2023 Annual Appeal

From Our Founder

To Our Supporters,

“Barrier Free” can have many meanings to people, but at the Travis Mills Foundation, Barrier Free is a way of life and speaks directly to our Mission:

“The Travis Mills Foundation supports post-911 recalibrated veterans and their families through various programs that help these heroic men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation.”

In 2023, we not only adapted more activities than we have before, we held more programming weeks in the year and served more folks than we’ve hosted since opening the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in 2017. Since we opened our Health and Wellness Center, 2023 has brought an expanded menu of programming available to participants from family water aerobics classes in our indoor pool to cardio drumming in our state-of-the-art fitness room.

To usher in and oversee these fantastic programs and the Mission of the Foundation, our Board of Directors placed Heather Hemphill in the vital position of Executive Director. Heather has served the Foundation since 2019, first in our Finance Department and climbing the ranks to Chief Financial Officer before being promoted to her current position.

Of course in 2023 came many, many incredible stories of how we were able to help post-911 recalibrated veterans and their families try new things and live life off the sidelines. We’ve chosen a few of those stories to feature here in hopes that we can give you a glimpse of the important work we do at the Foundation.

Under Heather’s leadership, along with unwavering support from our Board, the hardworking Foundation staff, our dedicated volunteers and generous donors, we will continue to provide the BEST Barrier Free experience for our nation’s heroes and families at our world-class Retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine.

U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills Founder, Travis Mills Foundation

U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills, his wife, Kelsey, and their children, Chloe and Dax

Barrier Free in 2023

By the Numbers

Veterans
0
Family Members
0
Children
0
First Responders
0

Unstoppable Force

Army Veteran Amanda Seward Sets Goal for 2026 Paralympics

When Army Veteran Amanda Seward’s leg was amputated in 2019 because of an injury she sustained while in service to our country, she had a choice: move forward and “Recalibrate” or let the injury stop her from living a full life.

With support from the Travis Mills Foundation, Amanda chose to Recalibrate and a newfound passion for athletic competition.

“Recalibrated veteran” is a term coined by U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills when he lost portions of all his limbs in an IED explosion during his third tour in Afghanistan. Travis was injured and healed – he didn’t want to be referred to as a wounded warrior – his wounds had healed. Instead, he referred to himself as “Recalibrated;” he adjusted to his new normal.

In establishing the Foundation and Veterans Retreat, it has been Travis’s goal to inspire fellow recalibrated veterans how to live life off the sidelines. As a Recalibrated Veteran, Amanda hasn’t let her injury stop her. In fact, she’s training for snowboarding and cycling competitions, among other sports, and she rocks a pair of heels in her prosthetic.

The training, at many times is arduous, but is preparing Amanda for an illustrious goal – to compete in the 2026 Paralympics. It has been an honor for the Travis Mills Foundation to support Amanda in her goals by providing her with a trainer through its Recalibrate Program.

Amanda’s Military Experience

An Indiana native, Amanda, now age 31, spent nearly 10 years serving our country. After her second deployment, Amanda landed a job as a recruiter in the Active Guard Reserve. While on the job, Amanda was traveling for drill weekend on a terribly snowy morning and while all other branches of the military canceled drill, the Army hadn’t so Amanda had to continue the mission as a brand new female sergeant to a unit of 11B (infantrymen).

Amanda had sustained a minor accident that caused her to pull off to the side of the road to get something out of the trunk to fix the car itself when another vehicle heading to drill hit her from behind causing her and her friend to be crushed in between both vehicles. A few months later, after constant infections and several surgeries to try to salvage her limb, it was amputated on April 1, 2019.

2 ½ years after her initial injury, Amanda visited the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat straight from recovery at Walter Reed, served an important purpose for her.

“My favorite part of the Retreat was trying to find my new self,” she said. “My body was still in this fight or flight moment the whole time because it was expecting to be going back to Walter Reed at any moment; I had just left the hospital behind a few days prior, ”

At the Retreat, Amanda appreciated the opportunity to challenge herself on the High Ropes Course.

“That was really cool and it pushed my limits,” she said. “It humbled me, honestly and introduced other struggles I hadn’t gotten to experience post injury.”

Amanda said the experience at TMF was great and she didn’t feel pressured to participate in any activities that would have made her feel uncomfortable. She also appreciated having time away from others, if that’s what she needed in any given moment.

“No one was watching my every move and no one was judging me. I could just be,” she said.

While the Travis Mills Foundation offers a number of adapted activities to post-9/11 recalibrated veterans and their families, participants are not required to do anything that they don’t want to do – they are welcome to enjoy the rest and relaxation they deserve.

Amanda said that while coming to the Retreat straight from Walter Reed was stressful on her body, it helped her transition into figuring out who she was going to be in the civilian world.

Amanda is indeed making a place for herself in the civilian world and for her, that means pursuing life as an athlete. That life, however, can be costly.

Travis Mills Foundation Staff encouraged Amanda to apply for its Recalibrate Program, which capitalizes on a participant’s motivation after attending the Retreat by providing financial assistance, goal setting, and long-term follow up.

“The program has provided everything from helping to pave a driveway, provide in-home cleaning services, a computer to help with a home business, an electric bike to help a veteran stay healthy by safely riding to work, and helped with moving expenses for someone that needed a healthier environment,” said Kelly Roseberry, Vice President of Programming at the Foundation.
Through this program, the Travis Mills Foundation provided a trainer for Amanda to prepare for the Paralympics, which will take place in Italy in 2026.

“Toni is amazing,” Amanda said. “When we met I told her I was going to the Paralympics. She’s like, “OK, let’s go! I had never had anyone stand behind me so fast. She didn’t even question it.’”

While Toni hadn’t worked with an amputee before, she’s embraced the challenge and found joy working alongside the adaptive community. Amanda also appreciates Toni’s willingness to be flexible with training.

