Local veteran finds sweet victory in second career

Published: Apr. 4, 2019 at 9:18 PM CDT
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Aaron and Mckayla Hale work quite well together. She admits he's the better cook so, in the kitchen, he is king even though he's blind and mostly deaf.

But there's more to Aaron's story than meets the eye.

Aaron's love for everything culinary started when he was a little boy, just about the age of his seven-year-old son Cameron. "I'd been cooking since I could reach over the countertop," Aaron recently told NewsChannel 7.

After graduating from high school Aaron didn't think he was mature enough yet for college so he took his love for whipping up delicious cuisine and joined the Navy in 1999.

"I became the cook for the three-star Admiral. I was throwing banquets and cruising around the Mediterranean," Aaron said.

But Aaron has a thirst for adventure, so his next deployment had him cooking for 600 troops in Afghanistan.

"I had one other Navy cook and nine local national Afghans in my chow hall cooking for me," said Aaro, "which was a completely different experience, another adventure."

But still he longed for something more.

"I felt a calling for something a little more direct action in the war effort," said Aaron.

While he was in Afghanistan he met a few explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD techs.

"They were taking IEDs and unexploded ordnances off the battlefield and saving lives," said Aaron, "innocent lives. Lives of our fellow troops and our allies. "I thought that's a fantastic idea and you get to blow things up. What better job is there?"

He was still a cook in the Navy. So when it came time to renew his contract he asked to join the Navy EOD team and was told no. "Somebody literally told me, 'We're not taking cooks,'" said Aaron.

In 2006 Aaron left the Navy and marched to the Army recruiting station.

"They looked at my paperwork, saw my scores and evaluations from my past eight years in the Navy and they said sure. And I became a soldier," said Aaron. "I went to EOD school and I learned how to become an EOD tech."

That move kept him very busy.

"We were all over the map, we were nonstop. We did a lot of good work that I'm really proud of," said Aaron

On an R&R trip back to the states Aaron had one more Thanksgiving with his family as a sighted person.

"It was a fantastic last page in the photo album," said Aaron.

His next trip to the battlefield in December of 2011 would lead him down the path to an unplanned adventure.

"The other convoy commander calls back, 'EOD we have something in the road, can you take care of it?'" Aaron recalled.

They sent the robot out and found an IED, or improvised explosive device. After it was taken care of Aaron put his boots on the ground to inspect what was left. A few minutes later his world went dark.

"So as I was approaching around 20 or 30 meters from the original IED, a secondary IED detonated that hadn't been discovered," said Aaron "I don't know why it didn't detonate directly beneath me but it came from my right side and hit me square in the head. Thank goodness us Hale boys have thick skulls. Blew out both my eardrums. It cracked my skull in several places. It was so bad I was leaking spinal fluid out of my nose. A piece of fragmentation had cut right through the orbital bone and had actually taken my eye with it. Then it cut across the bridge of my nose and gashed my left eye enough that it could never be repaired."

Within 48 hours he was in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center wondering what went wrong.

"You know, I'm supposed to be the expert in this field and I'm supposed to be smarter than the bad guy," said Aaron. "We were so well trained."

But Aaron knows he can't change the past.

"Though I couldn't change what happened I certainly did have an effect on what happens next. And I have absolute control over my reaction to what happens now and in the future," he said.

Aaron was determined to put his life back together. He soon mastered new technology such as a talking smartphone and watch and even how to walk with a cane.

He also has a partner by his side every step of the way. A service dog named Eyla.

"I was on my way to becoming comfortable as a blind person," said Aaron. "I even started running, cycling, and mountain climbing."

He also started a new romance.

"Just when things were going great. I'd gotten past the hard part of the difficulties of my new situation life threw me another curveball," said Aaron.

The cracks in his skull had reopened and he started leaking spinal fluid through his nose again.

"A path out is also a path in and I'd contracted bacterial meningitis," said Aaron.

Meningitis took what was left of his hearing.

"I was plunged into complete darkness and complete silence," said Aaron.

And he stayed there for sixth months.

"I got Cochlear implants but they would only do one at a time and only after the meningitis had been cleared up," said Aaron.

His new girlfriend, now his wife, never left his side.

"Mckayla was writing every letter of every word she needed to say to me in the palm of my hand. It was tedious and frustrating but it was the only way we could communicate," said Aaron. "She's so patient and so wonderful. She saved my life."

With his balance completely messed up Aaron couldn't walk but he never backs down from a challenge.

"I was determined to get healthy again I was determined not to lose," he said,

After intense training, Aaron was ready to cook again.

"It was getting close to the holidays and I learned that one thing I could still do was cook. So we invited friends and family," said Aaron. "I threw myself into it so much. McKayla says she saw something that she hadn't seen in six months that was a smile."

The desserts made the biggest impact.

"I was making cakes, and cookies, and oh my gosh the fudge! I made so much fudge," said Aaron. "I was taking chopped nuts and spices and I was pulling bottles out of the bar and, 'Oh, that'd be good.' I was doing something that took my mind off things. I wasn't focused on me."

Aaron started making desserts weeks in advance.

"It turns out I was making so much fudge that there was no way our family was gonna be able to polish it off in one sitting," said Aaron. "So McKayla was sneaking it out the front door. I say sneaking like you have to be real stealthy around a blind deaf guy."

Friends and neighbors apparently loved the sweet experiments.

"People were coming back to us and saying, 'Can we buy more of this from him?" said Aaron. "Me being a capitalist said, 'Well, of course, you can.' That's how EODfudge.com was started."

This time the EOD stands for Extra Ordinary Delights.

Aaron hopes his story can give others facing challenges hope.

You can order some of Aaron's fudge and other treats and hear more of their story on their