By Devon L. SuitsApril 24, 2018
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Actively seeking opportunities to help others is something that Aaron Hall, a 16-year-old Minarets High School junior from O'Neals, California, constantly strives to do.
"Life is from B to D -- from birth to death -- but there is a C in between. That C stands for the choices we make during our lives," Aaron said, paraphrasing his favorite quote from an anonymous author.
"Every day there are different doors that are opening in front of us. Regardless of where you are in life, these doors will always open. If you're someone that's looking to go and make a change to the world, or trying to change something about yourself, you have to go and grasp as many opportunities as possible."
Driven by a life of selfless service, Aaron was recognized as the 2018 Operation Homefront National Guard military child of the year, Thursday, during an event held near the nation's capital.
Although Aaron never sought a reward for his actions, he was humbled by the recognition. Overall, "life is about risking everything for a dream no one can see but you," he said.
ATHLETE, STUDENT, VOLUNTEER
Driven by his passion for America's pastime, Aaron has proven himself to be an exemplary student-athlete. Serving as the team captain for his varsity baseball team, Aaron still finds time to play for three additional teams throughout the Northern California region.
Aaron also maintains a 4.5 weighted GPA all while holding key leadership positions in several school- and region-based clubs. Some of those clubs include: the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honor Society, California Scholarship Federation, and the Future Farmers of America.
Aside from to his athletic and academic success, Aaron family has always found strength in the core values of "duty, honor, and country." Originating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, Aaron first learned of these core values from his father, Col. David Hall, the director of operations for the California Army National Guard and a West Point graduate.
Aaron will be the first to admit that life as a military child isn't always easy -- especially for National Guard families. Guard children, he said, deal with many of the same issues as their active duty counterparts, but often do so without the support that comes from living on a busy military installation.
"There is only two other kids that I know that have a military parent. Even with all the veterans in our community, we almost always feel like we're isolated," Aaron said, as he reflected on his father's most recent deployment in 2016.
During that particular deployment, Aaron saw his father's departure as a chance to help others rather than dwelling on his absence. In turn, the young athlete created an annual military appreciation baseball game to help bring the military and veteran's communities together and raise funds for Docs Dogs for Vet's.
The local organization was created by the Pleitez family in loving memory of their son, Spc. Benjamin C. Pleitez, a Guardsman that died in Afghanistan in 2012. The organization helps train and assign service dogs to veterans and service members that suffer from post-traumatic stress.
With approximately 8,000 miles between them, Aaron still included his father in the event by livestreaming the baseball game for his father to watch. Additionally, Aaron's father flew an American flag over Kuwait and mailed it back to his son so that it can be presented to a veteran at the end of the competition.
"I was truly inspired by the nonprofit that Aaron picked," Col. David Hall said. "You look at the Pleitez family, and they could've turned towards the anger. Instead they chose love, and to me it was a very powerful story. Since then, we've continued to support them by bringing the National Guard family together to help build their dream."
Aaron's military appreciation baseball game is going on its fourth year, and has raised more than $5K for the non-profit organization, Aaron said.
"I couldn't be prouder of him. I think it is most amazing that he took a weak moment and turned it into a strength," David said, commenting on his son's accomplishments that led him to receiving the Guard child of the year award. "He's definitely worked hard and endured a lot of challenges, just like many other military kids."
REPRESENTING THE MILITARY CHILD COMMUNITY
The military child of the year awards were designed to acknowledge and reward the role military kids play in their parent's service, according to retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John Pray Jr., the president and chief executive officer for Operation Homefront Inc.
"When you think about what our military members do around the globe, they protect our way of life every single day. They're serving in a variety of capacities in a lot of different situations, many of which are in harm's way," Pray said. "So, when you have a child that is performing incredibly well at school and giving back to the community and leading [others] ... they take the pressure off that service member and that allows them to focus on their job."
Military families serve as a pillar of strength for every Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, and Coast Guardsman, according to Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, director logistics, J4, on the joint staff.
The seven military children recognized during the gala are not just representing themselves, they are representing more than 1.7 million military kids serving today, Lyons said.
"So many [military] children develop into resilient adults with a sense of strong patriotism, a propensity for selfless service," Lyons said. "They have advantages that many kids do not: parents with jobs, steady income, healthcare, safe housing, [and a] good education.
"They're well-traveled and fiercely patriotic. They're bright, inquisitive, and eager to help at home or within their communities," Lyons added. "These characteristics, we have to remember, are earned -- through hard work, sacrifice and service -- from which they should never take for granted and never forget."
THE WAY AHEAD
As the military child of the year, Aaron received a $10,000 scholarship along with a wide array of gifts from the event's sponsors.
"I plan on using the award as a stepping stone to take on a larger role, not only within my community, but to be a larger role model within my school and those around me," Aaron said.
With just one year left in high school, Aaron still has a lot more work to do. Until then, he remains active in the community until the day he can enroll into West Point and follow in the footsteps of his father and brother.
"Whether I am given the opportunity to play baseball for them, or simply just being able to attend, [they're] one of the top schools in the nation," Aaron said of West Point. "I'm going into the military to serve. Just knowing that I'm able to then give back to my community now, and give back to the nation right after -- it's always been a small little dream of mine."