ROME — Chris Roseberry is a hard man to stop.

Roseberry, a U.S. Army veteran, was driving a motorcycle in 2005 when a car came straight at him and he swerved to avoid it. He crashed the bike, breaking his arm and neck and eventually losing the lower part of his right leg.

Stationed at Fort Bragg at the time, Roseberry, then 28, spent two years in the hospital before resuming service and deploying to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, using a prosthetic leg.

Before his accident, Roseberry also served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. But in Afghanistan, his injury grew worse when the end of his right leg tore open and wouldn’t heal. He had another four inches of the leg removed in 2015, and finally retired as a master sergeant last December.

After all that, Roseberry, 40, will soon get his vacation. He’ll be one of the first wounded veterans to stay at a lakeside retreat in Rome that has been designed with amputees like him in mind, with carefully built showers, elevators and other features.

The retreat, which has its grand opening Sunday, is the work of Travis Mills, an Army staff sergeant who lost all four of his limbs after surviving an explosion in Afghanistan. Since then, Mills, a 30-year-old Michigan native, has started a foundation to raise money for wounded veterans and moved to the Augusta area, where his wife Kelsey is from.


In its first summer, 56 wounded veterans and their families will stay at the Travis Mills Foundation’s retreat, which includes a handicapped accessible lodge, lake access, kayaks, bicycles, paddle boards, a movie theater, a children’s play space and other amenities.

The veterans staying there have all lost limbs and served in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. The mission of the retreat is to provide them with a relaxing place to stay for a week, free-of-charge and in the company of veterans going through similar recoveries.

After Roseberry spends his week in the lodge, he will continue to volunteer there and reside in a nearby bungalow with his fiancee, Kelly McGaughey, a trained physical therapist who will manage the retreat.

“The best part of healing has been being able to talk to about it,” said Roseberry, who was accompanied by his service dog, Gabby, a black retriever with hints of pitbull. “We can tell people outside the military and they understand it, but when it’s a group of injured people talking to one another, we can really grasp the full reality, and I think that’s a great way to calm one another.”

Soldiers who have lost limbs have a unique connection to each, Roseberry continued, one that can lead to a particular kind of humor.

“People like me with one below-the-knee amputation, we tend to call ourselves ‘paper cuts,'” he said, comparing the extent of his injuries to those Mills suffered.


On Sunday, the sky was bright blue. Long Pond glittered in the distance, as a couple hundred visitors gathered at the retreat for tours, socializing, appetizers, mimosas and a set of speeches by Mills, Gov. Paul LePage — who said that all veterans and their families are welcome in Maine — and other dignitaries.

The idea for starting a foundation came to Mills following his own injuries in 2012. The quadruple amputee benefited greatly from the support of his wife Kelsey, his daughter Chloe and other family, and he also discovered the restorative power of activities like mountain biking, he said in his remarks to visitors on Sunday.

“I know what it was like to have family there to be able to do those things with you,” he said, in between a generous helping of jokes.

Chloe, who is 5, stood on stage with him, and at one point helped demonstrate what her dad called “my trick”: yanking off his hand.

“Now I want to make sure that I can give you a hand,” he told the audience, as his daughter ran off with the prosthetic, grinning mischievously.

Mills founded his organization in 2013, and has made a career in motivational speaking. In 2014, he and Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage, skydived together as part of a fundraiser.


To open the retreat, his foundation raised $2.5 million — both cash and in-kind gifts — between 2015 and 2016, said Brandy Cain, who handles the organization’s donor relations.

The property used to belong to Elizabeth Arden, who founded a cosmetics company in her own name, and the organization made significant renovations on the home that was there, with Mills himself suggesting many features geared toward handicapped veterans.

The organization will continue to raise funds, in order to pay back its $1.1 million mortgage, fund the retreat, expand its offerings and build an endowment, Cain said.

The group hopes to eventually create a similar program for Vietnam era veterans, who have been among the warmest supporters of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Mills said.

An estimated 3.6 percent of soldiers required amputations after their injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a 2011 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office — a rate that’s slightly higher than the estimated 2.6 percent who required amputations in Vietnam.

Some experts believe soldiers in modern wars are more likely to lose their limbs and experience traumatic brain injury because of advances in military technology, like body armor that protects from explosions and gunshots, but leaves the head and limbs exposed, and battlefield medicine that allows recovery from serious wounds.


Another condition associated with those modern wars is post-traumatic stress disorder, which can induce sleep difficulties, bad dreams, angry outbursts and other persistent symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Roseberry, the veteran who lost his lower leg, said he thinks the new retreat will have a calming effect on any visitors who are experiencing PTSD and help them build connections that continue past the one week vacation.

“They’ll know when they leave here that everyone is still here for them, and that’s what this is for,” he said.

His fiancee, McGaughey, used to work with injured veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and she will direct the new retreat.

Letting veterans bike, kayak and participate in other activities will help them connect with their families and perhaps discover a new pastime, McGaughey said Sunday.

“Places like these change peoples’ lives,” she said. “I know that sounds really cheesy, but they really make a huge difference. A lot of the participants we have coming this summer are no longer currently in the hospital setting, so it’s nice to sort of re-engage them in different activities that they may not have realized how successful they could be at.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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