Wounded soldier returns to a hero's welcome

Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, 25, lost his arms and legs when a bomb exploded underneath him in Afghanistan.
CBS News

(CBS News) VASSAR, Mich. - The excitement of Friday night lights may seem a world apart from the battles in Afghanistan. But for one soldier, a trip to his high school football field was a first step to reclaim his life.

The homecoming game in Vassar, Michigan always draws a big crowd.

But this year was special. They welcomed home one of their favorite football stars, a man who went on to become Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills.

"This is awesome," he told a crowd who cheered.

Mills was on his third tour in Afghanistan. In April, a bomb exploded beneath him.

"And I set my bag down," he recalled, "and about 5-6 seconds later I woke up on the ground."

Mills' six-foot-three, 250-pound body bore the brunt of the blast. Two other men were wounded.

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"My medic came running up," he said, "and I looked at him and I said, 'You get away from me, you go save my men, leave me alone, let me go.' He told me, 'With all due respect, Sgt. Mills, shut up let me do my job.' He put tourniquets on me within 20 seconds on all four limbs.

Mills woke up at a military hospital in Germany four days later. He turned 25 on April 14 and was told he didn't have any arms or legs.

"By that time, my soldiers --''how are they doing'?" Mills recalled on what was going through his mind then. "And then I guess I was ducking my wife's phone calls because I felt embarrassed--I didn't want to talk to anybody. I knew the possibility of getting hit was zero, but when you get hit, I guess I just felt like I was a horrible person or something I did wrong in life, and I was getting paid back for it. But that's not it."

He's been recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for six months. He's learning to use four prosthetic limbs and to do things once routine, like feeding his daughter Chloe.

As far as what it's like to be back to his hometown, Mills said: "Oh it's great, I drove into town and I couldn't believe the yellow ribbons, the signs -- 'Welcome home Staff Sgt. Travis Mills.'"

More than 6,000 people lined Main Street to honor Mills and his wife Kelsey.

"'Everything I was going through and all that," he told the crowd, "my beautiful wife stood by my side the whole time. So I want to thank her real quick."

Mills heard plenty of cheers when he played on this football field in high school. But never like this.

He's still on active duty and hopes to one day train soldiers at Fort Bragg.

"This is not the end of my life, especially having my one-year-old there," he said. "She'll never see me give up or fail you know. I mean, she'll see me fall down, but I'll get back up and I'm just going to keep going."

This isn't how Staff Sgt. Travis Mills imagined his life. But it's a life he is grateful to have.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.