Making Connections

The Travis Mills Foundation helps veterans and their families.

Jannell, Jase and Matt Brady, courtesy of Matt Brady.

Matt Brady says he should have been blown to pieces when the suicide car hit his team’s Humvee during a combat patrol. It was in Baqubah, Iraq, in 2005—10 months into Brady’s 13-month deployment—when 300 pounds of explosives hit his vehicle. As the machine gunner, he bore the brunt of the shrapnel, which pounded into his torso. He sustained a brain injury, a fractured jaw, burst eardrums and countless burns and cuts.

Brady, who was deployed with the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, remembers crawling out of the Humvee. He remembers seeing American boots running up to him and waking up later in a hospital. 

Brady finished his deployment and abandoned his goal of being a career soldier. In 2006, at the age of 21, he returned home to Ocala, where he had first decided to enlist, in 2003, after he graduated from Vanguard High School. 

Brady now says he wouldn’t truly start healing from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) until he encountered the Travis Mills Foundation (TMF) in 2018. He attended a TMF retreat that year and offers that only once he was surrounded by veterans who had been in his shoes did his healing truly begin.

Founded by former Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills in 2017, TMF is a nonprofit headquartered in Maine for veterans who are permanently disabled, and their families, to rest and heal through adaptive sports and in community with other injured veterans. Mills founded the organization after he lost portions of all four limbs in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan. After healing, he saw himself not as a wounded warrior but as a “recalibrated” one, meaning he had been wounded but now was living his new normal. 

“He wanted to establish a place where veterans could go, live off the sidelines and enjoy that moment with their families,” says TMF Communications and Marketing Manager Molly Lovell-Keely. “They come here, they do the things they used to do, or they do things they’ve never done before. It really boosts their morale. It allows their family to rally and enjoy these moments… they don’t feel so alone.”

TMF accommodates eight families each week and every activity is tailored for the limitations of the veteran. Whether it’s adaptive kayak, golf, fly fishing, a rope course and wheelchair basketball, where even the family members play in a wheelchair, or something more laid-back, like boat rides on the lake, ziplines, visits to zoos or aquariums, and relaxing on the deck all day, TMF seeks to give veterans a stress-free place to rest alongside other veterans with similar stories. The weeklong retreat is all-expenses paid and all-inclusive. Applications may be requested on TMF’s website.

“We had a fly-tying class and I watched the guy with no arm—and he had a big hook—tie a fly better than I could,” Brady offers. “Holy smokes, you know, there’s guys with one arm, or no arms, shooting a bow and arrow!”

Brady adds that he knew hardly any veterans in Ocala or elsewhere before he and his wife, Jannell, went to their first TMF retreat in 2018. 

“I’ve got this network of veterans now,” he shares. “And I’ve got people all over the country… just the bonds that you build with these other veterans that you’ve never met a day in your life is cool.”

Ocalan Linda Bammann is a board member with the foundation. She wanted to introduce the equestrian community and the many veterans in Marion County to TMF and helped organize the first local Never Give Up On Country concert, which took place last November.

“When the World Equestrian Center (WEC) opened up, I just thought it’s a perfect opportunity to bring the Travis Mills Foundation to Ocala,” Bammann says of that event. 

On December 9th, TMF is hosting its second Never Give Up On Country concert, again at WEC. It will feature Jimmie Allen, with special guests Colt Ford and Kidd G. A block party with Chris McNeil will begin at 4:30pm, with contests, a parachute show, food trucks and more. The concert will start at 7pm. Tickets can be purchased at https://bit.ly/NeVerGiVeUp OS

To learn more about the Travis Mills Foundation, go to travismillsfoundation.org

NEVER GIVE UP ON COUNTRY CONCERT

World Equestrian Center, Expo Center

December 9, 2022 | Block Party 4:30pm. | Concert 7pm. 

https://never-give-up-on-country.eventbrite.com

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