“We’re both in this journey together,” Amanda added.

In May 2023, Amanda visited the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat for the second time, after becoming an above-the-knee amputee in 2022. Pain, arthritis and bone spurs had plagued the knee on her amputated leg. After a surgery to remove her knee and additonally two inches from Amanda’s femur, she had to re-learn how to walk – again, but remained determined.

While at the Retreat, Amanda completed the Travis Mills Foundation’s Miles for Mills 5K for the first time on her new blade prosthetic(a few weeks after just learning to run again); a staffer walked and ran alongside Amanda during the race, carrying her everyday leg.

“[The race] was a struggle,” she said, adding that she was glad she finished the race without having to switch prosthetics. “Struggle and success go hand in hand, though. If you feel like you’re successful and you didn’t struggle along the way, then something has to be missing.”

On her handcycle, Amanda also recently completed the Marine Corps Marathon, the Spartan Race with Team Oscar Mike, the Army 10 Miler and the Heart of Virginia, which was 34 miles and took 4.5 hours for Amanda to complete.

The steep hills in these races are a challenge and sometimes she needs to break so that she has a moment to stand and stretch.

“(It’s challenging) to sit and wait while other people are flying past you,” she added. “But everyone is encouraging, which is great.”

A common challenge that Amanda faces, however, isn’t a physical one, it is the financial aspect of competition.

“The expenses – transportation, hotels, equipment – add up,” she said.

“Snowboarding is especially expensive. I apply for scholarships when I can.”
She’s also working with the Veterans Administration to become a sponsored veteran athlete.

Amanda recognizes the possibility that she won’t qualify for the 2026 Paralympics but her attitude is the same: “I’m going to continue to dive into training and work as hard as I can.”

Additionally, Amanda is studying for a degree in Art Therapy, a major in psychology and a minor in art, even working ahead on assignments in order to train. What’s Amanda’s dream job after completing school? To work as an art therapist and to establish TAB: Taking Art into Battle, an organization that will support past, present and future military veterans in art therapy and securing other resources. She also intends to petition to Congress for the military to recognize the benefits of the creative arts as therapy given alongside behavioral health therapy– “I’m going to tell them it needs to be an MOS.”

“Why wait for [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] to fully set in when you get home,” she added.

Amanda has completed Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) at the Travis Mills Foundation. The program helps post-9/11 combat veterans and first responders help achieve Post-Traumatic Growth and is taught by folks who completed the program themselves.

Having Fun with Prosthetics

While training, Amanda works closely with her prosthetist to not only ensure her various prosthetics are functional, but fashionable too.

“I’d still be getting tattoos on my leg if I still could, so I figured, ‘Why can’t my leg be fashionable too?’” she said.

Amanda has five different prosthetics – an everyday leg, a snowboarding/weightlifting leg, running blade, a jogging foot and the prosthetic that allows her to wear high heels.

“I want to have fun with it,” Amanda said of her prosthetics. “It’s one life. Enjoy the hop along.”

Amanda’s Military Experience

An Indiana native, Amanda, now age 31, spent nearly 10 years serving our country. After her second deployment, Amanda landed a job as a recruiter in the Active Guard Reserve. While on the job, Amanda was traveling for drill weekend on a terribly snowy morning and while all other branches of the military canceled drill, the Army hadn’t so Amanda had to continue the mission as a brand new female sergeant to a unit of 11B (infantrymen).

Amanda had sustained a minor accident that caused her to pull off to the side of the road to get something out of the trunk to fix the car itself when another vehicle heading to drill hit her from behind causing her and her friend to be crushed in between both vehicles. A few months later, after constant infections and several surgeries to try to salvage her limb, it was amputated on April 1, 2019.

2 ½ years after her initial injury, Amanda visited the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat straight from recovery at Walter Reed, served an important purpose for her.

“My favorite part of the Retreat was trying to find my new self,” she said. “My body was still in this fight or flight moment the whole time because it was expecting to be going back to Walter Reed at any moment; I had just left the hospital behind a few days prior, ”

At the Retreat, Amanda appreciated the opportunity to challenge herself on the High Ropes Course.

“That was really cool and it pushed my limits,” she said. “It humbled me, honestly and introduced other struggles I hadn’t gotten to experience post injury.”

Amanda said the experience at TMF was great and she didn’t feel pressured to participate in any activities that would have made her feel uncomfortable. She also appreciated having time away from others, if that’s what she needed in any given moment.

“No one was watching my every move and no one was judging me. I could just be,” she said.

While the Travis Mills Foundation offers a number of adapted activities to post-9/11 recalibrated veterans and their families, participants are not required to do anything that they don’t want to do – they are welcome to enjoy the rest and relaxation they deserve.

Amanda said that while coming to the Retreat straight from Walter Reed was stressful on her body, it helped her transition into figuring out who she was going to be in the civilian world.

Amanda is indeed making a place for herself in the civilian world and for her, that means pursuing life as an athlete. That life, however, can be costly.

Travis Mills Foundation Staff encouraged Amanda to apply for its Recalibrate Program, which capitalizes on a participant’s motivation after attending the Retreat by providing financial assistance, goal setting, and long-term follow up.

“The program has provided everything from helping to pave a driveway, provide in-home cleaning services, a computer to help with a home business, an electric bike to help a veteran stay healthy by safely riding to work, and helped with moving expenses for someone that needed a healthier environment,” said Kelly Roseberry, Vice President of Programming at the Foundation.
Through this program, the Travis Mills Foundation provided a trainer for Amanda to prepare for the Paralympics, which will take place in Italy in 2026.

“Toni is amazing,” Amanda said. “When we met I told her I was going to the Paralympics. She’s like, “OK, let’s go! I had never had anyone stand behind me so fast. She didn’t even question it.’”

