The Traditional: A Pile of hope for Idaho’s youth

Story by Airman 1st Class Taylor Walker
124th Fighter Wing

It’s Saturday. Airmen pack themselves along a wall outside the base cafeteria as they exhaustedly shuffle along toward a dry erase board. Eyes scan the board and land on colored letters that read JALAPEÑO POPPERS. The closest Airman quietly celebrates.

“Drill can be tedious,” said Tech. Sgt. Mario A. Pile. “If people can have at least one good meal, then people are happy. That’s the biggest thing for me; I get to be part of that bright spot on a tedious drill weekend.”

Pile, the NCO in charge of the 124th Force Support Squadron Services Flight, dedicates his time to creating welcoming environments for people around him because he believes in building bridges between colleagues and those in need.

“Even as a traditional guardsman, he spends time communicating with the people he supervises outside of drill weekend, checking in on them and seeing how they’re doing,” said Senior Master Sgt. Amethyst R. Keaten, the 124th FSS base services superintendent. “That’s the guy you want on your team.”

Pile’s people-oriented disposition doesn’t stop with his role in the Idaho Air National Guard. As the full-time program manager for the Idaho Youth Ranch Hays House, Pile is responsible for overseeing a homeless shelter for youth ages 9-18.

“I manage chaos,” said Pile. “Everything that might go on with a kid, from school to therapy to casework to listening to them cry, I manage all of that.”

When it comes to a high-stress environment and the welfare of others, Keaten said Pile’s multifaceted approach to problems elevates his success in both his military and civilian careers.

“He’s able to take a situation and look at in a multitude of ways versus just one way,” said Keaten. “He does that with a lot of willingness and ability to empathize and put himself in another person’s shoes. That level of thoughtfulness and care helps him to be very well-suited for what he does at the Hays House and what he does (in the Air National Guard).”

Hays House provides a home to nearly 100 kids each year and is the valley’s only shelter for runaways and homeless kids who are victims of abuse or neglect. To parents who have a hard enough time managing the schedules and development of their own children, Pile’s dedication to Idaho’s homeless kids seems like the work of a superhero. Although fans like Keaten say he shines on a regular basis, Pile disagrees.

“I don’t do anything unique or super special,” said Pile. “I listen and I try to smile and greet the kids. It’s a lot of the small things.”

Pile, who has also worked for the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy, said he’s driven by the opportunity to influence how youth in Idaho are treated. While Hays House provides food, shelter and important resources 24 hours a day, he emphasizes that the best way for anyone to help a kid is by taking the time to mentor them. The key, Pile said, is to slow down and truly listen to and understand what they have to say.

“Just because a kid is labeled as at-risk doesn’t mean they’re a bad kid,” said Pile. “If every adult could see that an at-risk youth is not a bad kid, maybe we’d show more empathy. We need more empathy. Not more efficiency. Not more doing things quickly. We need more empathy.”

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