Power of perseverance: Aaron Kendle delivers 2019 keynote address at Charro salute to public education

Mr. Kendle and his wife and daughter at home in the great state of Texas. (Submitted photo)

The little voice inside Aaron Kendle’s head might not sound common to the everyday people he encounters.

But there’s good reason for that, as Mr. Kendle’s inner voice — those who know him and of his personal accomplishments might suggest — is a testament to an unparalleled inner moral fortitude and perseverance.

Mr. Kendle is as American as apple pie and his story is one keeping in step with the narrative of a place called, “the home of the brave,” but there is more to the man than fire and brimstone.

Mr. Kendle is a retired Navy SEAL — the most elite fighting force on Earth — a graduate of the Harvard Business school, a father, a husband and a Scottsdale Charro.

“Just like anybody else, I guess I haven’t really been asked to tell it like that, trials and tribulations,” he said in response to being asked what made him the man he is today.

“I had an average childhood; I grew up in northern Virginia. Both of my parents and both sets of grandparents served in the military. My grandfather was in World War II and my dad was Marine Corps. Growing up, I always had that kind of military background in my life.”

Becoming a Navy SEAL — United States Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams — was something, in a way, Mr. Kendle fell into.

It wasn’t until a high school experience, later the lure of good college times, that Mr. Kendle realized he was meant for an elite military group where he would become a specialized medic, sniper and airborne leader.

“I was an athlete through high school, but honestly a mediocre student. I was planning on going to community college and transferring after a year or two — my dad being old school, he always had the idea: Get a job, go to school or get out of the house after I turned 18,” he said.

“In this time, the SEAL thing popped on my radar right around graduation. I was introduced to a SEAL officer and it was at that time the SEAL thing really popped onto my radar. But I quickly realized at community college I was still pretty immature at that time.”

Mr. Kendle dropped out of college and several months later began his Basic Underwater Demolition training, which is affectionately refereed to as BUDs.

But before that time, Mr. Kendle passed a series of requirements:

  • A medical screening, ASVAB, AFQT, C-SORT, and PST.
  • Completion of a SEAL contract, which is done by passing the SEAL Physical Screening Test that equates to a 500-yard swim in 12:30; 50 push-ups in 2 minutes, 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes, 10 consecutive pull-ups in 2 minutes, and a 1.5 mile run in 10:30.

One of the first things you do, Mr. Kendle says, is you choose a job as a member of a SEAL team. His choice? Medic.

“At first, I think my dad thought I was kind of joking, but I wasn’t,” he said.

“He went with me. The job I chose to do was medic and in the meantime, I worked and stayed in shape. In October 2003, I joined the Navy, went straight to boot camp then straight to BUDs.”

Mr. Kendle is a decorated member of the United States Navy, served as a member of SEAL Team 7, NSWG-1 Training Detachment, and Naval Special Warfare Development over a 15-year career and has dedicated his post-military professional career to helping his fellow brothers in arms transition back into civilian life.

“My friends were my rock in my life, for good and for bad,” he said pointing out his training and service struggles enduring the harsh realities of war — and life after that trauma is experienced.

“In a joking way, my initial ‘why’ was a lack of direction. But then it quickly became about the guys around me. We have a saying during training and that’s ‘misery loves company’ and once you realize that everyone is going through the hell you are when people quit, it actually made me feel better, stronger.”

In Mr. Kendle’s BUDs class, 220 applicants began but only 24 graduated the elite training program.

From there Mr. Kendle served in several consecutive tours including missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and southeast Asia.

Aaron Kendle, on right, was the keynote for the 33rd Annual Outstanding Students & Educators Awards Banquet. (Submitted photo)

The drive to fight

“As a SEAL, you have that drive and you want to fight — you know that future is war and combat,” Mr. Kendle said of the realities of special warfare.

But, a tragedy in 2011 spurred the will to find a new perspective, Mr. Kendle says.

“In 2011, we ended up losing 25 guys on Aug. 11 in a helicopter crash,” he said. “My best friends and my roommates were there and they are gone now. For a lot of guys that was their last deployment and seeing that and getting married, for me, my priorities kind of changed. I wanted to finish school.”

From that point, Mr. Kendle, with wife and children in tow, went back to the west coast — a place where he was originally trained — learned new skills finally resting as a SEAL jump school instructor.

Playing a dual role, Mr. Kendle began serving as CEO for nonprofit helping to ease military professionals back into civilian life. And, it was during that time, Mr. Kendle discovered the Harvard Business School where he would ultimately graduate from the business leadership development course.

“It was a great way for me to take my military school training and try to apply it to the civilian world,” he said.

In November 2018 some might say tragedy struck, but not if you ask Mr. Kendle.

During the early morning hours of an annual hunting trip in November 2018 held in the Great State of Texas, an accident occurred.

“I rolled my side-by-side (UTV), and as it slid I kind of knew I was keeping my face off the ground and as I stood up I had disintegrated my forearm,” he said.

“As I stood up I realized how disintegrated my forearm was, but I was a mile away from everyone else, so I had a belt handed to me by Scottsdale Charro Hanifa Jones and began my hike about a mile. After that, I ended up at the military hospital there.”

According to Mr. Kendle, recovery took about 60 days and he now had to learn life without his left arm.

“I had my teammates there and they initially amputated my arm, but it wasn’t a surprise to me,” he said pointing out he was still planning on getting back to the business school at Harvard.

“It’s just a hand, I can still walk and talk and I am still thinking,” he said. “I am a husband and a father here and I can’t just do nothing. Perspective is a huge thing.”

Mr. Kendle is now a graduate of the Harvard Business School.

Aaron Kendle with his daughter during his time serving as a member of Seal Team 7. (Submitted photo)

Power of perseverance

The idea of perseverance, Mr. Kendle explains, comes in all shapes, form and fashion.

“When you go to SEAL training, everyone there is motivated,” Mr. Kendle pointed out. “One of the famous lines guys would always say, ‘I will die before I quit.’ You may feel that way in your head.”

Like the skills learned in elementary, middle and high schools, Mr. Kendle explains an interesting parallel between education and adulthood: Education helps prepare you for your life.

“I don’t think it came until later, and you get that from your team, as you realized that was the easiest thing you will do,” he said of training to be a Navy SEAL. “When you step out there in the real world — a plan is great up until first contact. It is always trial by fire.”

For Mr. Kendle, education is about training the mind for the obstacles that will come before you in adulthood, he says.

“I think the goal of school is to train you and train your mind,” he said.

“There are too many people in this world who learn one way to do it, but won’t see other, maybe better, ways. It is our job to continue to build and sharpen those tools.”

Misery does love company, Mr. Kendle explains, but somewhere amongst the misery a deep camaraderie emerges from the transgression of the acts of perseverance — in a classroom or atop a battlefield.

“If I can give you one piece of advice: Don’t lose the ability to be miserable,” he said, passing along advice he received the day he became a Navy SEAL.

“Don’t lose the ability to get outside of your comfort zone. Everything we accomplish in our lives is based on failures. We don’t base who we are on our failures. But what differentiates my resume from other people — it may read great — but what they don’t see is all of those fails. For me, those failures stay between the lines.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment