AFTER graduating from high school, Ben enlisted in the United States Navy. While stationed in Atsugi, Japan he was attached to squadron VAQ-136 as a Plane Captain. While on deployment on the USS Kitty Hawk, Ben excelled in his position and became Plane Captain of the Quarter and then Plane Captain of the Year in his second year in the squadron. Before his four year enlistment ended, Ben became an Aviation Machinist Mate Petty Officer, 3rd class.
Leaving the US Navy he went to college at Western Illinois University and graduated with a Bachelors in Recreation Parks and Tourism Administration with a minor in Natural Resource Conservation. Upon completion at WIU he became a Certified Arborist and worked in that capacity at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Il. After several years with Morton Arboretum, Ben realized his life's dream when he accepted a position as the Head Park Ranger at Loud Thunder Forest Preserve in western Illinois.
Bow hunting has been a major part of Ben's life for many years. On Thursday, October 4th, 2012, Ben went out to the woods for an evening hunt after work. Climbing up and setting his stand, he settled in to hunt. About 5:15pm he decided to call it a day. As he turned to climb down from the deer stand, he leaned a bit against the harness. Suddenly the harness clevice slipped out, and he fell 15 feet, landing squarely on his back. Seeing that his legs were unresponsive, he concluded that his back might be broken. Drawing on survival skills from his training, he knew shock would set in soon, and decided he needed to take immediate action. The first thing he did was call the county rescue: "Hi, this is Ben Mills, Park Ranger at Loud Thunder, and I think I broke my back. Send an ambulance to the park driveway and I will have one of my Rangers meet you." Next, he called his Ranger that was on call, with a description of where he fell and instructions to meet the ambulance. His third call was to his wife to meet the ambulance. As it was getting darker, he remembered that his cell phone had a strobe feature. Propping his arm and hand, he planned to turn it on as soon as he felt he was going to go into shock. The next thing he remembered was being carried out of the woods on a stretcher and then to the waiting ambulance. Later that night he was air lifted to a second hospital for surgery. After surgery he learned that his spine was damaged to such an extent that he was paralyzed from waist down.
Six weeks later he was discharged from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), and two weeks after that returned to work at Loud Thunder Forest Preserve. Receiving physical therapy at Genesis in Bettendorf, IL, he has been learning how to adjust to the loss of his legs due to paralysis. But Ben is moving forward.
Ben found the Action Trackchair (manufactured by Action Manufacturing in Marshall, Minnesota) that has enabled him to return to the woods, a must as the Head Ranger. Next, he has found a company that can retrofit his truck to allow him access and to be able to manage his wheelchair, again with the goal of being mobile in the 1700 acre property. The truck retrofit includes a drivers seat that turns, lowers and levels out, and then once Ben transfers to the driver seat, returns in to the cab. A lift mounted in the truck bed reaches over and lifts the wheelchair clear of the truck, places it in the truck bed and returns the wheelchair when he arrives at his destination. In his home, a stair lift or elevator is needed to create access to the basement where he hopes to have a universal gym to keep fit and continue home therapy. Insurance will only pay for limited therapy visits and not the other equipment, see the Fundraiser Goals for costs and more information about each of these needs.