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Mariner grad gets hero’s recognition

By Staff | Feb 19, 2016

Once a Triton, always a Triton. That’s what they say at Mariner High School, no matter how long it’s been since people graduate from there.

Army Sgt. (Ret.) Corey Kent learned that firsthand on Thursday as he returned to the school he graduated from to a belated hero’s recognition at McKenna Field.

Thousands filled the stands, waving American flags as his police escort arrived at the stadium. Even before that, students at Mariner Middle lined Chiquita Boulevard in front of the school to give him a huge welcome.

Kent, a Purple Heart recipient, and his fiance, were there to celebrate the groundbreaking on the high-tech “smart home” being built for him on Shady Grove Lane by Aubuchon Homes.

Kent was critically injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan that cost him both legs and the fingers on his left hand.

Kent said he was a bit overwhelmed by the amazing welcome he got from everyone.

“It’s surreal coming back here after 10 years. I never thought I’d be speaking in front of the student body, but it’s great to see kids understanding what it means to be in the military,” Kent said.

Kent’s house is being built by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation -established in honor of a fallen 9/11 firefighter – through its Building for America’s Bravest program.

His house, which will be more spacious than his current home, will employ a wide array of high-tech features run off an iPad, and will be customized to meet his individual needs, enabling him to lead as independent a life as possible without having to rely on his bride-to-be.

“We’re super-excited about the house, but when I started hearing about them at Walter Reed, a lot of organizations come around and you can tell the good ones from the not-so-good ones,” Kent said. “I knew this was a great one, so to be involved with them is exciting.”

Participants and audience members for the celebration were treated to musical performances by the Silver Magic Marching Band and the Mariner High School Chorus, as well as a precision routine by the Mariner High School JROTC Drill Team.

Among the dignitaries in attendance were Mayor Marni Sawicki and Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, neither of whom spoke.

Among those who did speak were John Hodge, who told the story of his cousin, Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who lost his life during Sept. 11, 2001.

“Without Sept. 11. Corey Kent would not have been in harm’s way, so we feel it’s our duty and commitment,” Hodge said as he included special thanks to the local businesses who made the home possible.

This included Gary Aubuchon, who stepped up to agree to build Kent his house and made sure they could get everything Kent needed at a price they can afford.

“This is the most rewarding project we have ever undertaken. Thanks to my team who made this dream a reality. I am awed by your quest for just and noble causes,” Aubuchon said. “I also want to thank Corey Kent. You exemplify the best of the American spirit. You are brave, humble and strong.”

Also speaking was retired FDNY Battalion Chief Jack Oehm and various members of the local community, which will have a hand in building his home, and who thanked Kent for his service.

After the ceremony, ground was officially broken on the home site, which is expected to be dedicated on Sept. 11.