Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Jason Searles served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army for 10 years prior to getting injured in Afghanistan in 2011. Jason joined the military, longing to find a place in life. Just a few years prior to joining in 2004, The Global War on Terror had begun with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. While Jason has a family history of service in the U.S. Navy, he chose to join the Army.
“I wanted to experience the real conflict that was going on, not from a distance,” said Jason. “I believed it was the right thing to do. To truly gain perspective.”
Jason and his squad were stuck in a mine field during a routine patrol to a village nearby where he was stationed in the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. While trying to find a way out, jokingly, he says:
“Safe to say I found one with my right leg.”
Jason stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) and experienced significant damage to his left shin, left hand, left bicep and a traumatic amputation of his right leg below the knee.
Post injury, Jason struggled with the need to feel just as normal as he was prior. It was a struggle to feel as if his life was going to just continue as it normally had been, even taking into consideration the amputation. He described this time of his life as “mentally taxing.”
Jason said his wife, Stephanie, was strong while he was in the hospital and throughout his recovery. While Jason was in the hospital, his son, Cooper was born.
“[Cooper] was already pushing me to health and [to] get moving, which was a huge driving factor for me,” Jason said.
In a now recalibrated life, Jason has graduated from college and started a career in engineering. He’s currently the healthiest he has been in his entire life and says that feeling comes in part with support from the Travis Mills Foundation.
During summer 2021, Jason, along with his wife Stephanie, son Cooper, and daughter Natalie attended the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat. While there, Jason participated in activities such as fishing, ropes course and yoga. If he could sum up the retreat in one word, Jason would say it was “Perfect.”
Jason said the environment at the Retreat was amazing. Even his children enjoyed playing and connecting with other children at the Retreat. Every aspect of it was just so special from the beautiful Maine scenery to the staff and volunteers who went out of their way to get to know Jason and his family.
“It was easy to just relax and have a conversation,” Jason said.
He said yoga was “eye opening” for him. He realized that he lacks flexibility and mobility. Another activity Jason participated in was the adapted ropes course built in 2017 by Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs.”
“The ropes course was a different style of being physical, which was awesome,” Jason said.
Since attending the Retreat, Jason attended the Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) program in April 2022 to help encourage him to be his best self post his traumatic experiences in 2011.
“[It was] extremely emotional, but a healthy mix of instruction,” Jason said.
The Warrior PATHH program is designed to facilitate post-traumatic growth in warriors to encourage them to better themselves in a way that is fully adapted to their injuries and situations. It begins with seven days of in-person programming at the Retreat, followed by 90 days of virtual programming.
“The program gave us techniques on how to manage, sort of, extreme emotions,” Jason said. “Once returning home, I was able to keep a solid routine using the techniques.”
The Warrior PATHH program aims to give combat veterans and first responders a way to cope with their extreme emotions, Jason said, and give them techniques to implement into their daily lives.
Travis Mills Foundation is thankful for SSG(R) Searles’ honorable and selfless service to our great country.
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth. Learn more >>> www.travismillsofundation.org.