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By Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
The quick actions of an Illinois Army National Guard Soldier saved an elderly woman’s life at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, July 21, 2021.
Arguably the longest few minutes of his day, Staff Sgt. Nathan Hooker, of Homer Glenn, Illinois, responded to a Code Red, a call of a person in distress, at the cemetery where he has worked fulltime as a cemetery representative since November 2020.
“It was a typical day, we were getting ready for services at the cemetery,” said Hooker, a military policeman assigned to the 233rd Military Police Company, based in Springfield. “I did a service for a veteran and transported his remains to the gravesite. I was driving back to the administration building when a field employee was flagged down by a family who was visiting a gravesite in one of the sections. That’s when the Code Red was sounded.”
Hooker said the announcement indicated an elderly woman had collapsed near her vehicle, wasn’t breathing and was in need of medical services.
“That’s when the Code Red went out over the radio system,” he said. “My first thought was I have to go. I wasn’t too far away so I raced over to the location.”
Hooker said when he arrived at the location of the medical emergency, he saw a woman on the ground by her vehicle and a bystander with her.
“I quickly assessed her and determined she wasn’t breathing and her mouth was turning blue,” he said. “I began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation right away.”
Hooker said after what seemed like forever, but in reality about a minute and a half, he performed a quick reassessment.
“She still wasn’t breathing, so we removed her dentures so they weren’t blocking her airway,” Hooker said. “After another minute or so, I heard her cough and thought, ‘we’re getting somewhere’. I kept doing CPR and eventually she started breathing on her own.”
Hooker said after she regained consciousness, she didn’t know what happened. At that point, he just kept her calm until the paramedics arrived.
“It was incredible,” he said. “Everyone worked together and it turned out really well.”
Hooker attributes the outcome to his training as a Soldier in the Illinois Army National Guard.
“In the National Guard, we receive training in medical and other tactics for our jobs,” he said. “This training is not just for use while we’re in the National Guard. We go back to our communities and that’s where the training kicks in, outside of drill weekend.”
“We have amazing heroes in our formations in the Illinois National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “I am proud to lead such amazing Soldiers like Staff Sergeant Nathan Hooker, who stepped in and used his military training to save the life of a person experiencing a medical emergency.”
Hooker, who was recently certified as a combat lifesaver, said as Military Police they receive a significant amount of medical related training.
“We emphasize medical training a lot with the MPs,” he said. “With all the training I’ve received, at that moment, I wasn’t nervous or scared. I knew what to do and reverted back to my level of training. The more you train, it becomes second nature.”
Growing up Hooker wanted to be a police officer or serve in the military.
“Both my grandfathers were World War II veterans,” he said of his desire to serve in the military. “I wanted to do something bigger than myself. I wanted to serve my country because I’m very proud of this country. I also wanted the military training and the joys of comradery you get through serving.”
Hooker said it wasn’t until after graduating from college that either dream became reality.
“After college, I decided I could do both so I talked with a bunch of recruiters and ended up enlisting in the National Guard because I wanted to serve in the military part time and as a police officer full time,” he said. “I enlisted as an MP because I thought the training would help get me a job and it did.”
Hooker, who deployed with the 233rd to Afghanistan in 2016, served as a part-time police officer for four to five years and most recently worked as a full-time police officer with the Orland Park police department.
As a Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery representative, Hooker has found his passion.
“I absolutely love my job assisting Veterans’ families during probably one of the saddest days of their lives,” he said.
As part of his duties, much like a funeral director, he plans and organizes the services at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and on the day of the service, he greets the family as they arrive for their Veteran’s service.
“We take them to the shelter where the military funeral honors are performed, then escort the remains to their final resting place,” he said. “We stay with the remains until they are interred.”
Hooker has been a fixture at the National Cemetery even before becoming a cemetery representative. For several years, Hooker served as a member of the Illinois Army National Guard’s Military and Funeral Honors team, assisting with the final military salute at Veterans’ funerals. Even now, he jumps in and helps the team if needed.
“Nathan is extremely helpful and jumps in wherever help is needed,” said Quincy McCall, the director of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. “He will take on a challenge, even if it’s not something he’s done before.”
McCall said Hooker is a great asset to the National Cemetery, and as a result of his quick actions, was nominated as the National Cemetery Administration’s employee of the quarter, prompting a call from Matt Quinn, the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs.
“He got to speak with Mr. Quinn, the Under Secretary,” she said. “I’ve never received a call from the Under Secretary.”
McCall said even though Hooker wasn’t chosen as the overall employee of the quarter, she’s proud he was chosen as a finalist.
“It’s a big deal and he is very deserving of the honor,” she said.
Hooker said what could have had a horrible outcome, turned out to have a good ending, and could hopefully encourage young men and women to join the National Guard.
“The training you learn could save lives,” he said. “The training you receive stays with you and can be taken back by you to help others in your community.”