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Lessons from Travis: A Soldier’s Story


In this economy, the majority of our stress is caused by paying our bills and trying to do the best we can in our careers so we can keep our jobs. We can let stress get to us and seldom stop to think how little these problems actually matter in the grand scheme of life. Too often it takes something tragic to remind us how precious life is; still the “live like you are dying” motto tends to wear off around the time we get another past-due statement in the mail.

The day before I was invited to the screening of the film, I was reaching my own personal stress limit. But, not knowing the storyline, I decided to take a breather and watch the movie trailer.

Travis: A Soldier’s Storyproduced by non-profit photography group Fotolanthropy, documents the inspiring story of United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne. Travis lost portions of both arms and legs as the result of an IED (improvised explosive device) and is one of just five quadruple-amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive their injuries.

I have to say, in the few minutes it took for the trailer to play, Travis' story deeply affected me. My initial feeling was “oh wow, I am a huge jerk for complaining about my everyday problems.” But then I attended this screening and was taught an even bigger lesson.

Life is hard and everyone will have setbacks, but it’s what you do with those setbacks and how you can encourage people through their own that makes all the difference. Sergeant Travis Mills is a living, breathing embodiment of the motto, “Never give up. Never quit.”

As the film played, I couldn't help but run through alternate scenarios—searching for some way his suffering could have been avoided. What if he had never enlisted? What if he was stationed somewhere else? What if he never dropped that bag causing the IED to go off? I am sure he and his wife have asked these questions over and over.

But as the film continued I was forced to accept the fact—yes, Travis found himself in a sadly unfair situation—but the good that has come from his sacrifice, from his life, is due to his courage in the face of hardship. If Travis hadn't enlisted, he might never have met his wife and would have never had his beautiful baby girl. If he had been stationed elsewhere or dropped that bag ten feet further, someone else could have taken the brunt of that IED and not lived to tell about it—but Travis did, and he has a story to tell.

Travis' story is one every soldier knows—that they are one footstep away from a life-altering moment. Instead of stressing and worrying over it each day, they do their job and they do what they can to get back home. Never give up. Never quit.

Keep your eye out for the November/December 2013 issue of Verily for a profile of Fotolanthropy and founder Katie Norris.

Shea Rachwitz is an artist and writer living in Sherman, Texas. In her free time she enjoys reading old print editions of Paste Magazine, riding her motorcycle, and photographing abandoned buildings.