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Staff Sergeant Aaron Hale always loved being in the kitchen.
No surprise then that when he joined the United States Navy in 1999, where he served for eight years, that's exactly what they had him do—cook. At one point, he was even whipping up meals for the admiral, the commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet.
But while Staff Sergeant Hale called that job an "honor," he says he knew he wanted to play a more direct role. That's when, in 2006, he joined the military's bomb squad as an EOD technician. Five years later, he was serving with his team in Afghanistan when device detonated right beside him. His helmet came off in the explosion, causing severe injuries, and—as the veteran says—changing his life forever.
"[It] punted me into the air," Aaron explains. "I landed on my knees and elbows and I got twisted around and the lights were out. I thought, at first, that my helmet had just gotten pushed over my face. I went to fix my helmet and get back to work just to discover that my helmet was gone."
"And my life had been changed forever."
As Staff Sergeant Hale tells it, though, he refused to feel sorry for himself.
"If I was going to be blind for the rest of my life," Aaron says. "I was going to be the best darn blind guy I could be."
Whatever he could do in the way of physical exercise, he did—and soon enough, he was signing up for multiple marathons and even climbing mountains. (Incredible!)
Unfortunately, after what he calls "the most epic summer ever," during which he started dating a woman named McKayla, he faced another setback—bacterial meningitis.
"I started feeling very dizzy and very fatigued," Aaron recalls. "I didn't know what was going on, but I woke up with this soul-crushing pain. Within moments, I knew I needed to call 911."
"The cracks in my skull that were patched four years earlier had either reopened or maybe were not completely patched," he explains. "It was stealing what was left of my hearing that the bomb blast had taken, so I was going to be totally blind and totally deaf."
When the meningitis hit, McKayla quit her job and moved in with Aaron, so she could nurse him back to health.
"I could regain some of my hearing through cochlear implants," Aaron says. "However, it would take over six months before I would hear anything and almost a year until I could actually hold a conversation and actually understand another human voice."
Thankfully, Aaron's story has a happy (and sweet!) ending: Not only did Staff Sergeant Hale recover, but the military chef also became determined to get back into the kitchen—and before he knew it, he couldn't stop.
"McKayla noticed two things," Aaron says. "One, I was smiling for the first time in about six months. And two, the fudge was piling up. There was so much fudge."
That's when he and McKayla—who ultimately got married and now share three beautiful children—decided to launch their fudge business, Extra Ordinary Delights. (They even shared their Easy Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge recipe with us!)
"[It's] that silver lining-type lesson," the staff sergeant says, "where every challenge is an opportunity and that life is always worth living."
Hear Aaron tell his inspiring story in his own words above, and as always, thank you, Aaron—and all of our veterans—for your service. 🧡