The dedicated and distinguished team performed its final drill on Saturday, March 17, in Greenville, Tenn. It returned to Rossville with 11 more trophies for the season, with a total of 109 awards for the year.
Alexander Parks, a well-liked member of the program, is on four of the teams that won.
“He actually had that color guard trophy with him on his seat in the bus as he was sleeping on the way back,” said Lt. Col. Paul Simpson, instructor of the JROTC program.
“He was ecstatic,” Alex’s mom Teresa Parks said. “He spent the first two and a half hours after I got him home that Saturday evening telling me every detail of his weekend.”
The following morning at 10:30 the jubilation for the season would turn to anguish and disbelief as Parks was clinging to life following an accident.
He was helping his parents move furniture while riding in the bed of a slow-moving truck on their property.
A bedroom mirror shifted and Parks fell over the side of the truck.
He was transported to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga in critical condition and rushed into surgery, according to his mother.
“The doctors said it appears that he must have fallen directly onto the top of his head because of the severe injuries he has,” Parks’ mother said. He was given a less than 10 percent chance of survival, she said.
Two more surgeries have removed a significant portion of his skull, allowing the brain to swell and not cause further damage. Doctors kept him in a medically-induced coma for more than a week. He remains in a comatose state while his swollen brain tries to mend.
Three students arrived at the hospital within 30 minutes of Parks’ mother notifying JROTC officials after 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 18. “There have been students here every day since then,” Teresa said. “There are a few who have sit with us all day long. It’s been amazing.”
Visit "Pray for Alex Parks" page on Facebook
The Monday morning (March 19) return to the ROTC classrooms was devoid of the usual laughter and hijinks. Students were nearly silent with disbelief.
“We don’t want to sit back, wait and do nothing, so we decided here at the corps that we were going to try to raise as much money to help the parents pay for the bill,” said JROTC cadet Col. Christopher Crawford, a close friend.
As difficult as the accident is for the teens to understand, it has given the ROTC unit one final mission: caring for one of their own.
Students initially had a helpless feeling to directly aid Parks and have now focused on indirectly helping him by assisting his parents through fundraising for the mountain of medical expenses that continue.
Parks is also a three-year member of the Ridgeland Honors Academy and described by classmates as a dependable and determined person who is well-liked and respected.
The cadets are selling 50-cent ribbons, “Praying for Alex,” and $1 links in a prayer chain that grows daily.
Their efforts have raised nearly $1,000 so far, according to Lt. Col Simpson.
“(Parks) is pretty much like a brother to me,” cadet Maj. Ian Simpson said. “We have sent out an email to all of the ROTC units in the nation, explaining the story and asking for anything they can do to help.”
Several cards from other units have already arrived and teachers at the school have donated money, according to Lt. Col. Simpson.
“He didn’t talk a lot, but he never said an unkind word of anybody,” Simpson said, who is Ian’s father.
Sgt. Carl Gentry and JROTC cadet Jeremy Stewart brought the first-place color guard trophy to Parks’ hospital room less than a week after the accident.
“He is always thinking about other people before himself,” Crawford said. “He is one of the best persons you could ever meet and one of the greatest friends you could have.”
Crawford has been friends with Parks since the first grade. The two are among a small group of friends that frequently play battle simulation games like “Call of Duty: Black Ops.”
On April 21 the cadets will host Operation Angel: OP-40, a fundraiser at the Veterans of All Wars facility at Lee and Gordon’s Mills.
Local college students and History Club members Nicholas Mahan and Jacob Long developed the mission, while Holly Dyer and Tamra Tucker created the Facebook page for the event. The event is scheduled from 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., with a $5 entry fee and a $5 fee for a gaming tournament at 5:30 p.m.
Alex is now breathing on his own with oxygen assistance, according to his mother. Over Easter weekend, he has been able to briefly open his eyes despite remaining in an unconscious state. He has also begun to respond to basic verbal commands. His parents are excited by the progress and are awaiting acceptance into a rehabilitation program in Atlanta.