 2014.
“I thought, the Gary Sinise Foundation is building these amazing homes for these deserving service members who need it. It’s not just that they deserve it because they’re injured, but they really need it to live independently,” Mills said. .
“And I thought I could do something and bring those service members back together, and show them that they shouldn’t live on the fringes and be active in their society and active with their family.”
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Mills began the retreats at his Maine home in 2017 and will continue to bring dozens of wounded veterans and their families to the new wellness center, where they can learn adaptive activities like kayaking, fishing and archery.
“We try to give them not only the best week they’ve had all year at our facility, but we also want them to take these skills home and carry on,” said Mills.
Mills can help these veterans learn to adjust with a team of physical therapists, but also through his own experience going from college football player to quadruple amputee.
“I went from that to having no arms, no legs and then having two kids now that I can’t play ball in the backyard, I can’t play soccer, but I can go kayaking, I can go fishing, I can go snowboarding. believe it or not,” Mills said.
“Life really is all about perspective. For me, I was lucky to get over my injuries… It’s just me. It’s my new normal. And I realize the price I could have paid, and I think having perspective helped me.” It has led to where I am today, because some of my great friends didn’t make it home, they didn’t make it home to their daughters, their sons, their spouses, and their loved ones.”
For Sinise, his dedication to service members goes back decades, initially supporting veterans’ groups in the Chicago area in the 1980s after the Vietnam War.
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Playing Lt. Dan on “Forrest Gump” magnified his relationship with service members in the 1990s, and the 9/11 attacks prompted him to form the “Lt. Dan Band” in 2003, with which he toured military bases around the world while the Americans were dispatched. Exterior.
“Lots of people like [Travis] I met, they just motivated me to keep coming back and doing a little more,” Sinise said.
“I feel like I’m just a conduit for many, many grateful Americans who want to do some support for the men and women who serve our country.”