October 8, 2010
By any standard, Aaron "Ike" Isaacson is one of the toughest people I have ever met. His commitment to this team, and his fellow soldiers around the globe, is absolute. Like many of us, he has faced incredible adversity which he has learned to use as fuel that drives him on to greater things.
Aaron grew up on a small farm in Hugoton, in southwest Kansas, with two sisters. Like many young boys, he enjoyed fishing and hunting for recreation and competed in football, baseball, and track He was active in the Boy Scouts and became an Eagle Scout in 1993. After graduating from Hugoton High School, he attended Washburn University, graduating in business administration in 1999.
September 11th had a tremendous impact on Aaron. Wanting to serve his country, he joined the Army and became an officer. Immediately out of training he jumped at the opportunity for deployment. From 2004 to 2005, Aaron served in Al Anbar Province, Iraq until he was injured from a land mine explosion while walking dismounted next to a vehicle. He sustained head and neck trauma and will have to wear two hearing aids for the rest of his life.
After returning to the United States, Aaron begged the Medical Review Board to allow him to stay in the Army so he could re-deploy. Permission granted, he quickly joined the 2-137 Infantry BN, which was already deployed to Iraq. As an Infantry Platoon Leader he and his unit conducted combat operations in Baghdad during 2006.
In 2007, Aaron was deployed for a third time as an Embedded Tactical Trainer in Afghanistan. His job was to lead an Afghan National Army ‘light infantry company’ conducting air assault and dismounted combat operations in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan. Aaron tells us, “I enjoyed the job, spending time with my Afghan soldiers, training them, teaching them various planning procedures, and fighting alongside them.”
Near the end of his deployment, Aaron’s right leg was broken during a fire fight along the Pakistan border. For a month, he was in a few remote Afghanistan hospitals before returning to the United States. After multiple surgeries, he spent 2009 regaining a majority of the function and strength in his leg. Aaron recalls, “The recovery process was a lot slower than I expected, but the medical staff were wonderful and I owe them a great deal of gratitude. After years of deployments and multiple other injuries, my body was taking a little bit longer to recover—that tends to wear a person down.”
Speaking about his experiences, Aaron notes, “I can tell you first hand that some injuries can be fixed, some cannot, and people tend to move on. However, the mental aspect is an entirely different issue that I never anticipated. Probably every soldier has some difficulty transitioning back to life in the United States, and I'm no exception. I definitely came back a different person. I really think that the huge majority of the ‘different’ is good.”
Aaron continues, “I can honestly say that I appreciate every moment I have, my family, friends, and simple things that seem small until you don't have them, like clean warm water for a shower, or fishing on a beautiful day. I took these things for granted before. I don't now. Laying in the hospital gave me time to re-evaluate everything.”
Currently, Aaron has returned home and rejoined the Kansas Army National Guard. He works as the Legislative Liaison for the Kansas Adjutant General, Major General Tod M. Bunting. He says, “I've enjoyed this new challenge and catching up with family and old friends. I often spend my free weekends sitting out at the family farm near Concordia, Kansas enjoying the outdoors and thinking about everything.”
Aaron humbly claims, “I'm an average guy from a small Kansas town who is incredibly fortunate to have gotten to see the world, meet tremendous people, and experience things that I never thought I would get a chance to see.” Yet this “average guy” has been awarded two Bronze Star Medals, a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal, an Army Achievement, Medal and many other awards, including the Order of St. Maurice from the National Infantry Association.
When asked about his service, Aaron states, “When I think about my three deployments, I really believed that I was there for a reason. I loved my job. I wanted to fight hard and make every mission count. I wanted to be a part of as many combat operations as possible. I feel honored to have served with such great Americans.”
There is certainly an exploration streak in Aaron beyond the military. On his vacations during deployment, he flew to Spain and ran with the bulls, stood amazed in the Sistine Chapel, had wine under the Eiffel Tower, and rock climbed the Swiss Alps. Now he has his sights set on Lobuche, “I have always wanted to do something like the Soldiers to the Summit Himalayan Expedition, but never thought it would be possible. Facing a personal challenge is always great as an individual, but there's a deeper meaning to it all when facing a challenge as a team.”
Looking ahead, Aaron states, “Five years from now I hope to have deployed again to the Middle East, at least one more time. I would love to start a family and continue serving the United States in one capacity or another. You only live once. I want to make it count.”
Here is some video we shot in Namche of Ike and some other team members talking about why they are here: