Oct. 5, 2012 — -- Two rival teams will face off tonight at a Michigan homecoming football game, but this year fans from both sides will be sporting the same T-shirts with the motto, "Two Teams, One Hero."
The "hero" to whom they refer is Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, who's returning to his hometown for the first time since an IED explosion caused him to lose both his arms and legs. Mills, 25, is one of five surviving quadruple amputee servicemen from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He has been at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for the past six months and was waiting until he was ready to visit his small hometown of Vassar, Mich. Everyone had known him in the town as a popular football, basketball and baseball player.
"I decided that I would wait until I was ready to walk and show people the progress I'm making, not that they would ever doubt me or make fun of me," Mills told ABCNews.com. "It was a personal thing."
He has been stunned by his welcome home. Mills and wife Kelsey Mills, 23, and their 1-year-old daughter, Chloe, were grand marshals Thursday night at a homecoming parade. He will address the crowds tonight at Vassar High School, his alma mater, before the homecoming game.
Mills said his community has welcomed him, "Just arms wide open, big hugs, everybody's cheering, thanking me for my service. It's just wonderful."
Mills' life changed in April while he was serving his third tour in Afghanistan. He went out on foot patrol at around 4:30 p.m. A mine-sweeper surveyed the area, but did not pick up on an IED made of plastic and copper wire that was in the exact spot where Mills set down an ammunition bag.
"As soon as I set it down, five or six seconds later, I woke up on the ground and I looked at my hand and said, 'This isn't good,'" he recalls.
A medic rushed over to him and Mills told him, "Get away from me, doc. You go save my men. Let me go. Save my men."
Mills laughingly recalled the medic saying, "With all due respect, shut up."
The next few weeks were fuzzily spent being transferred from hospital to hospital and town to town under a medically induced coma.
When Mills woke up, he was with his brother-in-law, a fellow soldier who had stayed with him. Mills' first question was about his soldiers and whether they were OK. They were. His next question was whether he was paralyzed. He was not, his brother-in-law said.
Mills told his brother-in-law that he couldn't feel his fingers and toes and not to lie to him.
"Travis, you don't have them anymore but you're alive," Mills recalls his saying. "I said OK."
His limbs could not be saved and Mills lost most of both arms and both legs.
"You have a lot of emotions. At first you're upset. Why did it happen? What did I do wrong? Am I a bad person?" he said. "Then you realize it just happened because it happens. There's no reason to dwell on the past or live in the past. I have a beautiful wife and a beautiful, young 1-year-old daughter and I'm never going to give up on them or my family or the people who support me."
At Walter Reed, Mills' doctor told him that he would probably spend two years recovering in the hospital. Mills told him he could do it in a year.
For the past six months, he has spent every day doing occupational therapy and physical therapy. He works on his therapies from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day. He has received support from his medical team, family friends and the few other surviving quadruple amputees. And he has already begun to pay that support forward.