Tara Vaughn Baldwin
A sister took the death of her brother, Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn, and turned her mourning into a thing of beauty
August 6, 2011 was the deadliest day in Naval Special Warfare history when twenty-two members of SEAL Team VI lost their lives in the Tangi River Valley of Afghanistan during "Operation Lefty Grove." Most recognize this event by the call sign of the chopper shot down that night: Extortion 17.
Naval Special Warfare Chief Aaron Vaughn was one of the SEALs onboard.
In the wake of such tragedy, the loved ones left behind have choices. Some, understandably so, retreat into sorrow and grief, never to be heard from again. But there are those among us who rise to the occasion, place their own pain aside, and do something miraculous. They live. They serve. They give. They see their own grief in others and seek a way to make a difference...to put a smile back in the hearts of those who have been broken by such unspeakable loss. This is Tara Vaughn Baldwin.
Tara and her brother Aaron were born only 21 months apart. She never knew a day of life without him in it. They were not only siblings, they were best friends. He, being the older of the two, was her protector, defender, wound healer, boyfriend chooser, partner in mischief, driving instructor, and everything else good a big brother could be. When he left this earth, a piece of her heart died with him.
In the weeks following Aaron's death, Tara began searching for a way to honor his life. She hoped to create a legacy that represented all that Aaron was...a humorous, strong, godly patriot. Taking into account that Aaron left behind not only a widow, but two very small children, the dream began to form.
In 2012 Tara created Operation 300, a name derived from Aaron's favorite story in history—that of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. Operation 300 is a registered 501(c)3 not for profit organization which hosts adventure camps for children who have lost their fathers as a result of military service.
The camps provide an opportunity for these Gold Star children to participate in activities that embody the spirit of adventure characterized by the lives of their absent fathers. Each child is paired with a father-aged male mentor and turned loose to have the weekend of their lives. They deep-sea fish. They sail. They go horseback riding. They learn to surf. They shoot bow and arrows and even learn to shoot guns under the careful guidance of the local SWAT Team and sheriff's offices. They learn to chop firewood and start the campfire. They pitch tents and dig holes. In short, they live again. Laughter is everywhere and it's a thing of beauty.
Operation 300 also brings the moms (the widows) in for the weekend and places them in high-end hotels, usually oceanfront, so they can bond with each other in an intimate, quiet setting perfect for regenerating their weary hearts.
All of this was made possible because one sister chose to care more about others than herself. Tara's devotion to her brother, his family, and now the extended family of Operation 300 is highly honorable, a thing of true beauty and selflessness.
Rest in peace, Aaron. Your sister has taken your love forward. It lives on.