Major Dad” and His Destiny for Flight
Carthage High School Class of 1993 graduate Mitchell Hall, according to his father, Eddie Hall, “didn't take a normal road to his destiny.” He adds, “Mitch was never really interested in sports, except weightlifting and martial arts, and while most of his peers were out on the gridiron, Mitch was learning to fly.” As a distributive education student, he worked at his father's auto parts store each day, but he couldn't wait to get to the airport for flying lessons, which he started at age 15. He was also interested in learning everything he could about aircraft and engine repairs. He received his pilot's license at 18, right after high school graduation. His passion for flying ultimately led to a remarkable career path that continues today.
Mitch received his associates degree from Panola College and then transferred to SFA, continuing to work part time in the auto parts store and also in the timber industry. About a year short of graduation from SFA, he decided to drop out for awhile and take an opportunity to work full time in the railroad business. However, after a few years he knew he wanted to go back to his first love, flying, and join the Air Force. That, of course, required a college degree, so he returned to SFA, graduating in 2000.
He completed officer training in Montgomery, Alabama in March of 2002 and graduated on June 28 as a second lieutenant. The very next day he married the love of his life, Judy, from Natchitoches, Louisiana, whom he met at UT Tyler, and went immediately to pilot training in Enid, Oklahoma, getting his wings in 2003. He was assigned to the KC135 air refueler team at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington State and was deployed for his first overseas tour of duty to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in the second Gulf War. Over the next several years, he was deployed to the Middle East and Europe six times, working his way up to captain and aircraft commander.
Mitch was then reassigned to serve in one of his favorite Air Force jobs as a flight instructor. Stationed in Del Rio, Texas, he flew training aircraft and served as a primary undergraduate pilot training instructor. He says, “I really enjoyed teaching new Air Force pilots how to fly high performance aircraft using Air Force tactics and regulations. It was very satifsying to feel like I was passing the torch to a new generation of pilots.” According to his dad, one of Mitch's greatest assets during this time was the calm, low-key manner he is known for, and the resulting calming teaching methods and techniques. “One of his special qualities was helping students having trouble to get through rough patches,” he says. “Obviously, once the students relax and get calm, they're going to do better.”
In 2010, Mitch returned to the KC135 refueler, assigned to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas. It was during this stint that he was involved in Operation New Dawn, another deployment to the Iraqi theater. He went back there again in the spring of 2011, his last active duty assignment. He separated from the regular Air Force and joined the Air National Guard, returning to his KC135 assignment at Fairchild, where he remains today. He was promoted to the rank of major in June, 2013.
Because the Air National Guard is supposed to be a half-time job, with a two-months-on, two-months-off schedule, Mitch also took on a civilian flying job as a contract pilot flying mostly intelligence missions for a company with many types of government contracts. He does a lot of work overseas and has been all over the Middle East, Europe and Africa. “In an ideal world, I would fly Guard missions half the year and civilian missions half the year,” he explains, “but there is such a shortage of pilots in the Air Force that I have been working more like eight months Guard and four months civilian.” His Guard unit is involved with Operation Noble Eagle, a post-9/11 homeland defense mission.
He and Judy and their five-year-old son, Mitchell Jr., live outside Spokane in a very small town. “We really love our little community, and I feel like I have returned to my roots,” says Mitch. Judy had worked as a dental assistant before Mitchell was born, but is enjoying the training she is doing now to become a dog groomer. Mitch explains that she has a real passion for cleaning up dogs that are in need of adoption and getting them groomed to look their best so that they can make a favorable impression on potential adoptive families, and is turning what had previously been a hobby into a new career.
“My wife is one in a million,” he says. “I think being a military spouse is one of the hardest jobs on the planet anyway, but mine is really a modern day pioneer woman. She is virtually a single mom much of the time because of all the travel I do, keeps the grounds on our property, works the garden, and generally is the glue that hold everything together. Without her love, loyalty, support, and sacrifice, I can't even imagine where I would be or what I'd be doing.”
When asked to tell some of the highs and lows of his career, Mitch says that time away from his family is the biggest low. He adds, “I get really war-weary, too. I've flown more than 200 combat missions in the past 15 years. These wars have dragged out for so long, and they are no less dangerous now than they were when they started.”
He also said it is hard, but important, to remember people who aren't with us anymore. One of his top students was recently killed with his crew over Kurdistan when his plane broke up in the air. Of course he also remembers soldiers killed in shootings and suicide bombings. “These things are still happening every day, and they are really tough!”
However, he says, “”Serving my country is a huge high, and getting to do something that I love. Going around the world several times and seeing so many other countries and cultures has been a big opportunity that has been wonderful, but it also makes me appreciate my country and my little home town so much. Growing up there gave me a deep desire and love for the small-town life my wife and son and I have now. And of course one of the biggest highs of entire life is getting to be Judy's husband and to be 'Major Dad' to Mitchell!”
Never known as a self-promoter, Mitch insists, “I only do the same thing lots of others do.” His dad, however, reminds all of us that the work is extraordinary. “Mitch chose a career path he loves, and at 41, he shows no sign of slowing down,” he says. “But please remember, Mitch and all the members of the military, past and present, make it possible for the rest of us to live free and safe. Whenever you can, pray for them, and when you see one, thank him or her for the service and sacrifice given.