SSG Travis Mills of Manchaster speaks at a a HospitalityMaine event in Bangor Tuesday. Mills owns a marina and runs a retreat for wounded veterans. He lost portions of all four of his limbs while serving in Afghanistan. Credit: Gabor Degre

Like many people at the Cross Insurance Center on Tuesday afternoon, Travis Mills works in the hospitality industry. He and a friend own a lakeside lodging business outside Augusta.

But that venture isn’t what distinguishes Mills, a veteran of the U.S. Army. In 2012, he almost died on his third tour in Afghanistan when he was caught in the blast from an improvised explosive device. Now 31, the staff sergeant is missing all his limbs and has learned to move around with prosthetics.

He also travels the country delivering motivational talks and was invited to give the keynote speech on Tuesday at a summit in Bangor hosted by HospitalityMaine, a trade group for the state’s hoteliers, innkeepers and restaurateurs.

“I’m a little nervous, I’m going to be honest,” Mills said at the start of his talk, before lightening the mood with a series of jokes about his injuries. A computerized sensor in his left prosthetic leg wasn’t working correctly Tuesday, so with a big smile he warned, “If I fall, don’t worry, I’ll most likely get back up.”

Amid the laughter, Mills proceeded to explain how, at the age of 24, he suffered the catastrophic injuries that would upend his life.

At the time, his daughter was an infant. Afterward, his wife Kelsey and other relatives provided unflinching support during his recovery. A Michigan native, Mills moved to the Augusta area to be near Kelsey’s family. In spite of his injuries, Mills also served as a mentor for other injured veterans, eventually earning the nickname “Mayor” during his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

All the support Mills gave and received during those years inspired him to start a foundation for wounded veterans. In 2017, the organization opened a handicap-accessible retreat in the Belgrade Lakes region of central Maine where up to eight veterans and their families can now stay.

Mills also has more than a year of experience running his own hospitality business, Lakeside Motels & Cabins in East Winthrop. He and his partner, Zach Stewart, purchased the operation at the end of 2016.

While that was one reason Mills was invited to the conference in Bangor this week, organizers mainly hoped that he would fire up the crowd. HospitalityMaine is an organization that was recently formed from two separate trade groups, the Maine Restaurant Association and Maine Innkeepers Association.

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“It’s the bigger message of ‘Never give up,’” Steve Hewins, CEO and president of HospitalityMaine, said before Mills’ speech. “This is a room full of entrepreneurs. They need that motivation to keep going forward. We think his message will resonate with people at end of two days.”

The conference began Monday, when the organization presented a study showing that Maine’s hospitality industry employed more than 77,000 people in 2017, among other economic indicators.

To try to address a statewide shortage in hospitality workers, it also announced that it’s developing an apprentice program in partnership with the Maine Department of Labor and the Maine Community College System that would train students in culinary arts and hospitality services.

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