He was just a kid when I first met him.
We had gone to the local airport for a meeting of the Civil Air Patrol. CAP is an auxiliary organization for the United States Air Force in which students are given the opportunity to serve their community while preparing for a career in the military. This unit has helped with tornado clean-up, flooding clean-up, and has been credited with finding a helicopter that crashed in a lake. My son wanted to join this group because he knew he wanted to serve in the military. Corey was one of the students there that evening.
My son loved being in CAP. He also loved Corey like a brother. As Corey advanced through the ranks (not an easy task – it involves both physical and knowledge tests regularly), my son advanced right behind him. Typical of most boys, the higher up the chain of command Corey got, the cockier he got. So did my son, but again, that is typical of most boys.
Cadets who were on Corey’s team had to meet high expectations in every activity, but he led by example. If he asked you to run a 6 minute mile, he was running a 5 minute mile. His motto was to “show one, do one, teach one.” He showed you how to do something, expected you to be able to do it, and he expected you to teach others how to do likewise. Because of this level of high standards, Corey’s team became the “go to” group in the state when something needed to be done.
Each summer, CAP cadets are given the opportunity to attend various camps across the nation. One year Corey went to a camp in Pennsylvania where he learned survival skills, search and rescue, rappelling, first aid, orienteering/land navigation, discipline, and more. He returned to the unit and worked to get others to attend. By this time, Corey had become the Cadet Commander of the unit and my son hung on his every word. For the next year, the only thing my son spoke of was going to this encampment. His laser focus landed him the qualifications required to attend and we went to PA.
This camp changed my son in a very positive way. Not only did he learn a great deal, but he also developed a new sense of discipline, honor, and integrity. These have served him well in his military career. They served Corey well, too. He had such an impact on the CAP unit that in only a few years after his graduation, a special award would be given every year to a cadet who exemplified high standards, a drive to be exceptional, and an expectation that others could excel, too. My son was the first recipient of this award.
Upon his high school graduation, Corey joined the US Army. He completed his training and in just a couple of years, he was deployed to Afghanistan. During his service to our nation, Corey earned the Army Achievement Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism, Service Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Expert Infantry Badge and the Parachutists Badge. He would also earn the Bronze Star for his heroism.
While in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, Corey’s unit was called to help some other men in a convoy who had encountered an IED. They did not hesitate to act. On the way to the scene, the vehicle in which Corey was riding overturned and he was killed along with a fellow soldier in the accident on September 20, 2009. He was 20 years old. In just 20 years this very young man had influenced so many people. The funeral procession through town was the longest I’d ever seen.
Today while on the way to visit with family we drove by the cemetery where Corey’s remains are laid to rest. I couldn’t help but to think how this one very young man had influenced my family. The day after we attended his funeral, my son asked his recruiter to come to our house and I signed the papers for him to enter the Army National Guard. My son was 17 at the time and would leave for basic training about 7 months later.
I’m not telling people “Happy Memorial Day” anymore. There is nothing ‘happy’ about it. It is a somber occasion, a day designed to show our respect and honor for the men and women who have died in service of our country. I also wonder how many of those men and women influenced far more people than they realize. Our family would not be what it is had we not known a kid named Corey.
Rest in Peace, Corey.