TMF Ambassador Spotlight: (Ret.) Staff Sergeant Richard Elder

Travis Mills Foundation Ambassador Staff Sergeant (Retired) Richard Elder served in the U.S. Army for 16 years as an Armament/Electrical/Avionics Repairer.

During his time in service, he earned five Army Commendation Medals, three Army Achievement Medals, the Air Force Meritorious Unit Award, Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Citation, five Army Good Conduct Awards, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with four stars, Iraq Campaign Medal with four stars, Inherent Resolve Campaign medal with one star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Korean Defense Medal, Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, National Defense Ribbon, Aviation Badge, Senior Aviation Badge, Parachutist Badge, and Senior Parachutist Badge.

Rick also earned nine foreign jump wings: Silver German, Gold German, South Korean, Jordanian, Irish, Chilian, Canadian, French Foreign Legion, and Italian.

Learn more about the U.S. Army.


Rick’s decision to enlist in the U.S. Army was influenced by his grandfather, who served during the Korean War and who helped to raise him.

“He taught me many things that I still carry to this day,” he said.

Rick has served on deployment six times in Operation Enduring Freedom, six times in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and once in Operation Inherent Resolve. However, when he returned home from his deployment in 2017, he was involved in an airborne accident.

It was spring, and Rick was taking part in a training jump in Washington State.

“Everything was really green. From elevation, I couldn’t make out an eight-foot-tall blackberry bush. I was coming in to land at a right-to-left drift and my feet got tangled in the briars and my body kept moving to where I landed on my neck.”

He was left unconscious from the accident.

Upon regaining consciousness, he could not feel his left arm, but didn’t think much of it at the time. He grabbed his rucksack and continued the mission. After about an hour, he still had not regained feeling in his arm and was experiencing headaches and neck pain. He was taken to the hospital.

From the accident, Rick suffered a broken C-1 and compounded his cervical spine from C-1 to C-7 vertebrae. He also sustained a brain injury and injuries to his left shoulder that have left him with limited range of mobility and function.

“[My friends and family] were very supportive,” he said. “My work had expectations that I could no longer meet, for the high intensity and often spontaneous schedule and mission demands.”

Knowing that he could fulfill the high standards and demands of the military prior to his injury and not being able to fulfill them post the injury was a struggle for Rick.

“[It was hard] accepting my new limitations,” he said. “The biggest is not being able to do the things I know I could do in the past and that my mind still tells me I could do if only I wasn’t injured.”

Read more about TMF Ambassador David Medina 


Throughout his recovery process, Rick learned to adapt activities that fit within his abilities and enjoy some new hobbies along the way.

While waiting on his final permanent change of station (PCS) and belongings to arrive in Maine, Rick picked up the skill of leatherworking.

“I justified getting into it to make sheathes for my knives, but as I didn’t have any – I started making wallets,” Rick said. “From there, it went to purses, bags, and now also firefighter gear.”

Rick has established a leatherworking business called Great Story Works.
Rick now volunteers with the Travis Mills Foundation, sharing his passion for leather working with other families and recalibrated veterans.

“After leaving the service and moving my wife and I to Maine, I never thought I would find a place to belong, or one where I thought I could give back to fellow veterans, until I found the Foundation,” Rick said.

Visit Great Story Works’ Instagram


Rick attended the first Warrior PATHH – Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes– session in 2020.

“It has given me the confidence to try things I wasn’t willing to try and it helped give me a more solid foundation to bounce back to when times do get hard.”

Since Warrior PATHH, Rick has attended the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat with his wife in 2021 and 2022.

“[I enjoyed] meeting the other families and seeing the change in the way the families interacted with each other throughout the week,” Rick said.

While at the Retreat, Rick participated in all activities that he physically could, especially enjoying horseback riding and swimming.

“I was an avid swimmer before,” he said. “Getting in the water for the first time since my injury was a big step for me. Even though I just floated there, it was amazing.”

Rick, like many post-911 recalibrated veterans, he found the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat to be a place of healing.

“With the help from the Foundation and the Warrior PATHH program, I have been able to grow and accept the things that have happened to me and move that to growing a local business and a new skill set that I can try to pass on to other veterans.”

Volunteer at the Travis Mills Foundation.


The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post 9/11 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 Warrior PATHH (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 >>>