For former Army EOD tech Aaron Hale, the famous line from “Forrest Gump” rings true –– “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” After all, in his 43 years he’s been a Navy cook, an Army EOD tech in Afghanistan and Iraq, was injured in an IED blast that left him blinded, fell in love, ran the Boston Marathon, climbed an 18,000-foot peak in the Peruvian Andes, and started a successful chocolate company –– all things he says he never imagined happening.
Hale’s professional life began with a career as a culinary specialist in the Navy, despite saying he never planned on joining the military.
“It wasn’t my ambition,” he said. “I didn’t think that was my path. But I realized in college that I needed some discipline, some direction, so the military provided that. I’d been cooking from the time I could reach the kitchen counter, so I joined as a Navy cook, a culinary specialist.”
That decision brought the opportunity to move to Naples.
“I spent four years there and just found a passion for Italy, for the food, for the culture.”
Then Hale’s cooking took him to the Middle East, an assignment that would forever change the course of his life.
“I went to Afghanistan and was running the chow hall. I was cooking for 300-500 NATO troops.”
It was there where he met some EOD technicians and was immediately inspired by their mindset and mission.
“They had this brotherhood, this calling to serve as first responders on the battlefield, and I just knew that’s what I had to do.”
Hale transitioned from the Navy to the Army, was trained as an EOD technician, and deployed to Iraq in 2010. The following year he deployed to Afghanistan as an Army team leader.
“Eight months into that deployment, I was injured. An IED blast left me blinded,” Hale recalled.
He had received a call to defuse a roadside bomb, which he did successfully. When sweeping the area, he discovered a second bomb, which detonated. The explosion sent shrapnel flying, and the force broke every single bone in his face. Hale spent the next year at Walter Reed, undergoing surgery after surgery, more than two dozen in all.
While in the hospital, Hale decided he didn’t want this one moment on a roadside in Afghanistan to define him.
“I learned there were blind people all over the world adapting to their injuries, doing amazing things, and living their best lives. I sought these people out and asked them to share their experiences,” said Hale.
Not only did he learn about their experiences, he joined them — whitewater kayaking, running marathons, summiting mountains. Then, two weeks before flying to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, another unexpected setback.
“I contracted bacterial meningitis, likely due to complications from the IED blast. The doctor broke the news to me that I was now totally deaf in addition to being blind.”
Hale received cochlear implants, but it took more than six months to hear well enough to understand the human voice.
“During that time, I fell back on my old passion, cooking as a form of therapy. I couldn’t see the stove, I couldn’t hear what was going on, but I cooked and baked from memory,” Hale said.
His girlfriend at the time, McKayla (who is now his wife), said she saw two things once Hale got back into the kitchen — a smile, something she hadn’t seen in 6 months, and platters and platters of fudge piling up in their home.
“I was having so much fun that I just started making more and more,” Hale said. “She was giving it away to friends and neighbors, and soon, people started asking to buy it for special events and gifts.”
And so, a chocolate company was born. Hale named it EOD Fudge, with the EOD standing for Extra Ordinary Delights.
“The EOD, of course, as a nod to my old career,” he said.
What started in a home kitchen with 14-hour baking days and hundreds of pounds of chocolate eventually needed the support of a commercial kitchen as orders rolled in from Boeing and other large companies.
Hale loves that he can bring people joy with his chocolates.
“You can hear in a voice when someone smiles. And I was just getting my hearing back, and I could tell, I could hear that people were enjoying what I was creating.”
From bomb tech to chocolatier, a career shift he never saw coming.
“In a sense, my injuries were a gift,” Hale said. “I started living a far better life, started taking nothing for granted. I started doing things that most people say they’ll ‘do someday.’ No someday for me … let’s do it right now.”
After all, you never know what that box of chocolates called life will throw at you next.To order Hale’s EOD Delights, visit www.EODFudge.com.