Sergeant (Ret.) Josh Keller was an infantryman in the U.S. Army for a total of six years. Josh chose to join the military because both his grandparents and his father had served our country, and he sensed a legacy that he wished to continue. Like many, Josh struggled to decide what he wanted to do outside of high school and knew the military would prepare him for a specific career; he could also pursue an education. The Army offered Josh a contract to help him reach his goal of being part of the Ranger Regiment.
On February 11, 2017, as Josh prepared to go to a shooting range, he was injured by a negligent shooting in Fort Lewis, Washington, where he was stationed. The bullet injured his spine between cervical vertebra six and seven. From that injury, he was rendered quadriplegic from vertebrae C4 down the rest of his spine. Along with that injury, he sustained a severed carotid and left vertebral artery, and a brachial plexus injury.
Josh was immediately surrounded by his family and friends – his brother and sister-in-law were present when Josh was shot. He even remembers when his brother performed CPR on him, saving his life. After being informed of the incident, his family and his fiancé Kassidy flew out from New Hampshire to be by his side.
A year and a half after the injury, Josh was able to move out of the hospital into an adapted home that the New Hampshire community, where he is from, helped to build. His family and friends continued to offer support.
Josh experienced hardships post his injury due to his lack of independence. He still finds it hard to ask for help and would rather complete tasks independently.
“Some days I am very nostalgic about how I was in the past,” Josh says, “but for the most part, I have worked through my struggles, and I am doing great!”
Since the injury Josh has overcome a tremendous deal of challenges. He has been able to work around his disability and advocate for himself, along with others. He provides motivation to others through creativity such as blogging and artwork. He also helps others who have experienced similar injuries. Additionally, he offers counseling and peer mentoring through a spinal-cord-injury-based nonprofit.
“Both of these have been extremely great addition[s] to my life and keep me motivated and goal oriented!” Josh says.
Josh learned about the Travis Mills Foundation and first attended the Retreat in summer 2019 with his then girlfriend, Kassidy. He said it was an “enlightening experience” and he was able to discover activities that were possible for him and Kassidy. He saw he was still capable of doing so many things he once enjoyed. Both have been back to the Retreat once in winter 2020 and another in summer 2022 where they celebrated their honeymoon.
From the Retreat, the couple was able to meet other recalibrated veterans and their families who had similar experiences.
“It helps to provide us some sense of normalcy,” Josh said, “despite my physical limitations.”
After his first visit to the Retreat, Josh had the courage to enjoy his home pool. He said it was unreal to feel weightless. He also immensely enjoyed equine therapy offered at a local horse barn along with a newfound enjoyment of art.
“Honestly, some of my favorite memories have been around the fire pit and the dinner table,” Josh said. “My [now wife] and I have really enjoyed the profound bonding experience that happens at the Travis Mills Foundation.”
After the Retreat, Josh has since participated in our Recalibrate Program twice. The Recalibrate Program helps to provide motivation for Recalibrated veterans after their experience at the Retreat. During his first experience in the program in 2020, Josh received an iPad Pro and a splint to hold an Apple Pencil.
“I started doing artwork on the iPad to break up the days of isolation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Josh said. “Digital art has changed my life in many ways.”
Josh is now going to school for graphic and web design – using the same iPad given to him through the Recalibrate Program. He also runs an art business designing logos and custom graphics. He’s also doing freelance graphic design work for the Travis Mills Foundation; Josh designed graphics for the organization’s 2022 Annual Appeal.
“None of that would have been possible without the Recalibrate Program,” Josh said.
Josh also participated in the program in 2022, by receiving the NuDrive Air system for his wheelchair. The system is a wheelchair modification that allows propulsion through handles instead of pushing the wheels.
“I have been able to practice cardio and also get outside safely using the NuDrive Air system that was covered by the Recalibrate Program,” Josh said. “Having an alternative form of pushing myself will increase the longevity of my wrists and shoulders, and make it easier and safer to operate my manual wheelchair alone.”
When asked to sum up his experience at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat, Josh says it was “profound.” He was able to identify new physical limits and post-injury normalcy in the welcoming environment at the Retreat. He also said SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills, staff and volunteers are incredible people.
The Travis Mills Foundation is thankful for Josh’s 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.