While Toni hadn’t worked with an amputee before, she’s embraced the challenge and found joy working alongside the adaptive community. Amanda also appreciates Toni’s willingness to be flexible with training.

“We’re both in this journey together,” Amanda added.

In May 2023, Amanda visited the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat for the second time, after becoming an above-the-knee amputee in 2022. Pain, arthritis and bone spurs had plagued the knee on her amputated leg. After a surgery to remove her knee and additonally two inches from Amanda’s femur, she had to re-learn how to walk – again, but remained determined.

While at the Retreat, Amanda completed the Travis Mills Foundation’s Miles for Mills 5K for the first time on her new blade prosthetic(a few weeks after just learning to run again); a staffer walked and ran alongside Amanda during the race, carrying her everyday leg.

“[The race] was a struggle,” she said, adding that she was glad she finished the race without having to switch prosthetics. “Struggle and success go hand in hand, though. If you feel like you’re successful and you didn’t struggle along the way, then something has to be missing.”

On her handcycle, Amanda also recently completed the Marine Corps Marathon, the Spartan Race with Team Oscar Mike, the Army 10 Miler and the Heart of Virginia, which was 34 miles and took 4.5 hours for Amanda to complete.

The steep hills in these races are a challenge and sometimes she needs to break so that she has a moment to stand and stretch.

“(It’s challenging) to sit and wait while other people are flying past you,” she added. “But everyone is encouraging, which is great.”

A common challenge that Amanda faces, however, isn’t a physical one, it is the financial aspect of competition.

“The expenses – transportation, hotels, equipment – add up,” she said.

“Snowboarding is especially expensive. I apply for scholarships when I can.”
She’s also working with the Veterans Administration to become a sponsored veteran athlete.

Amanda recognizes the possibility that she won’t qualify for the 2026 Paralympics but her attitude is the same: “I’m going to continue to dive into training and work as hard as I can.”

Additionally, Amanda is studying for a degree in Art Therapy, a major in psychology and a minor in art, even working ahead on assignments in order to train. What’s Amanda’s dream job after completing school? To work as an art therapist and to establish TAB: Taking Art into Battle, an organization that will support past, present and future military veterans in art therapy and securing other resources. She also intends to petition to Congress for the military to recognize the benefits of the creative arts as therapy given alongside behavioral health therapy– “I’m going to tell them it needs to be an MOS.”

“Why wait for [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] to fully set in when you get home,” she added.

Amanda has completed Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) at the Travis Mills Foundation. The program helps post-9/11 combat veterans and first responders help achieve Post-Traumatic Growth and is taught by folks who completed the program themselves.

Having Fun with Prosthetics

While training, Amanda works closely with her prosthetist to not only ensure her various prosthetics are functional, but fashionable too.

“I’d still be getting tattoos on my leg if I still could, so I figured, ‘Why can’t my leg be fashionable too?’” she said.

Amanda has five different prosthetics – an everyday leg, a snowboarding/weightlifting leg, running blade, a jogging foot and the prosthetic that allows her to wear high heels.

“I want to have fun with it,” Amanda said of her prosthetics. “It’s one life. Enjoy the hop along.”

Warrior PATHH Guide Adam Jeter

Foundation’s Newest Warrior PATHH Guide Says Invitation Is A ‘Calling’

The Travis Mills Foundation is eager to welcome its newest Warrior PATHH Guide, Marine Corps veteran Adam Jeter, who completed the program, centered on achieving Post-Traumatic Growth, in 2022. 

Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) is the nation’s first-ever program designed to cultivate and facilitate Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) in post-911 combat veterans and first responders and enables these remarkable Warriors to transform times of deep struggle into profound strength and growth. 

Offered at only 10 locations throughout the U.S., and thanks to a grant from the Boulder Crest Foundation, the Travis Mills Foundation is honored to carry forward this vital program.

Adam refers to his invitation to be a PATHH Guide as a calling, rather than simply a job offer.

“I felt so incredibly humbled,” Adam said. “This job, this work, helping veterans and first responders truly find peace, is where I knew I wanted to be.”

Even though Adam wanted to say “Yes,” to the offer, he had to check with his family first.

“After years of leaving for schools, training and deployments I had to make sure they would be OK with my traveling. The responses I received from my wife and children reinforced my decision, it was a resounding YES!” he said.  

The program includes a seven-day orientation at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat and a 90-day virtual training and is delivered by PATHH Guides, not clinicians, who have all completed the program themselves.

“Since attending Warrior PATHH at the Travis Mills Foundation I found the tools and the strength to face my demons,” Adam said. “I had spent years attending various forms of traditional therapy and copious amounts of medications. This program was different – it was life changing. I was able to reclaim my emotions, I was able to stop spiraling, I could smile again, laugh again, I was able to rebuild relationships I had broken, my perspective on life had changed and I had found peace. When I returned home, I maintained that focus and clung to what had pulled me from so much darkness. My mental health journey started in earnest. Through this newfound hope I began to share my story, person to person, and through speaking with struggling veterans I began my campaign to crush the stigma surrounding mental health in our veterans and first responders.”

Adam’s Military Experience

It was understood that Dayton, Ohio, native Adam Jeter would join the military as did his grandfather, father and brother.

“It felt like a natural path for me,” said Adam, 46, current resident of North Carolina.

Adam enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school graduation in 1995 and transferred to the U.S. Army in 2005, in total serving 22 years in the U.S. Military.

When the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened on the United States, it solidified the reason Adam joined the military in the first place: “I felt a strong desire to serve and protect my country; 9/11 reinforced those decisions I had made.”

His first deployment was in 2006-2007 in the Diyala Province of Iraq and lasted 15 months. It was during a period during the Iraq war known as “the surge,” with 2007 being the deadliest period for U.S. troops since 2004.

