Courage, Determination and ‘A Little Bit of Grit’



Photo by J. Freeman Photography & Patrick Barron – AirShowStuff.com

 

The U.S. Army’s elite Golden Knights live by a creed.

It begins, “Under a canopy of black and gold I fly the colors of the Army. I volunteered to become an ambassador of my service and I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, high standards, and spirit de corps of the United States Army Parachute Team. The memories, achievements and legacy of my predecessors are my responsibility; I will not fail them.”

The late Master Sgt. Corey Hood, a 2001 Lakota West High School graduate who hailed from West Chester, lived by a similar code of his own long before he was selected to join the Golden Knights in 2014.

Hood – or Hoody, as many of his friends called him – was 17 when he enlisted in the Army after graduation, just a few months before 9/11. He served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a forward observer with the 82nd and 101st Airborne and the 25th Infantry
Division, receiving two Bronze Stars, two Meritorious Service and five Army Achievement medals, and the Master Parachutist,
Pathfinder, Air Assault and Combat Action badges. On August 16, 2015, Hood died from injuries suffered while performing with his revered Golden Knights at the Chicago Air and Water Show.

Today, Hood’s own courageous, can-do/will-do legacy lives on through the Hoody Memorial Fund, made possible by the generous contributions of his family and friends, and the Community Foundation of West Chester-Liberty Alliance. The Fund awards a scholarship each year to a graduating Lakota High School senior who possesses the same positive qualities Hood exhibited throughout his civilian and military life – a strong will, a desire to succeed and, as his friends describe it, “a little bit of grit.”

The scholarship selection committee is comprised of Hood’s family and a large, loving circle of friends who grew up with him in West Chester. Additionally, a street sign bearing the name, “MSG Corey Hood Memorial Drive” has been erected near the high school football field. A street dedication ceremony is slated for March 10th, 2018.

“A huge thank you goes out to everyone who took part in last year’s Hoody Memorial Golf Outing and Dinner,” says Nick Enger, one of Hood’s closest childhood friends, who spearheaded the establishment of the scholarship fund.  “We originally set out with an ambitious goal of raising $5,000. Needless to say, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the local community. The 2017 event netted twice as much as in 2016, and now we have $60,000 in the fund. Our goal is to create a self-sustaining fund exceeding $100,000, which we hope to reach with this year’s event.”

The inaugural Hoody Memorial Scholarship of $7,500 was awarded to Jensen Quinn, described as an outstanding student, a talented and dedicated wrestler and a natural leader both in and out of school. Quinn is currently a freshman at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where he majors in finance. He plans to serve in the U.S. Navy after graduation, and hopes to become a Navy SEAL.

“What it all means to me is, it keeps Corey alive,” says Hood’s mother, Carrie Mills, of Bealeton, Virginia. “All moms say this, but I had a very special relationship with my son. It makes me cry every time I think about it, but at the same time it is so overwhelmingly comforting. He loved West Chester so much. The people are just so awesome. It’s a tight-knit, family-oriented place.”

No matter where Hood was deployed, he always kept in close contact with his West Chester friends.

“Every time he was home, everyone got together,” recalls Hood’s wife, Lyndsay, a pediatric trauma nurse and former Cincinnatian who now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “It’s very special to me to see that continue since he has been gone. The annual golf outing is a great event, and a part of Corey I can hold on to. It is humbling to see how much he lives on after his death.”

Hood was smaller than most of his classmates, and he was bullied a bit during his early school years, family and friends note. But he wouldn’t put up with it. He’d tell the kid bullying him what he thought, and they’d end up being friends.

“He loved everybody,” his mother says. “He didn’t care what color you were, where you came from, or how much money you had. He would walk into a quiet room and in five minutes, everyone was talking with each other and laughing. Like Nick once told me, Corey was the ring leader that brought so many groups of students together.”

Hood’s small physical stature was clearly overshadowed by his inner toughness, his former high school coaches say. His intense will power, competitive team spirit and high energy were the perfect fuel for the sports he loved – baseball, football and wrestling.

“The best way I can describe Corey is, he was a tough nut,” says Scott Fetzer, Hood’s wrestling coach. “He wasn’t big, he wasn’t the strongest kid, or the best athlete, but he was tough, and he let that toughness carry him through wrestling. It ultimately paid off and helped him reach his goals in the military.”

In fact, one of Fetzer’s fondest memories of Hood is a war story the young soldier shared with the Lakota Wrestling team during a visit home in 2006.  Hood talked about the time he was trapped for two days in a foxhole during intense crossfire in Afghanistan. He told the team that what kept him going was repeatedly telling himself, “If I can make it through wrestling practice, I can survive this.”

“Corey was that kind of kid that athletes and non-athletes, and kids from all different cliques, related to, respected and got along with,” Fetzer adds. “He connected with a lot of different people. The success of the memorial golf outing is in direct correlation to Corey making all those connections. Some of the people at the golf outings may not know him, but they heard about him, learned about him and decided, ‘This is the kind of person, the kind of legacy I want to support. If he was with us today, I’d want to know him.’ ”

When Hood told Fetzer he was going into the service, Fetzer advised him to make the most of it. “Looking back on all he accomplished, he definitely did that. What he was able to do in his short life is amazing. And that’s the part of the legacy that lives on.”

The Annual Hoody Memorial Golf Outing and Dinner takes place the first Saturday in August, coinciding with Hood’s birthday, which is Aug. 2. During the 2017 golf outing, Team Fastrax skydivers performed for the opening ceremony, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats cannon was used for the shot gun start, a dueling piano band played song requests throughout the dinner and a Rozzi’s fireworks show capped off the night. Plans for the 2018 Hoody Memorial Golf outing are already underway.

“Corey was always the life of the party,” Enger says. “According to Corey, there was only one way to do things in life – BIG! The purpose of The Hoody Memorial is to keep the party going in Corey’s name while giving back to the community Corey was proud to be from and loved so much. His legacy demonstrates that devotion, drive and determination are just as valuable as academic merit when achieving success after high school.”

 

For more information about the Hoody Foundation Memorial Fund and Scholarship, visit www.hoodymemorial.com.