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Lebanon’s Cooper Brooks lands cadetship at West Point

It took a lifetime to prepare and a year to apply, but only a matter of seconds to sink in that Cooper Brooks would be attending West Point Academy.

When Congressman Peter DeFazio’s office informed him of the good news, Brooks was awestruck, he said.

“It was such a long journey. It just seemed like I was on the journey forever,” he said.

The United States Military Academy at West Point is among the top academic institutions in the nation and has a 9 percent acceptance rate based on highly selective academic and other criteria.

Brooks said he was so “pumped up” about his acceptance, that he drove around and blasted Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” in his car.

Brooks, who graduated from Lebanon High School June 5, will report to his first day at West Point July 2. It’s the beginning of a new chapter in his life, but also the culmination of what he’s been taught growing up.

His parents, grandparents and great-grandparents instilled in him the importance of having a servant’s heart, he said. They would always ask, ‘Is what you’re doing right now having a servant’s heart? Is what you’re doing right now helping benefit others? Are you doing all you can to help them or better help the community?’

Nick Brooks, Cooper’s father, believes this made a huge impact in his life, coupled with strong mentors who demonstrated true leadership. Koreen Brooks, his mother, agreed her son has always striven to lead with a servant’s heart.

“He’s always been very service-minded,” she said. “He’s always worked hard on his academics, and he’s the kind of kid that takes pride in anything he does and tries to do his best.”

Cooper points to his great-grandmother, MaryLou Naccarato, as perhaps the best example of someone with a servant’s heart, who, for example, would make sure a kid who needed cleats would get a pair. If she couldn’t afford it, she’d ask businesses to help, he said.

“She’d go out of her way to help people,” Brooks said. “She was an incredible woman.”

As he worked on his grandparents’ farm, Brooks has learned that sometimes things are hard, but the work still has to be done, and the lesson applied to sports, as well.

“My grandpa, Chuck Bronkhorst, he showed me perseverance is gonna take you a long way, and sometimes – even if it sucks – nobody cares and you have to do your job. There’s a certain pride to that, he taught me.”

He said his grandmother Lynette Bronkhorst is probably the kindest woman he’s ever met, and she showed him how to treat people.

In addition to building character, Brooks participated in his favorite sports, baseball and football, and started a new tradition for the high school, a military veterans appreciation night.

The event started two years ago. About 50 veterans attended this year, greeted by a packed crowd at the high school. They were honored with a special coin and T-shirt, he said. About $8,000 was donated from people and businesses to help with gifts and fund-raising investments, after which the rest was given to the Edward C. Allworth Veteran’s Home and American Legion Post 51.

“If it was up to me, there would be something to honor them every week,” he said. “I wanted to do something so they could see that the whole community could come together and thank them.”

Nick Brooks served in the National Guard, and Cooper noted that his grandfather and great-grandfather served in the Navy in Vietnam and World War II, respectively.

“I’ve been around some great veterans my entire life,” he said.

He always liked the way they carry themselves, and that they focus on leadership and service, he said.

“Those two things are huge to me, and every day that’s what you’re working on,” he said. “You’re never going to feel like you’ve wasted a day.”

By now it should be pretty obvious that Brooks appreciates his country.

“I would consider myself a little more patriotic than the normal person,” he said. “To me, patriotism isn’t ‘My country no matter what;’ It’s ‘My country because.’ America is great because of the people who made it great.”

And that’s one reason why he did the veterans appreciation night, he said. He gets choked up talking about these things.

“This is the first country in the world that has been founded off of ideas. At its core is ideas of freedom. Just to imagine people would have that kind of vision, and that it’s been carried forward so long, it’s incredible and so humbling to think about.”

So that’s it. Brooks is passionate about leadership, and about a country that’s carried along by those who lead.

“I really like having the opportunity to help a group succeed,” he said. “If you’re not doing what you can to help the group succeed, then you’re not a good leader.”

When he applied at West Point, Brooks expected he might not get in, but he knew he had to at least give it a shot.

“In my opinion, it’s the best leadership school in the world. If I say that leadership is my passion and I don’t try to go to some place like that, then I’m kind of a poser. I mean, let’s be real there.”

In high school, Brooks participated in the American Legion Boys State and Boys Nation, and then National Rural Electric Cooperative Youth Tour and NRC National Youth Leadership Council.

Those opportunities allowed him to visit Washington, D.C. twice and personally experience life in the political arena.

“The American Legion giving me that opportunity to participate in the civics programs, that really kind of sparked it for me,” he said.

He is considering a major in political science at West Point. His tuition, room, board and medical is paid in full as a cadet at the academy. After he graduates, he will serve in the infantry branch of the Army.

“What makes this appointment all the sweeter to his mother and me is that, not only do we know how much he sacrificed to get to this point, but in knowing he knows and appreciates the sacrifices others have made so that he can have this opportunity,” Nick Brooks said.

Cooper Brooks thanks his family, American Legion Post 51, coaches and teachers for helping to build him up.

“There’s just been a lot of people behind me,” he said. “When you’ve got people around you who are showing you what to do, and being good role models, it makes it easy.”