August 28, 2013

Belgrade camp hosts wounded veterans

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

BELGRADE —  With rolling thunder for fanfare, Staff Sgt. Travis Mills spoke rapidly and enthusiastically of a Maine camp where wounded veterans — including quadruple amputees like him — can go fishing, boating and tubing; drive golf carts; play golf; and have fun.

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Quadruple amputee Travis Mills, left, talks to reporters with fellow wounded veterans Taylor Morris, right, and Drew Mullee, top, as Maine's First Lady Ann LePage looks on at Camp Kennebec in Belgrade on Wednesday night. This week is "Founder's Week" at the Travis Mills Project National Veterans' Family Center at the camp located on the shores of Salmon Lake.

Staff photo by Jeff Pouland

click image to enlarge

U.S. Army veteran Travis Mills, left, sits next to fellow quadruple amputee survivor Taylor Morris, right, while talking to reporters on Wednesday night in Belgrade.

Staff photo by Jeff Pouland

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For this week, that was a reality at Camp Kennebec, where five of the cabins were refitted to be fully accessible and widened gravel paths and wooden ramps made it easier to get into Salmon Lake and onto boats.

Mills, wounded April 10, 2012, in Afghanistan in an explosion that took parts of both legs and arms, was joined by his family and four other veterans also being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center and their families as well as two Maine veterans, Brendan Higgins, of Readfield, and Jeremy Gilley, of Palermo.

“From what I understand, they’re having a heck of a time,” Mills said. “I want to show them the beauty of Maine all year round.”

He talked about his walk into the water on his “short legs” without his prosthetic arms, his 1 1/2-year-old daughter following right behind, then of tubing across the water.

He spoke, too, of waking up in a hospital, learning he had lost his limbs, meeting another quadruple amputee who helped him and then deciding on his goal of helping other amputees.

This is Founders Week at the National Veterans Family Center, which is part of the Travis Mills Project.

It evolved from Mills sharing his idea for a recreation center for veterans and their families with Dean Lachance, executive director of the Augusta-based Bread of Life Ministries.

That conversation occurred nine months ago.

Now Mills has bought property in Manchester and plans to move with his family to Maine, working full time on the project, which he hopes will become a year-round recreational refuge for veterans and their families.

Wednesday night was steak-and-lobster night at the camp, and Mills and the other veterans were joined by Gov. Paul LePage and first lady Ann LePage.

Ann LePage has signed on as a “first lady of Camp Kennebec,” and she engaged in an easy, teasing repartee with Mills as he prepared for an interview with a number of newspeople in an wooden building designated as the media center.

The thunder, lightning and rain proved no barriers for the men, and Mills sported a bright white watch strapped to one wrist so he could try to keep everything on schedule.

Governors from the home states of other veterans had sent state flags to the camp. “I’ll be honest,” Ann LePage said. “The flags are nice, but I want their money.”

She referred to the fundraising campaign under way now. 

The immediate goal is to raise $25,000 to finish funding the $95,000 cost of the remodeling done so far and the week’s camping and other activities.

Lachance has more long-range goals as well: raising $5 million in seed money to buy the camp itself and make all the cabins, other buildings and activities handicapped-accessible, as well as offering free camping for veterans and their families for five or six years. Finally, the goal also is to raise $15 million in an endowment to keep it going.

More information on the camp and its mission and fundraising can be found at

For Sgt. William Andrew “Drew” Mullee, from northeast Ohio, the camp was already a winner.

“Any time you’re out of Washington, D.C., you’re probably in a good place,” Mullee said. He talked about leaving Walter Reed for the week and being able to get outdoors with his wife and 11-month-old son, Easton. “They’re loving it,” he said

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Quadruple amputee survivor and U.S. Army veteran Travis Mills talks to reporters at Camp Kennebec in Belgrade on Wednesday night.

Staff photo by Jeff Pouland


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