by Daisy Creager| Staff writer
Immense pain. In a sudden flurry of confusion, the unexpected happens. Air Force officer Kerry Anderson Crooks was flying a classified mission in Alaska’s Aleutians Islands when his plane crashed landed. Shattered knee cap, compressed spine, shredded ankle, and a popped retina; it hurts to try and imagine this kind of pain. But his injuries didn’t faze him. Lt. Crooks escaped from the burning plane and helped his fellow injured crewmen; pulling out one lieutenant seconds before the plane they were in exploded.
“[My dad] was sitting in the back of the plane-in the far back-and in the crash a ton and a half of equipment fell on top of him and he had to lift it off, causing his spine to compress even more. Because of the heat of the plane burning, a lot of metals in the air got into my dad’s lungs and burned them from the bottom up,” senior Victoria Crooks said. “For his actions, my dad received a Airman’s Medal for valor. It was written by Rob Jensik, another crew member and one of my dad’s closest friends.”
Six crewmen died in that plane crash. Survivors that suffered injuries as bad as Lt.Crooks are still paying the price 30 years later. But that crash and the lives of the men who survived it-or didn’t have a chance to-would inspire Victoria ‘Tori’ Crooks, Lt.(now Dr.) Crooks daughter, to pursue her dreams.
“I applied to three universities actually. It was Ohio State University, then Purdue University, the Texas A&M. With Ohio State, I picked that one because it has a great engineering program as well a bunch of other great programs; it has the Honors program, they have Rugby. Also, my sister is there-we kind of have a family legacy there,” Tori says.
Tori recently got accepted into Ohio State University’s Honors program and its Air Force ROTC program. She plans on obtaining her bachelor’s degree as an Electrical/Computer Engineer with a minor in Aviation, spending summers polishing her French and flying skills. Her field, Electrical/Electronic Engineering, is one of the most critical needs of the military.
“She applied for both the Navy ROTC and Air Force ROTC. She did not apply to the Air Force Academy as she had no interest in it,” Dr.Crooks said. “The application process for the Navy was actually simpler. The Air Force not only required her to do a physical fitness check, which Mr. Mehlbrech was kind enough to administer, but the Air Force was more distant where the Navy actually came to Johnson to get Tori’s paperwork. Both required Tori to interview with a member of that service. Tori was interviewed by the Air Force colonel who command’s UTSA’s AF ROTC detachment.”
Because of scholarships she will be receiving, Tori is required to sign a letter of enlistment to receive pay and benefits while a cadet. Upon graduation, she will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Her assignment, whether she flies or works on aerospace systems, will be determined during her junior year.
“A guy that gets out of college and [is commissioned] is automatically the boss of an [enlisted] dude who has already been in for 20 years- it’s a big deal. That’s what Tori will be. If I was still in the military, I would have to salute her,” AP World and Military History teacher Eric Wetmore said.
But being commissioned is no small task.
“She will be competing against other cadets that are in her Air Force ROTC Unit, if you will, to decide if she will go Active Duty, Reserves, or National Guard,” Lieutenant Colonel Alan Maitland said. “That will be determined after her four years of being in the program. They put her on an order of merit list; she’ll have to successfully complete the program in order to even be considered for a commission. A commission in any armed services is directly from the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate.”
But considering on how well she’s done so far, Tori should go far in the OSU AF ROTC program. Based on applications, she has been offered the Ohio State National Buckeye Award, the OSU Board of Trustees Award, the national scholarship from the Freedom Alliance, a scholarship from the San Antonio Chapter of the Ohio State Alumni Association, as well as Tier 1 scholarships from both the US Navy and US Air Force. Her Tier-1 scholarship is offered to only the Top-5% of applicants. Included with her Tier 1 scholarship was a personal letter from Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, praising her as “a star!”
“We were happy for Tori as she worked hard for these scholarships, especially as a transfer student who had to take additional courses after school or over the summer to meet the different curriculum requirements of Texas,” Dr. Crooks said.
Tori’s family and friends have flooded her with support upon her success.
“I found out about my Navy scholarship when I was hanging out with Michelle Ramstack and my other friends,” Tori said. “We were sitting in (Michelle’s) car, I was in the front seat, and my dad called me and said “You got a Tier 1 Navy Scholarship!” My friends all congratulated me. I’ve been getting a lot of congratulations from my family and my friends, it’s been really cool.”
Previously recruited by the Ohio State new NCAA Women’s Rugby Team and OSU’s Band, her studies and obligations now prevent active participation in either. But rugby and band weren’t the only things that drew Tori’s attention toward OSU or her career choice. She will be the third generation of her family to be an Air Force ROTC cadet and second generation at OSU AFROTC. Her ancestors, some of whom came over in the first wave of Massachusetts settlers, fought and died in the first colonial wars–before there was a United States. Several fought in other struggles in our history, including the American Revolution, Civil War, both World Wars, and Vietnam.
“Her entire family is proud Tori will carry on the family heritage of military service as she will be the first of this generation of our family to also earn an officer’s commission,” Crooks said. “[She] has accepted a massive responsibility and challenge, beginning with her studies as an Honors electrical engineer and aviation student, and continuing as a military officer serving in a time of great international unrest.”
With a family history of military service and legacies of OSU, Tori has been greatly influenced by her family’s past and the way it affects her daily life, especially these last two years with her father’s fight with his injuries and cancer, and the death of her Vietnam-veteran great uncle who had long-suffered after that war.
“Perhaps my injuries from the crash influenced her more than anything else as Tori is committed to make better, safer aircraft. She has known two of my fellow crew members who survived the crash with me,” Crooks said.
Described by her teachers as interested, engaged, brilliant, and a stand out in academics, Tori will be dearly missed when she graduates.
“I would advise anybody going into College ROTC to step out and take risk and to seek out opportunities to excel,” Maitland said. “Don’t be a ‘flower on the wall’ so to speak. At that level in college it’s very competitive and you won’t have a chance to be noticed if you don’t stand out. Especially a scholarship cadet, they are really expected to step and and be recognized.”