“It was certainly one of the most tumultuous deployments of my career,” Adam said. His unit was the smallest within the brigade and had the largest area of operations, resulting in almost daily, intense fighting with the enemy.

He went on to complete a year-long deployment in Iraq, a nine-month deployment to Jordan and a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Adam describes his first deployment, however, as the most difficult because of the major losses experienced: In the 500-person unit, 22 paratroopers were killed and 86 were injured.

“I was newly transitioned from the Marine Corps to the Army, still trying to figure out the Army lingo and different strategies, all while filling a leadership role as a section sergeant on my first deployment to the Middle East.”

“There was a lot of apprehension – I wanted to make sure I got things right. There were lives at stake if I didn’t.”

As the deployment continued, Adam came to dark realization.

“I was absolutely confident that I was not going to return from that deployment,” he said. “I mentally prepared myself for everything that I would be missing and the loss to my family.”

“I went through a two-week period of mourning my own loss,” he added. “After that, I felt I was able to more effectively focus on my mission, be effective and be tactically aggressive without the fear of me not returning home to my family.”

Adam remembers clearly how he felt the day he returned home from the deployment, stepping off the plane to friends, family, and fanfare.

“I felt very lost,” he said. “I didn’t expect to come home and here I am standing in front of my family.”

It was difficult for Adam to process and his integration back into family life was extremely difficult.

“I struggled with every type of communication and every type of emotion in every relationship I had, especially with my wife and children,” he said. “I didn’t want them sitting next to me, I didn’t want them to touch me – I didn’t want them emotionally connecting with me.”

Finally, Adam’s wife sat him down and told him that he needed help.

“I was extremely apprehensive because of the negative context of a servicemember in combat arms seeking help. At that time, it was just not an option,” he said. “But for my family’s sake, I did it.”

Adam tried talk therapy for about six years and while he thought it may have been effective at first, its usefulness wore off.

“I got to the point where I felt so emotionally exhausted – I couldn’t tell these stories again,” he said.

He went on to try medication, which was also helpful for a time, but it didn’t get to the root of the trauma he was experiencing. He also tried cognitive behavioral therapy, which he said was a difficult process: “It allowed me to address some of the major issues that I was struggling with, but I never felt like I had anything at the end to continue my mental health journey.”

“There were points over the years when I felt somewhat normal; it would last for short periods of time, but then I’d be triggered and that would send me off the rails again,” he added.

No matter the treatment, Adam felt that at one point or another, he always hit a wall.

“It’s because of this cycle, that I feel that I emotionally damaged both my children and my wife,” Adam said, becoming emotional. “It was a huge struggle in my marriage for years; I was absolutely emotionally disconnected and had no way in my mind of reconnecting with my emotions in a positive way.”

He was also apprehensive to continue to seek different treatments if they were all going to result in the same outcome. That is, until Warrior PATHH Guide Ray Edgar, also Adam’s Command Sergeant Major on his first deployment, reached out to Adam about Warrior PATHH.

“It was my last-ditch effort – my hail Mary,” Adam said. “I planned to throw all my eggs into this basket and hoped that it worked. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Adam’s PATHH Experience

Adam was hesitant before his initiation week in February 2022 and described coming to the Foundation as going out on a “very shaky limb.”

“From day one though, I felt comfortable,” Adam said. “The compassion from the all the guides and the fact that they had been in my place and shared their personal stories, made it a safe environment.”

The seven-day experience at Warrior PATHH includes 75 hours of training with 52 different training modules that teach students to cultivate Post-Traumatic Growth. The training includes a variety of wellness practices, opportunities for disclosure and communication skills that enable students to make peace with their past so they can live the life they deserve.

The first night Adam spent at the Foundation, a frigid February night by Maine standards, was not typical.

“I woke up absolutely drenched in sweat,” he said.

The next morning, PATHH Guides told him that what was happening was a very good thing and that they had even seen that before.

“It was a physiological response to releasing my emotions and stress,” Adam said. “Every morning until the end of the week, there was less and less sweat.”

Moving Forward

Adam is incredibly grateful to Warrior PATHH and looks forward to spreading the message of his success as a PATHH Guide and helping others who have been where he was, which is a vital component of PATHH – service to others.

“It’d be a travesty not to pay it forward,” he said.

Adam is particularly grateful that PATHH offers a support system for life – his three to five people he can rely on as a support system.

“I have not seen another program that offers that,” Adam said. “I lean on that when I’m really struggling. You will always have a home at Warrior PATHH – you’ll always have a touchpoint.”

Adam is excited to join the team as a PATHH Guide, but he’s also nervous.

“This is a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly,” Adam said. “I know the nervousness will fade as I begin working with participants. I do know that this is a passion that I want to share. I know the impact this program has had on my life and I’m excited to share it with others who are struggling.”

He also hopes that through sharing his experience, and through his honesty of those experiences, others will find connection.

“By sharing my personal mental health journey I can help others find themselves again through Warrior PATHH. I want to give hope to those who are struggling and guide them to the light.”

Adam has a message for post-911 combat veterans and first responders considering Warrior PATHH: “If you’re reading this and are struggling, know that there is hope. You can be happy, you deserve happiness, you deserve peace. Take the leap of faith, do the work and change your life forever.”

Adam’s Military Experience

It was understood that Dayton, Ohio, native Adam Jeter would join the military as did his grandfather, father and brother.

“It felt like a natural path for me,” said Adam, 46, current resident of North Carolina.

Adam enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school graduation in 1995 and transferred to the U.S. Army in 2005, in total serving 22 years in the U.S. Military.

When the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened on the United States, it solidified the reason Adam joined the military in the first place: “I felt a strong desire to serve and protect my country; 9/11 reinforced those decisions I had made.”

His first deployment was in 2006-2007 in the Diyala Province of Iraq and lasted 15 months. It was during a period during the Iraq war known as “the surge,” with 2007 being the deadliest period for U.S. troops since 2004.

