Jonathon Link, a 1993 graduate of Iola-Scandinavia High School, had dreams of making feature films since he was 16 years old.
Now, after years of hard work, one of his films, a documentary titled “Travis: A Soldier’s Story,” was shown on Capitol Hill on Nov. 18.
“To have a film be shown for Congress is a very humbling and an once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Link who was the writer, director, cinematographer and editor of the feature documentary.
The 60-minute film tells the story of 26-year old U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne.
Mills lost portions of both arms and legs as the result of an improvised explosive device on April 10, 2012. He is one of five quadruple-amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive their injuries.
“Our main goal for the film is just to share Travis’s story in hopes that it will help not only other soldiers and their families, but anyone facing trials in life,” said Link. “Sometimes documentaries, even though very well-done, can leave you feeling heavy. This film isn’t ‘pro-war’ or ‘anti-war.’ We want people to finish watching it and simply walk away feeling motivated to tackle challenges in their own life with the same attitude Travis has.”
The documentary is produced by Fotolanthropy, a non-profit organization that provides professional portrait photography and short films for select stories to individuals and families who have overcome adversity.
“Fotolanthropy founder Katie Norris discovered Travis’s story online,” Link said. “She saw a picture of this big guy with a huge smile, but missing all four limbs. She was really interested in doing a piece on him, and just a few weeks after contacting him and his wife Kelsey, our team flew out to North Carolina to interview them and do portraits.”
“Travis: A Soldier’s Story” takes a look into the life of a wounded soldier and the challenges that come from a life-altering injury.
“After we filmed our initial interviews with Travis and Kelsey at Fort Bragg last fall, we realized their story was powerful,” Link said. “It had the potential to impact not just other soldiers and their families, but was incredibly motivating to anyone facing difficult life circumstances.”
Link described Mills’ physical progress and positive attitude as amazing.
“It definitely makes you look at your own attitude towards inconveniences in your life that are so trivial compared to what Travis and his family have been through,” Link said. “Travis’s wife Kelsey is a big part of this documentary as well. Her steadfastness and resilience are really incredible.”
The documentary reenacts the events of April 10, 2012.
“We talked with Travis and Kelsey about how they would feel reenacting some of their story, and thankfully they trusted us and took a leap of faith,” Link said. “About 10 days out from filming we found out that several soldiers who were actually with Travis when the accident happened – friend and brother-in-law Josh, combat medics Daniel and Alex, and fellow soldiers who were injured in the accident, Ryan and Brandon – wanted to come be a part of the filming as well and were also willing to be interviewed.”
Link noted that it is rare for a filmmaker to have the actual people directly involved in such an incident to participate in a reenactment.
“Doing the reenactment was not difficult for me,” Mills said. “I knew how it turned out. It was hard for the guys that watched it happen to me, though. Going through that again was pretty rough.”
Mills pauses for a moment. “You know I had my daughter’s name, Chloe Lynn, tattooed on my left arm before I blew up,” he said. “Somehow through all of this, they were able to save it. If it would have been on my other arm, it would have been gone.”
“I cannot change a diaper, which I am not complaining about, but I can drive, I got up this morning, showered and got dressed,” he said. “I have found the new normal and it’s worth it being here. Some guys did not make it home.”
“I am going to keep living life like I would have, if I wouldn’t have gotten blown up,” Mills said. “There are some things I cannot do, like throwing a softball, but if my daughter wants to play when she gets bigger, I am going to find a way to do it.”
On Nov. 18, Jonathon Link and Katie Norris stood before Congress and introduced their film.
“My hope is that this story sticks with each of them so that no matter what their party lines or particular political views are, it is something they should think back on when they are called to make difficult future decisions concerning our military,” said Link. “Whether that is if or where our soldiers are sent, making sure they have the protections they need while they are there and helping them with care, assistance and job opportunities when they return home.”
Link believes the military includes more than just those in uniform.
“Behind each of those soldiers are some pretty amazing wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, siblings and children. Their roles are just as heroic as our uniformed members,” Link said. “This experience has certainly changed the way I look at our military members and their families. If there is one thing I remember from Travis that I apply to my life, during the hard and challenging moments, it is to never give up, never quit. It’s those words that made this film possible.”
“I am just one of many stories and it’s the same story for many wounded soldiers. My problems are no bigger than anyone else. This happened; this is how I got through it and went on with my life,” Mills said. “Going forward was the life I chose for myself, my wife Kelsey and our daughter. Each day I get more and more independent. Anything less would just be selfish.”
“Travis: A Soldier’s Story” is currently playing in select theaters. Go to TravisTheMovie.com to learn more about the film.