Like many of the recalibrated veterans who attend the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat, Jason Searles experienced limb loss after he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan. Besides losing a leg, he also has what he calls residual injuries from the explosion – missing fingers and a bicep that doesn’t work like it used to.
Jason had been in the Army a little more than 10 years when he was injured, and heard of Travis and his accident as Jason was finishing up his recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital. He and his wife, Stephanie, followed Travis’s story, mostly because Travis stood out as one of only five people to lose all of his limbs in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and survive. Subsequently they saw that Travis had started a Foundation and decided to apply.
Their first visit was this past July, and though the weather was rainy, Jason and Stephanie had a wonderful time together with their children, Cooper, 9, and Natalie, 7.
The experience, Jason said, exceeded any and all expectations he had.
“They were adamant about letting us know that there was no commitment to do activities – even though we did. If we wanted to just relax or read a book, that was perfectly ok,” he said.
Both Cooper and Natalie even cried when they had to leave; Stephanie said she appreciated a schedule of events being available.
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“Even in the rain the staff had events planned and fun things to do,” she said. “It was so thoughtful, just incredible.”
Mostly, Stephanie enjoyed being around other families who have had similar experiences.
“It’s been 10 years since Jason’s injury. It’s easy to forget what it was like or little things we do daily that are normal to us now,” she said. “It brought us all together.”
The trip to Maine was the first time Jason, Stephanie and their children had a vacation that was just the four of them.
“It was so neat to experience things for the first time together like tubing and the ropes course,” Stephanie said. “So many veteran events only include the veteran and maybe the spouse, but that’s it. It was really unique and special to have our whole family here.”
Jason and Stephanie, and even their children, were humbled by their experience at the retreat and felt they may not have been worthy when they saw that some of the veterans had more severe injuries.
“Some people lost two legs,” Cooper said.
“All the dads are missing a leg,” Natalie even pointed out to her parents.
Stephanie was especially humbled by the Foundation’s volunteers.
“There was a father and son from Georgia. It blew my mind that people take time out of their own lives and fly here to volunteer for a week,” she said. “There were also so many people who live in this area who devote their time to veterans. It was such a hot day but they were cutting the grass, gardening, and even driving the boat for us.”
Jason loved seeing Maine and sitting around the fire with other veterans and their families.
“It was exactly what we needed,” he said.
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. We offer our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all expenses paid experience at our world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. We offer various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation.