Northern Iraq is a long way from home for Joey Hood, a career diplomat and Hinsdale native.
But his work there several years ago, helping the Yazidi people after they were victims of genocide under the Islamic State, is part of a broader mission inspired by his Monadnock Region roots.
Hood’s State Department postings have included stints in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. But even on diplomatic assignments halfway around the world, his own community is always on his mind. He tries to go beyond the city where the embassy is located, he said, and find “the Hinsdales of the places where I serve.”
“Where are those places that nobody knows the name of? … Who’s paying attention to their voices and their interests and their needs?”
Now acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Hood, 47, supervises U.S. activities and diplomatic relations in a pivotal, often volatile region that stretches from northern Africa to Iran.
Compared to his current role, Hood said his beginnings were inauspicious.
He grew up one of four siblings on Main Street in Hinsdale — which, by Hood’s admission, is “quite out of the way” — where his mother drove a school bus and later worked in the school as a secretary and substitute teacher. His father held a post office job in Vermont for around 40 years, having retired recently.
Hood’s origins in the Monadnock Region date back generations: His maternal ancestors, Polish immigrants, moved to Brattleboro and Hinsdale to work in the mills, he said. His paternal grandfather relocated to Chesterfield from Maine, having found work at a farm on Route 63, where he met his future wife, Hood’s grandmother.
Growing up, Hood held a number of odd jobs, including a newspaper route for The Sentinel and at small stores in the area — among them, a bygone bakery on Winchester Street in Keene.
Even at a young age, he aspired to leave the region for a life overseas. Hood said he bought old French books at yard sales, thinking that “to be educated … meant to speak French,” and also began receiving instruction in the language in 3rd grade as part of a program led by local high-schoolers.
“I didn’t know what a foreign service officer was, or even a diplomat or anything, but I definitely saw myself as somebody who was going to travel the world and go to big cities,” he said.
Attending school in Hinsdale, which unlike many Granite State communities doesn’t send students to a regional high school, helped Hood grow academically, he said — though he didn’t recognize it at the time.
“I spent 13 years with the same group of kids, and we didn’t get thrown into some larger pond somewhere,” he said. “… I think that gives … students a lot closer relationships with their teachers, who are often their neighbors.”
Those teachers encouraged Hood to continue his education after high school, and he credits them for normalizing that path since nobody in his family had been to college. Hood attended Dartmouth College in Hanover — an unlikely setting for someone with middling test scores and from a household of modest means, he said — where he briefly considered studying psychology and government before settling on French.
As a first-generation college student, Hood said he quickly felt out of place among his peers, who talked about “authors I’d never heard of [and] places I’d never heard of.” He thought conversations about “the AP” referred to The Associated Press, since he had never heard of the Advanced Placement program.
“There came a moment in college when I had to decide either sink or swim,” he said. “I decided to swim because there really wasn’t an alternative.”
Hood realized after a couple terms, though, that he was keeping up with his more privileged classmates.
He considered going to graduate…