“It was certainly one of the most tumultuous deployments of my career,” Adam said. His unit was the smallest within the brigade and had the largest area of operations, resulting in almost daily, intense fighting with the enemy.

He went on to complete a year-long deployment in Iraq, a nine-month deployment to Jordan and a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Adam describes his first deployment, however, as the most difficult because of the major losses experienced: In the 500-person unit, 22 paratroopers were killed and 86 were injured.

“I was newly transitioned from the Marine Corps to the Army, still trying to figure out the Army lingo and different strategies, all while filling a leadership role as a section sergeant on my first deployment to the Middle East.”

“There was a lot of apprehension – I wanted to make sure I got things right. There were lives at stake if I didn’t.”

As the deployment continued, Adam came to dark realization.

“I was absolutely confident that I was not going to return from that deployment,” he said. “I mentally prepared myself for everything that I would be missing and the loss to my family.”

“I went through a two-week period of mourning my own loss,” he added. “After that, I felt I was able to more effectively focus on my mission, be effective and be tactically aggressive without the fear of me not returning home to my family.”

Adam remembers clearly how he felt the day he returned home from the deployment, stepping off the plane to friends, family, and fanfare.

“I felt very lost,” he said. “I didn’t expect to come home and here I am standing in front of my family.”

It was difficult for Adam to process and his integration back into family life was extremely difficult.

“I struggled with every type of communication and every type of emotion in every relationship I had, especially with my wife and children,” he said. “I didn’t want them sitting next to me, I didn’t want them to touch me – I didn’t want them emotionally connecting with me.”

Finally, Adam’s wife sat him down and told him that he needed help.

“I was extremely apprehensive because of the negative context of a servicemember in combat arms seeking help. At that time, it was just not an option,” he said. “But for my family’s sake, I did it.”

Adam tried talk therapy for about six years and while he thought it may have been effective at first, its usefulness wore off.

“I got to the point where I felt so emotionally exhausted – I couldn’t tell these stories again,” he said.

He went on to try medication, which was also helpful for a time, but it didn’t get to the root of the trauma he was experiencing. He also tried cognitive behavioral therapy, which he said was a difficult process: “It allowed me to address some of the major issues that I was struggling with, but I never felt like I had anything at the end to continue my mental health journey.”

“There were points over the years when I felt somewhat normal; it would last for short periods of time, but then I’d be triggered and that would send me off the rails again,” he added.

No matter the treatment, Adam felt that at one point or another, he always hit a wall.

“It’s because of this cycle, that I feel that I emotionally damaged both my children and my wife,” Adam said, becoming emotional. “It was a huge struggle in my marriage for years; I was absolutely emotionally disconnected and had no way in my mind of reconnecting with my emotions in a positive way.”

He was also apprehensive to continue to seek different treatments if they were all going to result in the same outcome. That is, until Warrior PATHH Guide Ray Edgar, also Adam’s Command Sergeant Major on his first deployment, reached out to Adam about Warrior PATHH.

“It was my last-ditch effort – my hail Mary,” Adam said. “I planned to throw all my eggs into this basket and hoped that it worked. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Adam’s PATHH Experience

Adam was hesitant before his initiation week in February 2022 and described coming to the Foundation as going out on a “very shaky limb.”

“From day one though, I felt comfortable,” Adam said. “The compassion from the all the guides and the fact that they had been in my place and shared their personal stories, made it a safe environment.”

The seven-day experience at Warrior PATHH includes 75 hours of training with 52 different training modules that teach students to cultivate Post-Traumatic Growth. The training includes a variety of wellness practices, opportunities for disclosure and communication skills that enable students to make peace with their past so they can live the life they deserve.

The first night Adam spent at the Foundation, a frigid February night by Maine standards, was not typical.

“I woke up absolutely drenched in sweat,” he said.

The next morning, PATHH Guides told him that what was happening was a very good thing and that they had even seen that before.

“It was a physiological response to releasing my emotions and stress,” Adam said. “Every morning until the end of the week, there was less and less sweat.”

Moving Forward

Adam is incredibly grateful to Warrior PATHH and looks forward to spreading the message of his success as a PATHH Guide and helping others who have been where he was, which is a vital component of PATHH – service to others.

“It’d be a travesty not to pay it forward,” he said.

Adam is particularly grateful that PATHH offers a support system for life – his three to five people he can rely on as a support system.

“I have not seen another program that offers that,” Adam said. “I lean on that when I’m really struggling. You will always have a home at Warrior PATHH – you’ll always have a touchpoint.”

Adam is excited to join the team as a PATHH Guide, but he’s also nervous.

“This is a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly,” Adam said. “I know the nervousness will fade as I begin working with participants. I do know that this is a passion that I want to share. I know the impact this program has had on my life and I’m excited to share it with others who are struggling.”

He also hopes that through sharing his experience, and through his honesty of those experiences, others will find connection.

“By sharing my personal mental health journey I can help others find themselves again through Warrior PATHH. I want to give hope to those who are struggling and guide them to the light.”

Adam has a message for post-911 combat veterans and first responders considering Warrior PATHH: “If you’re reading this and are struggling, know that there is hope. You can be happy, you deserve happiness, you deserve peace. Take the leap of faith, do the work and change your life forever.”

Marcus Hayward: Fitness and spending time with family are focus

For recalibrated veteran Marcus Hayward, life after injury is about fitness and family. That’s why when he came to the Travis Mills Foundation for the first time in 2019, he felt right at home.

The Travis Mills Foundation supports post-9/11 recalibrated veterans and their families through various programs that help heroic men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation.

The Foundation supports these veterans through a nationally recognized retreat located in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. Veterans who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their service to our nation receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses-paid, barrier-free experience in Maine where they can participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy much-needed rest and relaxation in Maine’s outdoors.

