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Talking with Sailors

Never Forget

It was a normal day of flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Oct. 10, 2008. The ship was a few months into deployment and had just departed South Africa for combat operations in the Arabian Gulf. Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Paul Hall was nearing the end of another long work day, and was about to continue working into the night.

An F-18 Super Hornet was making its way toward a catapult and made a sharp turn in front of the island. Hall was hit from the side with the full force of the jet exhaust and went crashing face first into a parked F-18 Super Hornet. Immediately he stood up. The commanding officer shouted over the 5MC for him to lay down; he was severely hurt. As the stretcher bearer team carried him away, the light from inside the battle dressing station started to fade into darkness. Hall's vision became blurry and he passed out.

Hall was born in Newark, New Jersey, the youngest of four brothers and one sister. His father, one of 17 siblings, worked several jobs to provide for his family. Even though Hall was one of 40 grandchildren, he was his grandmother's favorite.

"My grandmother was the biggest influence in my life growing up," Hall said, smiling. "She taught me three principles I stand by today: choose your friends wisely, don't touch what's not yours, and keep your higher power first."

Hall said that he always excelled at sports and loved to play basketball. After playing throughout his youth he was selected, as a freshman, to play on the high school varsity team.

"I was a great basketball player so people started calling me 'Too Tall Hall' and I made a name for myself," said Hall. "Only problem was I wasn't any good at being a student."

After high school, Hall played basketball at a junior college in Minnesota. After three months he knew the academic aspects of college were not for him. Not wanting to go home right away, he moved to Pennsylvania and got a job at furniture warehouse.

One day Hall got a call from his cousin in the Navy who was stationed in Spain.

"He was telling me about how much fun he was having out there overseas," said Hall. "Then he said that someone wanted to talk to me and it was a beautiful-sounding woman with a Spanish accent asking me what I was doing. I was sold."

Hall decided to go back to New Jersey and immediately went to a recruiter's office. Just a short time later, in 2002, he began his boot camp experience.

"I remember getting on the bus heading into Great Lakes from the airport," said Hall. "I was listening to my CD player and this Recruit Division Commander (RDC) just knocked it out of my hands and started yelling me. I asked myself, 'What am I doing here?'"

Before joining the Navy, Hall was working three jobs and making a decent income. He began to question why he joined the Navy.

"My first real test came when an RDC thought I was somehow involved in passing notes from one of the other recruits to a female recruit," said Hall. "I took offense to that and when he told me to pack my sea bag, I did."

After packing his things, one of his RDCs asked him what his mom would say if he went back. Everyone in his family was proud of him. He knew he had to finish boot camp.

"After that, the rest is history," said Hall. "I checked in to my first aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN 65), and got to work."

Hall utilized values of hard work and dedication, the same values his father instilled in him by providing for such a large family.

"At the time the ship was in the yards and I had no real friends or family around so I just worked," said Hall. "I was a yellow shirt within two years, picked up petty officer third class and got my air and surface warfare pins."

After Enterprise, he received orders to the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in 2008. Shortly after joining the ship's crew, they were off for deployment. Then the accident on the flight deck happened.

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Hall woke up two weeks later in a Johannesburg hospital. A breathing tube down his throat, he was confused. He tried to pull the breathing tube out, but was too weak. The nurse noticed his movement and told him they would take out the tube once he could breathe on his own. Hall passed out again.

Two days later Hall was breathing on his own. Slowly he moved from eating soft foods to regular food. The bones in his face began to set incorrectly and he needed reconstructive surgery. Hall refused to have the surgeries done in South Africa, so the medical team made arrangements to take him to Germany.

Over the next several weeks Hall received two reconstructive surgeries in Germany and then was moved to Bethesda, Maryland, where he received an additional surgery.

"When I got back to my apartment in Norfolk, Virginia, I hadn't looked in a mirror yet," said Hall.

When Hall saw his reflection, he saw a changed man. The scar on his face stretched from the bridge of his nose to the bottom of his cheek. This scar now represented something more than an accident, it represented his will to overcome.

Hall was meritoriously promoted to petty officer second class when the ship went into the yards after deployment. He was up for orders and the captain called on him to stay in the Navy.

"The captain asked me where I wanted to go, since it was time to choose new orders," said Hall. "With my unique story, I felt I could really reach some of the people back home, in Jersey."

Hall spent the next three years as a top 20 recruiter in Naval Recruiting District New York in Bergen County, New Jersey. In that time, he became the leading petty officer and brought 84 Sailors into the Navy.

"When I was up for orders again I was originally on the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), where I picked up first class after four tries," said Hall. "I was a part of the hull swap and there I was back on the TR."

"Next to the birth of my son and marrying my beautiful wife, stepping back onto the flight deck of Theodore Roosevelt, for the first time after the accident, was one of the most emotional experiences of my life," said Hall.

Hall said he had feelings of apprehension and fear, it was like he was reliving the event over and over again. He just kept replaying the accident in his head and asking himself how he could have changed the outcome of what happened.

"Once I was able to move past that I became passionate about jet exhaust safety on the flight deck," said Hall.

Hall wants to show his 2-year-old son, Kamryn, that every goal you set can be met, regardless of the obstacles you may face in life. He wants to instill the same values of hard work and dedication in his son that his father taught him.

Hall wants to become a chief petty officer, put in a package to become a warrant officer, and be a subject matter expert for flight operations.

"I can't be behind a desk," said Hall. "My home is on the flight deck during flight ops. I enjoy being a leader of Sailors and look forward to one day becoming a chief."

Hall's ambitions to be a good father and leader of "Rough Riders" are what keep him grounded and focused. It is with these attributes that Hall carries on his work, on the flight deck that almost took his life, with a smile on his face and a scar that ensures he will never forget.