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HCHS senior receives appointment to West Point

AHOSKIE – It is perhaps the highest honor bestowed on a high school senior.

Hertford County High School’s Corey Saunders achieved it recently when he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point.

“I was happy,” Saunders said of learning he had received the appointment. “I kind of figured I had it because my dad said I had a big package from West Point. I thought if I didn’t get in, it would have been just a small letter.”

The appointment to the USMA didn’t just happen. It requires prospective cadets to receive a nomination from a congressman, senator, the Vice President, Secretary of the Army or Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC). Saunders was nominated by both the ROTC and Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).

After receiving the nomination, Saunders had to apply to West Point just like any other student would apply to college and receive a medical qualification.

All the work was worth it to Saunders, who said he had multiple reasons for wanting to go to West Point.

“I felt it would prepare me for whatever challenges I face in life,” he said. “It will give me necessary skills to lead in combat. I want to train with the best. That’s why I want to go there.”

Saunders also had some help with his decision to go to the USMA. He credited retired Hertford County High JROTC instructor Sgt. Major Johnnie R. Farmer and his own brother-in-law, Stephen D’Amico, with pointing him towards West Point.

“I was probably in the tenth grade when I began considering it,” he said. “My brother-in-law graduated from the Air Force Academy and he started talking to me about West Point. He was with me the whole way.

“Sometimes I would get annoyed with him pushing me, but if it wasn’t for him, I might not be going,” Saunders mused.

He also credited his teacher with helping him make the decision.

“Sgt. Major Farmer also started talking to me about it,” he said. “Besides, it’s something different. Everybody doesn’t apply.

“I learned most of my leadership skills from him (Farmer),” he continued. “I didn’t learn it from a book, but from learning through his example.”

Saunders also said he was appreciative of the support of his family.

“My mom (Susan Saunders) and dad (Grady Saunders) are really supportive of whatever I want to do in life as long as I make a good name for myself,” he said. “My brother (Gary Saunders) and sister (Stephanie D’Amico) always want to teach me how to do stuff better.”

Susan Saunders said the family was pleased.

“We’re really excited for Corey and very proud of him,” she said. “He’s stayed focused on his goal and it’s exciting that he’s achieved it and it is a reality.

“We’re excited about what West Point will do for him,” she continued. “I’m a little scared for him, but if he sticks with it, I think it will sharpen his abilities.”

Susan Saunders said she was also thankful for the JROTC program at Hertford County High School.

“I don’t think we’d be sitting here today if it wasn’t for Sgt. Major Farmer and the JROTC program,” she said.

“Corey is a well-deserving student and I’m sure he’ll do great there,” Farmer said. “He’s a great kid.

“I’m really proud of him,” Farmer continued. “He was a real go-getter in JROTC. He has shown outstanding leadership.”

Farmer said he taught JROTC for 14 years at HCHS and Saunders was the first student to be accepted to West Point.

The current JROTC instructor at Hertford County High is also proud of Saunders’ accomplishments.

“West Point is the best military academy,” Chief Warrant Officer Randy Cherry said. “For us to have Corey going there representing Hertford County is wonderful.

“They couldn’t have picked a better cadet,” he continued. “The Army doesn’t know what they have in store for them.”

HCHS Principal Jerry Simmons was also delighted with Saunders’ appointment to West Point.

“Corey is an outstanding student,” Simmons said. “He certainly helped me as a principal when we were in transition with the JROTC program. He never hesitated to come to me about the needs of the program, which shows his leadership abilities.

“I’m proud to have served as his principal,” he added. “I’m proud of him for what he has accomplished. He is a role model for what our students can do if they have good support and do what they should.”

Saunders has been in the JROTC program at Hertford County High School all four years and has held every leadership position in the program. He is currently a Lt. Col. and serves as Battalion Commander.

He is also captain of the Bears’ baseball team.