Cape welcomes wounded hero home
U.S. Army Pfc. Corey Kent returned home Saturday afternoon to a hero’s welcome.
Greeted at Southwest Florida International Airport by a crowd ranging from family and friends to complete strangers, Kent was first whisked away to the Harley-Davidson of Fort Myers, before arriving at the Leapin’ Lizard in Cape Coral by way of police escort. This is his first trip home to the Cape since he was injured last year while serving in Afghanistan.
Kent was three weeks into his first tour of duty when an improvised explosive device, or IED, exploded on July 12, 2010. The explosion took both of his legs and all of the fingers on Kent’s left hand. Over the past year, he has been at the Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland, where Kent had been recovering and undergoing rehabilitation therapy.
At the Leapin’ Lizard, Kent was presented with awards, certificates for food and lodging, and monetary donations collected through local fund-raisers. Mayor John Sullivan presented him with a key to the city, while Sam Galloway Ford surprised Kent with a 2012 Ford Focus. The most touching gift, though, seemed to come from the community.Attending to show their support, people offered Kent handshakes, hugs and warm thanks for his service.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he told the crowd.
His parents echoed that sentiment Saturday.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Dan Ashby, Kent’s stepfather said. “It’s overwhelming.”
Mother Tiffany Kent explained that she and her son were both raised in the local community, and that the outpouring of support means a lot to their family.
“We couldn’t ask to be part of a better community,” she said.
They said Kent has pushed himself hard on his road to recovery and he could be home by the end of next year.
“It’s the new beginning for him,” Ashby said.
Cape resident Stephen Sepulveda was present Saturday to welcome his old friend and co-worker home. He and Kent worked together at Sam’s Club before Kent joined the military, and the two used to hang out together.
“A really good kid,” Sepulveda said of Kent.
He explained that he was devastated last year when he learned what had happened to Kent. He has kept up with the news and what has been going on with Kent’s progress, and reached out to his old friend through Facebook.
“I couldn’t believe that happened,” Sepulveda said.
As for the show of support at the Leapin’ Lizard, he said Kent has earned it.
“I’m really glad everybody’s come out here,” Sepulveda said. “He deserves it. He’s a good kid.”
Veteran Ronald Oriel, of Cape Coral, was also in attendance Saturday. He served from 1952-54 in Korea.
“It’s fantastic. It’s unbelievable,” Oriel said of the community’s response. “Just look around and see the people and the veterans here.”
He called the welcome home party great.
“It’s something they should do more often,” Oriel said. “There’s a lot of them.”
Sullivan, who was present in Fort Myers, said the turnout across the river was just as welcoming Saturday.
“It was good,” he said. “It was very good.”
Sullivan called Kent one of Cape Coral’s heroes.
“I think it’s very good for him,” he said of the Leapin’ Lizard event. “It helps him understand that he had a lot of support in the community.”
Kent will be home up through the early part of August, after which he will return to Walter Reed Hospital.