Veterans Day is a special holiday in which Americans take time to appreciate military service by our country’s armed forces. As the annual celebration on the 11th of November nears its 100th anniversary in 2019, it is more important than ever to find ways to personalize the day’s meaning. I am doing just that by recognizing the sacrifices of my father-in-law, Kevin Cook.
Though millions served the United States capably throughout our history, it is difficult to relate to previous generations because the world has evolved so greatly. As a child growing up, I heard many stories of World War 2 and was always captivated by the tales of bravery.
Yet, even when delivered by someone I knew, they often sounded like words from a history book. The rugged battlefields of Europe in the 1940’s were very distant from my serene suburban world of the late 20th century and, thankfully, they still are.
My perception of military service, however, was updated when my father-in-law served in Iraq. Prior to meeting my wife over a decade ago, Kevin had already enjoyed a career in the army that involved overseas deployment to places like Bosnia and South Korea. He was a proud solider, but in serving with the Georgia National Guard, our family figured he would conclude his military days on a well deserved lighter note.
That changed in 2005 when Kevin was deployed to Iraq. Not possessing a military background, it was surprising to me that he was ordered to go being beyond the age of 40, but I understood his experience and leadership were required.
In fact, as the fighting escalated during the worst of the insurgency, many soldiers in similar situations were pressed into duty during the Iraq War. President Bush realized such valuable resources were needed to gain an upper hand in a conflict that was making tragic headlines on a daily basis.
In a manner to which only soldiers can truly relate, Kevin put his life on hold and answered the call, despite any personal reservations. So too did his family, as my mother-in-law was forced to pick up the slack without him around, while we all prayed for his safe return.
Following mobilization at Fort Stewart in Georgia, and more extensive training at Fort Irwin in California, Kevin went to Iraq as part of the 48th Infantry Brigade in October 2005. With approximately 4,000 others, the brigade experienced some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict in attempting to quell a civil war and rid a ravaged country of Al Qaeda. After performing their duty capably, the unit thankfully began withdrawing in April 2006.
I have since spoken with my father-in-law about his service and the struggle left a toll. Like many others, I have thanked him nevertheless for making a real difference not only for America, but by impacting lives in a war-torn region across the world.
One story Kevin shared is the rescue of “Baby Noor.” The 48th Infantry discovered this child while searching for insurgents in the slums of Abu Ghraib, a devastated neighborhood (notorious for its prison) west of Baghdad. The three-month old was born with severe spinal bifida and would have died without specialized surgery.
Though these men had every reason to be scarred by violence, and nobody could have objected if they remained singularly focused on survival, our troops instead rose to the occasion. While dealing with the challenges of war, they ensured this girl would not be left to suffer, and found means to fly her to Atlanta, where she received life-saving medical care.
Like Iraq itself, Noor is alive today and doing a little better. The seven year old still faces with obstacles, including an inability to use her legs, but surely now realizes she was not abandoned. In the midst of the worst fighting this country has witnessed in decades, America’s military became a force for good.
This is the first Veterans Day since my father-in-law’s retirement from the Georgia National Guard. Relocated to Florida, he has moved on with life, enjoys boating, and will undoubtedly continue to find ways to make a difference.
On Veterans Day, we rightfully salute all those who wore the uniform.
But I am especially grateful for soldiers like Kevin Cook who sacrificed in recent times on behalf of a generation in need of examples of leadership more than ever.
Jeff Briscoe is a radio host and writer from Port Charlotte, Fla.