In 2022, the Foundation unveiled a Health & Wellness Center with an indoor pool and fitness center so recalibrated veterans can learn how to adapt mainstream equipment in a comfortable atmosphere, taking home what they learned, staying healthy beyond their visits to the Retreat.

While Marcus has visited the Retreat several times in both summer and winter, visiting after the Center was built provided a place where he felt very comfortable.

“The gym is my safe space,” he said. “The Center is amazing.”

Marcus’s Military Experience

In 2010, Marcus, a U.S. Army Sergeant, lost his left leg during his third deployment to Afghanistan – just two years before U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills lost portions of all of his limbs on his third deployment to the country.

As a search dog handler, Marcus was traveling on an ATV when it hit an IED. He sustained injuries to his eye, face, and left hand, along with the loss of his left leg. Luckily, Marcus was already in good physical shape.

“Doctors told me I might not have made it if that weren’t the case,” he added.

After numerous surgeries, Marcus went back to the gym and refound an existing passion for CrossFit he started back in 2007 while on a deployment to Iraq. Since then, he’s competed in many national and world competitions.

It was Marcus’s own recovery that inspired him to then pursue a career as a physical therapist, which he enjoyed doing for seven years. In July 2022, he walked into work and was told that due to a low number of patients, he would be let go at the end of the month.

“My family and I went to TMF a couple weeks later and I figured that would be good. I could gather myself and by the time we returned at the end of August, I’d figure out what I was going to do,” Marcus said.

Days after their return, Marcus received an email from the Christian school that his daughter attended. The state of Florida had recently passed legislation that would qualify an honorably discharged veteran for a teaching certificate, also helping to solve the state’s teacher shortage.

Within approximately a week of leaving the Retreat and seeing that email, Marcus had completed the teacher’s orientation and was in the classroom teaching ninth-grade geography, 10th grade world history and 12th grade U.S. Government.

Marcus quickly realized the nuances when working with different grades of students.

“What I found was that the ninth graders coming from middle school wanted to learn, wanted to engage – they were gung ho about learning,” he said.

“I also learned that world history isn’t always fun for sophomores,” Marcus said, laughing.

Not only Marcus, but his wife, Elizabeth, now work at the same school in South Florida that their daughter attends.

Elizabeth, a teacher’s assistant and Marcus is an armed school officer. He also performs security for Florida Atlantic University.

“The kids are happy to have us there,” said Marcus of himself and the team he works with.

“Our goal is to be there if, God forbid, something happens, but mostly we’re there to be friendly faces and a resource for students.”

 

The Travis Mills Foundation

Marcus and his family have been to the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat several times, but one of the most memorable was their first visit in 2018. His daughter, Macayle, was 4, and his wife was pregnant with their son.

“We hadn’t been north of Boston,” Marcus said. “The snow was falling – it was so relaxing,” he said.

Ice fishing, however, wasn’t Marcus’s favorite activity, he said, laughing. Instead, Marcus has enjoyed trying activities such as snowshoeing.

“That was a really good workout,” he said.
In subsequent visits, Marcus and Elizabeth enjoyed introducing their son, Mahkie, to the Travis Mills Foundation.
Marcus also came up to the Maine for the Travis Mills Foundation Plane Pull ®, one of the Foundation’s signature fundraising events, where he pulled an 80-ton plane with 19 of his fellow recalibrated veterans.

The Haywards enjoy visiting the Retreat especially during summer when they can get a reprieve from the heat of South Florida and spend quality family time together.
Marcus lovingly calls his son, Mahkie, a mamma’s boy, and he used to cry when Marcus and Elizabeth would enjoy “Date Night” at the Retreat, where participants are treated to a formal dinner and sunset cruise from the Retreat’s lakefront property.

“Now when we go, he doesn’t want to come back to us,” he said, laughing.

Family means everything to Marcus and enjoys to be able to share the adapted sports he loves with them in the restorative environment that the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat provides.

“It’s been a blessing.”

Marcus’s Military Experience

In 2010, Marcus, a U.S. Army Sergeant, lost his left leg during his third deployment to Afghanistan – just two years before U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills lost portions of all of his limbs on his third deployment to the country.

As a search dog handler, Marcus was traveling on an ATV when it hit an IED. He sustained injuries to his eye, face, and left hand, along with the loss of his left leg. Luckily, Marcus was already in good physical shape.

“Doctors told me I might not have made it if that weren’t the case,” he added.

After numerous surgeries, Marcus went back to the gym and refound an existing passion for CrossFit he started back in 2007 while on a deployment to Iraq. Since then, he’s competed in many national and world competitions.

It was Marcus’s own recovery that inspired him to then pursue a career as a physical therapist, which he enjoyed doing for seven years. In July 2022, he walked into work and was told that due to a low number of patients, he would be let go at the end of the month.

“My family and I went to TMF a couple weeks later and I figured that would be good. I could gather myself and by the time we returned at the end of August, I’d figure out what I was going to do,” Marcus said.

Days after their return, Marcus received an email from the Christian school that his daughter attended. The state of Florida had recently passed legislation that would qualify an honorably discharged veteran for a teaching certificate, also helping to solve the state’s teacher shortage.

Within approximately a week of leaving the Retreat and seeing that email, Marcus had completed the teacher’s orientation and was in the classroom teaching ninth-grade geography, 10th grade world history and 12th grade U.S. Government.

Marcus quickly realized the nuances when working with different grades of students.

“What I found was that the ninth graders coming from middle school wanted to learn, wanted to engage – they were gung ho about learning,” he said.

“I also learned that world history isn’t always fun for sophomores,” Marcus said, laughing.

Not only Marcus, but his wife, Elizabeth, now work at the same school in South Florida that their daughter attends.

Elizabeth, a teacher’s assistant and Marcus is an armed school officer. He also performs security for Florida Atlantic University.

