Retired Staff Sgt. Aaron Hale was blinded while deployed in Afghanistan in 2011. Since that time, Hale has returned to his love of cooking to open an online desserts business.
Retired Staff Sgt. Aaron Hale is a military veteran who has overcome all odds.
Hale will never forget the day in December 2011 when as explosive ordinance disposal team leader, he got out of his truck to disarm an IED. As he turned around, an unknown second one exploded in his face.
"I remember being thrown up in the air and landing on my arms and knees," Hale said. "I immediately did a limb check and found all of them were still there. I couldn't see anything, though, and thought my helmet must have been pushed down over my eyes. I reached up to push it back but it wasn't there. I thought, 'I need to find it as the Army is going to want that back.' "
Hale's team dragged him back into the truck and he was rushed back to the medic station, which immediately airlifted him to a hospital in Germany where he was stabilized for the flight back to the states.
Within 24 hours he was at Walter Reed.
The explosion had broken every bone in Hale's face, fractured his skull, and taken his eyesight.
Hale started his military career as a chef in the Navy, doing something he loved, but after meeting some EOD team members and seeing their commitment and camaraderie, Hale opted out of the Navy and signed up with the Army EOD unit.
Hale was on his third deployment, his second to Afghanistan, when the tragic explosion happened. He had just returned from the states and visiting his son for his first birthday.
Hale underwent several surgeries on his face, but doctors could not save his eyesight.
"That was the hardest, when I was told there was nothing they could do about my eyes," he said.
Hale moved forward, though, and began teaching at Eglin. He ran in marathons and climbed a mountain.
Hale also connected with a childhood friend from Ohio who was living in California through Facebook. Long evening chats with McKayla led to her coming to Florida for a week-long first date.
"We had a great time," he said.
However, after McKayla left, Hale developed the worst headache he had ever experienced. He called McKayla and told her he did not feel well and was going to lie down for a while to see if it would go away. When she did not hear back from him, McKayla knew something was wrong and called his mother. When she was told that Aaron was in the hospital, McKayla got on the next plane back to Santa Rosa Beach.
Hale had meningitis, which ended up taking his hearing.
"When I saw how bad it was, I knew I couldn't return home. I knew I had to stay. He needed me," she said.
McKayla quit her job and had her belongings shipped from California.
To communicate, McKayla spelled out every word, writing them on Hale's palm with her finger.
"She was the only person I was able to communicate with," he said. "It was kind of lonely. I don't know what I would have done without her."
But with McKayla by his side, Hale refused to accept defeat.
Now equipped with cochlear implants, Aaron is able to have conversations and is improving every day.
In addition, he has found his passion again -- back in the kitchen.
"I wanted to focus on something besides my hearing and Thanksgiving was coming up, so, I decided I would cook a big feast for everyone," he said. "In addition to the main meal I made several batches of fudge and everyone loved it, so, I kept making it."
McKayla was giving it away to friends and neighbors who kept asking for more. Finally it was decided that the couple should start a fudge business. With help from Nantucket Holidays for the Heroes, the couple is now working together every day creating a wide variety of chocolate concoctions that they sell online. The name of their business is E.O.D. Fudge -- Extra Ordinary Delights. The most popular so far is Merican Pick Me Up, fudge with toasted pecans, bourbon cream, and American Pride Roasters Coffee. Another popular variety is Straw Barry White, made with organic dehydrated strawberries, strawberry tequila liqueur and white chocolate.
Having come full circle, cooking is now his therapy.
Hale said he is thankful for what he still has and hopes to send a message to his son that he still has his hero.
In addition, Aaron and McKayla just returned from their honeymoon in Italy and Aaron is training for his first ultra-marathon.
To order the Hale's fudge, visit www.eodfudge.com.