Then I noticed the leg. Gone! And in its place, a highly engineered steel prosthetic. I told him that my brother-in-law has such a leg (from a fall from a hang glider or something similar). We struck up a conversation. Then he began to tell his story … Incredible!
Travis later told me how he was injured in a combat recovery mission in 2007 as he served in the Army. He had been in the Army for some thirteen years. He was fighting in Afghanistan during “Operation Enduring Freedom”. “I was struck by an IED (makeshift bomb),” he said. Then I was laying on the ground while they were trying to assess my wounds until the helicopter came. I was taken to a field hospital in Kandahar,” he later told me.
I asked him if he got flown into a German hospital. He said, “Landstuhl, Sir!“ I then mentioned that my son-in-law, Paul, is a flight nurse in the US Air Force. I told Travis that when stationed in Germany, Paul flew on rescue missions from Germany to war zones and then brought back injured soldiers in a giant C-17 transport plane that he and his team converted into a literal hospital capable of transporting 20 or 30 soldier patients. We talked of how five years ago my wife and I went to Germany and were able to see Paul’s team convert the transport plane into the hospital. It took a good three hours for this operation. Very fascinating! And then at the end of this experience, a group of veterans came on board to see the hospital plane with their wives. These guys had all made the trip from war zones to German hospitals – some years before – but none of them remembered their trips (because of drugs, medical conditions, etc.). Now, many of them were amputees and had other major physical setbacks – but they were smiling. Wow! That really tugged at our heart strings – and brought tears to our eyes. Such a sacrifice for our freedom!
Such was the case with my new friend, Travis. He says that he remembers being loaded into a helicopter as he was taken from the battlefield to the field hospital but that he passed into a coma en route and doesn’t remember any of the next experiences. He was in the coma for 33 days! “I broke my spine in six places. My pelvis was completely crushed and my spinal cord came away from the pelvis. I broke three ribs and one went through my right lung. So, I now only have about 35% use of that lung. I also lost a foot and a half of my small intestine and eight inches of my large intestine. Both of my kidneys were lacerated and shut down. I had a ruptured bladder. My temporal bone on my right side was shattered. I had a lot of muscle mass loss,” Travis shared with me. And I think I am challenged when I can’t get the internet!
He continued: “Ultimately I was in the hospital for three years and had 84 surgeries. I’m a Picasso underneath all my clothes.” (He didn’t want me to divulge that …) After the laughs, he said, “My wife didn’t find out about me getting blown up for two days after the accident. The Army folks had no emotion and they gave few details- except that I was alive and back in the line of duty. A second caller suggested that she fly to Germany because my kidneys had failed and that I was probably going to die. An LDS surgeon saw my dog tags and saw that I was LDS. He and an Area Seventy gave me a priesthood blessing and my kidney status stabilized. I began to improve. My wife connected with me (still in a coma) at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.” Travis really is the “miracle man”!
I next saw Travis in his own campsite. I went as a Commissioner to visit him and his troop. I found the Scouts doing the usual campsite stuff – eating and whittling on sticks. I looked around to see where Travis might be. I wondered if he was doing a Scoutmaster thing out in a hammock somewhere in the campsite. No, that would not be Travis.
I found him over under a tree riding an interesting cycling machine and he was really going for it. I had never seen such a contraption. Then I really got a surprise as Travis explained to me that he is an Olympic para-cyclist. Then he flashed his characteristic smile. I love that smile. He is always so happy! But, I didn’t know what he was talking about. He explained further in his humble way, “I’m trying to make it to the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 – riding a bike for people who are broken.”
He said that he rides a “hand cycle” – per his coach’s instructions – often up to three hours a day. But, his coach told him that he could ride for just an hour and a half each day up here at camp. And there he was going for that hour and a half with great gusto. He also noted that his Scouts have loved playing on the machine – but they can’t get anywhere close to his record. “They have had fun competing against themselves,” said Travis.
Wow! This guy was amazing! He just keeps getting better and better. Being a blog writer, I immediately knew as I met Travis that I had a story. I asked him if I could write about him. His smile diminished a bit. He said, “I don’t’ usually try to draw attention to myself.” Then after thinking a moment, he said, “But, I do often go out and speak at firesides and youth groups. It’s my way of giving back – ‘cause a lot of people have helped me.” He did, however, agree to talk with me in an interview. He shared more intimate details of his “situation”, his family, and his life now as a high school science teacher. He noted that he has a wife and three children. His oldest daughter was just a year old when he was injured. Another wow!
I asked Travis how he came to be in Scouting. He said that he was not a Scout as a youth. “I started working at age nine,” he said. “I worked in my grandfather’s automotive shop in California. We were poor and everyone had to work. Scouting conflicted with work for my grandpa.” I said, “So, what do you think of Scouting now?” “It’s AWESOME,” he said. “I love the program. I love that they make opportunities for Scouts to learn basic skills. I like that they focus on being a part of a group and learning to talk to each other. I like the idea of getting the kids away from the world for a week – and getting them to recognize the world around them without their phones.”
I have noted that Travis is AWESOME as a Scout leader. He does the usual Scoutmaster things with his troop – trying to motivate Scouts to do their jobs – to be up and moving and doing. But I got another surprise as I went again to his campsite another time and found him out in a field playing Frisbee football with his guys. He was the only “thrower” and most of his troop were forty or so yards down the field. He’d throw a high-flier and then all of the Scouts would scramble to try to catch it. They would throw it back to him and then he’d hobble over to pick up the Frisbee, and then he’d throw it again. Finally one of his Scouts came over to be his runner. And he kept flashing his characteristic smile. He was in his element – and loving every moment of this adventure in his life with his boys.
As Lou, my wife, and I finished the interview, Travis had a final comment, “You’ve got to keep living – or you die!” And then came that smile again! And as I left the campsite, I kind of tripped trying to get through all of the gopher or whatever holes in the grass. Travis yelled, “Hey! Watch your step!” I turned back and said, “You’re funny, Travis!” And he smiled!
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails …
Author: Kevin Hunt |#thescoutblogger, Scouting Historian, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Scouting Veteran, and Camp Director.
See this link for an introduction to Kevin the Scouting Trails Blogger. Blogging articles have excerpts taken from Kevin’s many personal journals and Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership,” “Gnubie to Eagle Scout”, and others at his Scoutingtrails website. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and the Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read! Find Kevin on Facebook at: Scouting Trails Books and Blogs.
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