“The kids are happy to have us there,” said Marcus of himself and the team he works with.

“Our goal is to be there if, God forbid, something happens, but mostly we’re there to be friendly faces and a resource for students.”

 

The Travis Mills Foundation

Marcus and his family have been to the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat several times, but one of the most memorable was their first visit in 2018. His daughter, Macayle, was 4, and his wife was pregnant with their son.

“We hadn’t been north of Boston,” Marcus said. “The snow was falling – it was so relaxing,” he said.

Ice fishing, however, wasn’t Marcus’s favorite activity, he said, laughing. Instead, Marcus has enjoyed trying activities such as snowshoeing.

“That was a really good workout,” he said.
In subsequent visits, Marcus and Elizabeth enjoyed introducing their son, Mahkie, to the Travis Mills Foundation.
Marcus also came up to the Maine for the Travis Mills Foundation Plane Pull ®, one of the Foundation’s signature fundraising events, where he pulled an 80-ton plane with 19 of his fellow recalibrated veterans.

The Haywards enjoy visiting the Retreat especially during summer when they can get a reprieve from the heat of South Florida and spend quality family time together.
Marcus lovingly calls his son, Mahkie, a mamma’s boy, and he used to cry when Marcus and Elizabeth would enjoy “Date Night” at the Retreat, where participants are treated to a formal dinner and sunset cruise from the Retreat’s lakefront property.

“Now when we go, he doesn’t want to come back to us,” he said, laughing.

Family means everything to Marcus and enjoys to be able to share the adapted sports he loves with them in the restorative environment that the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat provides.

“It’s been a blessing.”

Gentle Giants of the Sea

Recalibrated veterans dive at Georgia Aquarium

Recalibrated veterans swam off in pairs at the Georgia Aquarium in their “Journey with Gentle Giants,” the only experience in the world where participants are guaranteed to dive with whale sharks, manta rays and thousands of other underwater creatures.

Before the dive, they chose a buddy to swim with and watch out for while traversing the Ocean Voyager – the 6.3 million gallon tank where fish, over 20-foot whale sharks, a sea turtle, and other exciting sea life, glide around divers.

The Travis Mills Foundation has partnered with the Georgia Aquarium to take post-9/11 recalibrated veterans on this experience since May 2021 – their first guest from the Foundation? U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills, Founder and President of the Travis Mills Foundation.

Travis established the Foundation after he was injured on his third tour to Afghanistan. He set his bag down on an IED, triggering an explosion that eventually took portions of all of his limbs, making him one of five quadruple amputees from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries.

In 2017, Travis and his wife, Kelsey, opened the doors to the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. The Foundations supports post-9/11 recalibrated veterans and their families through various programs that help these heroic men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation.

The Experience

Kelly Roseberry, Vice President of Programming at the Foundation, developed the partnership with the Georgia Aquarium and said post-9/11 recalibrated veterans served at the Foundation find many benefits from the experience.

“Water is an equalizer for veterans with life-changing injuries like those we serve,” she said. “They feel free and relaxed in the water.”

For Army veteran and Florida resident Omar Romney, diving is a way to relieve symptoms of his traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS) he has experienced since being injured while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Two motor vehicle accidents in the country contributed to Omar’s injuries.

“On the second one, I was driving a heavy-wheeled vehicle that flipped over,” he said.

He was sent to Kuwait for medical assessment and because of injury to his spine, he was sent to Rota, Spain, then to Andrews Air Force Base and his final stop was Ft. Campbell, where he could begin healing. To this day, Omar has undergone multiple back surgeries and even a spinal cord stimulator to address paralysis in his lower extremities.

Omar started diving after his military service.

“When I’m diving it’s the only time I can truly get my brain to stop going 100 mph,” he said. “And because my body is naturally buoyant, pain is toned down while I’m floating or swimming along, getting lost with the underwater wonders.”

He also said that every time he dives, it’s like a brand-new experience.

“There’s always something new, like I’m going underwater for the very first time.”

Omar immensely appreciates the Georgia Aquarium experience afforded to him by the Foundation.

“I want to thank the Travis Mills Foundation for bringing me and my family along so we could have a great time together,” he said. “I feel we need to be able to build great memories with our loved ones and also that feeling of pride as our loved ones get to see us doing something as cool as diving or swimming with these amazing animals.”

Omar’s most memorable experience from the two-day trip, however, was the connections and camaraderie he made with fellow recalibrated veterans and their families.

“Everything else is a cherry on top,” he said.

The trip has inspired Omar, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, to develop a diving chapter for the veteran community on the northeast coast of the state.

Connection

While preparing for the dive at Georgia Aquarium, Omar reconnected with friend and fellow veteran Jason Bush, who he met 10 years ago through another veteran nonprofit, and stayed in touch with. Jason is currently Manager of the Military Salute Program at the Aquarium.

“Through the years we’ve kept in touch, trying to get veterans plugged into different programs. Seeing him at the Georgia Aquarium was super cool since we haven’t seen each other in years,” Omar said.

“Our paths would often cross many times during the past 10 years,” Jason said. “Omar has one of those personalities that is impossible not to be drawn to. Everyone who meets him loves him. He gives. Just as much support as he receives and then some. I am very thankful for our connection and know that he has touched many lives along his own journey. This is what it is all about, we draw strength from one another just as we did while we were ‘in.’”

Jason served in the Marine Corps from 1998 to 2005, serving during Operation Determined Response to assist the USS Cole when it was attacked; Operation Enduring Freedom (Middle East, Horn of Africa, and surrounding areas); and Operation Iraqi Freedom during the initial invasion in 2003, including The Battle of Nasiriyah and the Fall of Baghdad.

Jason started working for the Aquarium in April 2023 – his first experience with recalibrated veterans from the Travis Mills Foundation.

