Tough As They Come – Book Review
Tough As They Come. SSG Travis Mills with Marcus Brotherton. Convergent Books. 272 pages. Hard cover. $25.00
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated some incredible personal stories of courage and determination. These stories highlight the power of the human spirit and have undoubtedly inspired many who have struggled with their own challenges. One Soldier’s story which clearly has touched and effected many is that of SSG Travis Mills. His story and his ability to face an incredible challenge will now be known and appreciated by a far greater audience with the release of his outstanding book, Tough As They Come.
For those unfamiliar with the challenge Mills has faced, it is a significant to say the least. During his third deployment to Afghanistan, while conducting a patrol, Mills set his backpack on the ground. This touched off an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which immediately made him a triple amputee. A few days later, while in the hospital, his remaining limb was removed. Incredibly, Mills survived making him one of five servicemen who served in Iraq and Afghanistan living as quadruple amputees.
To convey his story, Tough As They Come is essentially organized into two sections. During the first portion of book, Mills details his childhood, high school years and initial years in the US Army. Within these pages, readers glean an understanding of how these years set the foundation for him to meet his subsequent challenges. The early life lessons and advice received from others he highlights proved so instrumental later in his life. This section transitions perfectly into the remainder of the book.
This last section focuses on Mills’ life following his IED injuries. Mills addresses the extraordinary physical and emotional challenges he faced. He also highlights the incredible impact his family, friends, and faith had in meeting his challenges. Mills is extraordinarily candid in this discussion. He does not attempt to sugar coat any of his feelings. This honesty clearly will affect all who read Tough As They Come.
Mills does not dwell on the event itself which so dramatically changed his life. For the reader, it is simply stated within the text of the volume. He begins by recalling that he leading a patrol which had not been planned originally. Then almost matter of frankly, Mills writes, “… I set my backpack down. The backpack touching the dirt was all it took. Such a simple act of war.”
I can’t remember reading a book which was packed with so many reflective and inspiring observations and remarks. In particular, the final chapters of the volume are filled with powerful comments which will touch readers. I’d like to share two paragraphs which particularly resonated in me. The first is taken from the book’s conclusion. He states, “I don’t think what I’ve gone through is particularly harder than what plenty of other people go through. Maybe your mom has gone through terminal cancer. Or maybe you lost your job. Or maybe you struggle with an addiction. I don’t compare the degree of difficulty in my story to anybody else’s. We all have our unique challenges to go through. The point is that you can keep going. You can choose to never give up. You can choose to never quit.”
The second is taken from Mill’s discussion of his rehabilitation. He states, “Somewhere along the process, I decided not to be known as a “wounded warrior.” I don’t mean disrespect to anybody who goes by the title, and I still use it from time to time because it’s convenient shorthand for describing veterans who’ve been through combat-related injuries. But if you still think of yourself as “wounded,” then you’re still focusing on your injury. I wasn’t going to do that. I was healed. I had my scars, but I was the same “me” as I’d always been. I’d be a man with scars who chose to live life to the fullest and best.”
Before I conclude the review, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Mills was assisted in writing his book by veteran author Marcus Brotherton. Brotherton has written many of his own books, but perhaps is best known for assisting several others in telling their own stories. His guidance and expertise are highlighted throughout Tough As They Come. Clearly, Mills has made an excellent decision in selecting Brotherton as his collaborator.
In summary, this is superb book which will likely be an extremely emotional read for many. It is also a volume which will be extremely thought-provoking for readers. For some, the pages may cause them to reassess the magnitude of the problems in their life. Perhaps, their issues are not as difficult as they currently perceive them. For others who may be facing a significant life challenge; the Mills story is filled with encouragement. In either case, this is one of those rare books which has the ability to change a person’s life.
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.