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 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. Dazed, he stood up.
His 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 woke up two weeks later with a breathing tube down his throat in a Johannesburg, South Africa, hospital. Confused, he tried to pull the breathing tube out, but he 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 sent 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 Hall’s anesthesia wore off, he saw a changed man in the mirror—a scar on his face stretched from the bridge of his nose to the bottom of his cheek.
After recovering from his injuries, Hall was meritoriously promoted to petty officer second class, and spent the next three years as a top 20 recruiter in Naval Recruiting District New York in Bergen County, New Jersey. It was a homecoming of sorts, since Hall was born in Newark, New Jersey, the youngest of four brothers and one sister.
As a recruiter, he became the leading petty officer and brought 84 sailors into the U.S. Navy. His next orders sent him back to the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
“Next to the birth of my son and marrying my beautiful wife, stepping back onto the flight deck of the Theodore Roosevelt for the first time after the accident was one of the most emotional experiences of my life,” says Hall. He explains how he felt 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,” says Hall.
He wants to show his two-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,” explains 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 are what keep him grounded and focused. It is with these attributes that Hall carries on his work—serving and protecting the United States of America—on the flight deck that almost took his life.