Academy Sports and Outdoors, Texas A&M University and Operation Hat Trick joined forces Thursday to surprise a local U.S. Marine Corps veteran with some gifts to thank him for his service.

Aaron Smith, a senior poultry sciences major at Texas A&M who served 18 years in the Marine Corps, was surprised at the Academy Sports store in College Station with some university-branded clothing, a $200 shopping spree and tickets to take his wife and three children to the opening game of the upcoming Aggie football season.

“I didn’t know about the Yell Leaders showing up, I didn’t know about the gift certificate to Academy, but what I did know is that I was getting a shirt today, because they asked me for my shirt size,” Smith said with a laugh. “The rest of it a huge surprise and quite a blessing.”

Academy partnered with Operation Hat trick, a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the recovery of wounded service members and veterans, to surprise one veteran and their family from five universities around the country with a shopping spree and apparel gifts. Other universities honoring veterans are Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Oklahoma.

The organizations worked with the Texas A&M Veterans Association to select Smith, according to Tiffany Allen, marketing production manager at IMG College Licensing. The group is the licensing agency that represents the university and Operation Hat Trick to create products.

Aaron, his wife, Carrie, and their children, Bella, Emma, and Colt, have lived in Bryan-College Station for the past three years, moving to the area following Smith’s final deployment overseas in West Africa. His career with the Marine Corps took him on deployments to five of the seven continents, with his family moving with him while he was stationed in Japan, Portugal and on deployments to Guinea and Benin in West Africa. Smith said he served on deployments to the Caribbean, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and West Africa in addition the three combat deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

“My transition from military to school here in College Station and Texas A&M started when I was in West Africa. I knew I was done.” he said of his second deployment to the area. “Basically the Lord told me, ‘You’re done in the Marines.’ So we left and moved back.”

He said that he was attending school full time in his hometown of Kerrville when he had the opportunity to move to Aggieland to help family with home renovations.

“I was continuing to do school because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do or what my path would be,” he said. “So I did some classes at Blinn, and it came to that point, from the financial aspect of raising a family, [that I had to decide if] I am going to either continue with school or just go into the workforce and be able to provide better for my family. While we’re here with Texas A&M, if anything, I’ll apply there and if I don’t get in, then I know it wasn’t meant to be.”

In a whirlwind of an application process, Smith said he was accepted to Texas A&M.

“It was a little bit later when I got that email that I was accepted, and I was ecstatic,” he said. “It was another dream that I have had since childhood, you know, being able to maybe come to Texas A&M and it was fulfilled.”

Head Yell Leader Karsten Lowe was joined by fellow senior Yell Leaders Kenny Cantrell and Reid Williams to surprise the Smith family with a set of tickets to the football game against Texas State University on Aug. 29.

The family has attended many A&M football games but only twice with the whole gang of five, Carrie Smith said, so having the opportunity to attend a game together during Smith’s senior year is a huge blessing.

The Smiths’ plans for the spree included a new pair of basketball shoes for Emma, who serves as a ball girl for the Aggie women’s basketball team and plays for Aggieland Homeschool Panthers, and some gifts for Dad just in time for Father’s Day, said Carrie, Aaron’s wife of 23 years.

“When I started working for the Lady Ags basketball team, it just inspired me to play basketball. I loved how close they were as a team,” said Emma, 12. “I’ve never really had many friends, so having a team with all the people … it just made me feel at home and [made me think] that I would love to have that with my own team. I have my own team now … and it’s really cool.”

“This is an absolutely incredible family with a phenomenal story, and each of the kids have such a unique, amazing personality,” Lowe said. “I think they really just embody what it means to be an Aggie and an Aggie family.”

Jokingly, Smith said he still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he knows that he loves serving and helping others. Drawing from his humbling experiences serving overseas with his family, he said it has led him to think about how he can help others through agriculture through international agriculture development.

For more information on Operation Hat Trick, visit operationhattrick.org.

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