Documentary focuses on soldier's recovery as quadruple amputee
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
If all goes as planned, Staff Sgt. Travis Mills will watch a documentary in a Fayetteville theater this evening.
And when the credits roll, Mills, the star of the film, will stand and shake the hands of everyone who watched alongside him.
Mills admits that this simple act would have seemed impossible during the beginning of his stay at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Mills, a soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division, was critically injured by an improvised explosive device on April 10, 2012, in Afghanistan.
The blast destroyed parts of Mills' arms and legs, and he became just the fifth quadruple amputee from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries.
"Travis: A Soldier's Story" will examine those injuries and Mill's path to rehabilitation.
The hour-long feature film will premiere in Fayetteville at the Carmike 12 in Westwood Shopping Center. It is produced by the nonprofit organization Fotolanthropy.
Mills, who is attached to a Wounded Warrior Battalion at Walter Reed until he retires from the military next month, traveled to Fayetteville for the premiere.
He expects to see many familiar faces, in particular his battle buddies from the 4th Brigade Combat Team.
"Fort Bragg is where I grew up," Mills said. "I came here when I was 18 and spent 6 1/2years here before I was injured.
"It will always hold a special place in my heart."
Mills, his wife, Kelsey, and their daughter - now 2 years old - lived in Raeford while he was stationed at Fort Bragg.
That's where filmmakers Katie Norris and Jonathon Link first met Mills last fall.
The pair traveled as part of Norris' Fotolanthropy - an organization that creates short, 10-minute films "to capture inspiring true stories of families or individuals that have faced hard times."
"Our focus is finding these everyday heroes," Norris said. "His story, it was just really moving to me."
Norris said she was nervous when she first met Mills, but he quickly put her at ease - even offering a "fist bump" at their first meeting.
That day, the family filmed at Fort Bragg's Mott Lake, and Norris said she quickly realized that she wanted to make more than a short film.
"You could just see his big personality," she said. "It was moving. He has gone through so much. It's inspiring."
"Travis: A Soldier's Story" begins with a picture of Mills before the injuries.
Later in the film, and with the help of special effects makeup artists, a re-enactment of the blast is portrayed by Mills and his real-life rescuers, combat medics Sgt. Daniel Bateson and Sgt. Alexander Voyce and soldiers Ryan Theriot and Brandon Fessey, who also were injured in the blast.
Mills said that scene could be difficult for some to watch, but that it doesn't bother him.
"I've already been through it," he said. "It's cool. I know the ending."
Using home videos shot on Kelsey's cellphone, the movie follows the Mills family as Travis gets his first artificial hand and learns to walk again.
"I'm getting better every day," Mills said.
Mills said he is impressed with the finished product, but he doesn't feel like a movie star.
It's all true, he said, and he wants viewers to focus on his recovery, he said, not his injuries.
"I don't want to worry people. I don't want soldiers thinking it will happen to them," he said.
Norris said the film shows courage and confidence, an attitude Mills said he developed after being visited by another quadruple amputee in Walter Reed.
Marine Todd Nicely was not only walking, but was able to grab a can of soda in Mills' room.
"I asked how he did that and he told me 'With time, it all gets better,' " Mills said. "I thought, 'If he can do it, why can't I?' "
Today, Mills is self-sufficient. He can drive, shower, eat and dress himself, he said.
The movie is being shown in Fayetteville through Tugg.com, a website that allows independent movies to be shown in theaters through crowd funding.
Jerry Nance, general manager of the Carmike 12, said interest in the film has grown quickly.
Originally, the theater planned to show the film in a 139-seat auditorium, but it has had to adjust its plans three times in reaction to ticket sales.
On Wednesday, Nance said he had decided to show the film in a 250-seat auditorium and would be willing to show the movie on a second screen if needed.
"It just seems like an amazing story," Nance said. "I want to be able to seat anyone who wants to see it."
Norris said the movie would continue to be shown in theaters through Tugg.com until February or March.
The film is due to be released on DVD on the anniversary of Mills' injuries, Norris said.
As for Mills, he still has goals he's working to achieve.
His family is preparing to build a home in Maine, near a camp he developed for wounded warriors.
Mills also has his own nonprofit, the Travis Mills Foundation, which launched last month with the goal of assisting wounded and injured veterans.
Another goal, Mills said, is to participate in the 82nd Airborne Division run during next year's All American Week.
By that time, parts of Mills' brigade may be deployed again to Afghanistan.
Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3567.