“It is amazing to see veterans be able to put aside the daily struggles if even for a moment to be immersed in this amazing, aquatic environment,” Jason said. “To see a different person get out of the water than they were when they went in is hugely empowering not only to the veterans themselves, but all who work together to make this experience happen on a weekly basis.”

The Travis Mills Foundation hosts recalibrated veterans for the “Journey with Gentle Giants” four times a year.

For some, the thought of swimming in the Voyager can be intimidating.

“In my years of working with my fellow veterans, I have found that being real with them and connecting on a deeper level than surface or subsurface builds relationships, which also builds trust,” Jason said.

The Aquarium, in fact, could arguably be the most safe place to try diving.

“The Aquarium has been a leader for innovation, education and research since its inception in all things fish and mammal. Why would a program for veterans put on by the Aquarium be any different?” he said. “The outdoors and in this case, the ocean and water, are the perfect backdrop for holistic healing. Here at the Aquarium, we offer a safe and controlled environment for veterans and their families to experience the healing nature of the underwater world that has the ability to open their eyes to a vast array of holistic coping skills associated with water and marine life.”

TMF’s last trip of the year to the Aquarium was just shortly before the July Fourth holiday in 2023 – spelled out in rocks at the bottom of the tank was “Happy Fourth,” a message that did not go unnoticed by the the Travis Mills Foundation’s recalibrated veterans.

“Just incredible,” said Omar.

The Experience

Kelly Roseberry, Vice President of Programming at the Foundation, developed the partnership with the Georgia Aquarium and said post-9/11 recalibrated veterans served at the Foundation find many benefits from the experience.

“Water is an equalizer for veterans with life-changing injuries like those we serve,” she said. “They feel free and relaxed in the water.”

For Army veteran and Florida resident Omar Romney, diving is a way to relieve symptoms of his traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS) he has experienced since being injured while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Two motor vehicle accidents in the country contributed to Omar’s injuries.

“On the second one, I was driving a heavy-wheeled vehicle that flipped over,” he said.

He was sent to Kuwait for medical assessment and because of injury to his spine, he was sent to Rota, Spain, then to Andrews Air Force Base and his final stop was Ft. Campbell, where he could begin healing. To this day, Omar has undergone multiple back surgeries and even a spinal cord stimulator to address paralysis in his lower extremities.

Omar started diving after his military service.

“When I’m diving it’s the only time I can truly get my brain to stop going 100 mph,” he said. “And because my body is naturally buoyant, pain is toned down while I’m floating or swimming along, getting lost with the underwater wonders.”

He also said that every time he dives, it’s like a brand-new experience.

“There’s always something new, like I’m going underwater for the very first time.”

Omar immensely appreciates the Georgia Aquarium experience afforded to him by the Foundation.

“I want to thank the Travis Mills Foundation for bringing me and my family along so we could have a great time together,” he said. “I feel we need to be able to build great memories with our loved ones and also that feeling of pride as our loved ones get to see us doing something as cool as diving or swimming with these amazing animals.”

Omar’s most memorable experience from the two-day trip, however, was the connections and camaraderie he made with fellow recalibrated veterans and their families.

“Everything else is a cherry on top,” he said.

The trip has inspired Omar, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, to develop a diving chapter for the veteran community on the northeast coast of the state.

Connection

While preparing for the dive at Georgia Aquarium, Omar reconnected with friend and fellow veteran Jason Bush, who he met 10 years ago through another veteran nonprofit, and stayed in touch with. Jason is currently Manager of the Military Salute Program at the Aquarium.

“Through the years we’ve kept in touch, trying to get veterans plugged into different programs. Seeing him at the Georgia Aquarium was super cool since we haven’t seen each other in years,” Omar said.

“Our paths would often cross many times during the past 10 years,” Jason said. “Omar has one of those personalities that is impossible not to be drawn to. Everyone who meets him loves him. He gives. Just as much support as he receives and then some. I am very thankful for our connection and know that he has touched many lives along his own journey. This is what it is all about, we draw strength from one another just as we did while we were ‘in.’”

Jason served in the Marine Corps from 1998 to 2005, serving during Operation Determined Response to assist the USS Cole when it was attacked; Operation Enduring Freedom (Middle East, Horn of Africa, and surrounding areas); and Operation Iraqi Freedom during the initial invasion in 2003, including The Battle of Nasiriyah and the Fall of Baghdad.

Jason started working for the Aquarium in April 2023 – his first experience with recalibrated veterans from the Travis Mills Foundation.

“It is amazing to see veterans be able to put aside the daily struggles if even for a moment to be immersed in this amazing, aquatic environment,” Jason said. “To see a different person get out of the water than they were when they went in is hugely empowering not only to the veterans themselves, but all who work together to make this experience happen on a weekly basis.”

The Travis Mills Foundation hosts recalibrated veterans for the “Journey with Gentle Giants” four times a year.

For some, the thought of swimming in the Voyager can be intimidating.

“In my years of working with my fellow veterans, I have found that being real with them and connecting on a deeper level than surface or subsurface builds relationships, which also builds trust,” Jason said.

The Aquarium, in fact, could arguably be the most safe place to try diving.

“The Aquarium has been a leader for innovation, education and research since its inception in all things fish and mammal. Why would a program for veterans put on by the Aquarium be any different?” he said. “The outdoors and in this case, the ocean and water, are the perfect backdrop for holistic healing. Here at the Aquarium, we offer a safe and controlled environment for veterans and their families to experience the healing nature of the underwater world that has the ability to open their eyes to a vast array of holistic coping skills associated with water and marine life.”

TMF’s last trip of the year to the Aquarium was just shortly before the July Fourth holiday in 2023 – spelled out in rocks at the bottom of the tank was “Happy Fourth,” a message that did not go unnoticed by the the Travis Mills Foundation’s recalibrated veterans.

“Just incredible,” said Omar.