M39

Date: May 22 thru May 25
Trip: Killeen, TX to New Orleans, LA
Pilots: Mike Weimert, Howard Turek
VES Staff: Greg Durio and Maria Durio

James Thomas Cook, Jr is a retired Sergeant First Class (SFC) of the U.S.
Army.  He joined on July 16, 1991 right out of high school and worked in
various duty positions during his career. After the events of 9-11 his unit
was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and was in the initial push to the capital of
Bagdad.   He secured and conducted combat operations in places such as;
Baquabah, Jalula, and Al MuQdadiyah, Iraq.  In October 2003, Iraq while
conducting a Sensitive Site Exploration he found himself face to face with a
handful of enemy combatants. As he tried to climb on top of his Bradley
Fighting Vehicle, the driver pulled away before he could secure himself
causing him to fall off the vehicle and onto about 60 lbs of equipment, his
security team pulled him out of harms way. After some heavy medication and
a few days in the hospital he returned to his unit.  After another
deployment to Bagdad it was determined the original fall caused fractures
which led to degeneration that required a spinal fusion and eventually a
neural stimulator to be permanently implanted in his lower back.  He fought
his way back and remained on active duty until the pain and degeneration
began to be too much and prevented him from walking without pain.  So in April of
2014, after more than 22 years of service, he retired and embarked on a
career in education.  He am now a 5th Grade teacher with Cedar Valley
Elementary School in Killeen, Texas which allows him to continue to serve by
shaping the youth who will one day run the world.

He was born and raised in Newark, N.J., and moved to New Orleans when he met
his wonderful wife Keina, and will soon celebrate 16 years of marriage on
Thanksgiving.   He owes his debt of gratitude for his recovery to her and
the grace of God.  They have 3 children (Casey-20 Sr. Chemistry Major,
Jaden-9 3rd grade at his school, and Sofia-4 who will attend pre-k next
year.  He has so much to be thankful for and has learned to see the beauty
each day brings to him.  As he says, “I have PTSD but it does not have me.”

From his heart he stated, “I would like to take a moment to thank you all
for making this trip possible. Everyone has been so kind and I am truly
amazed by your generosity for strangers. To say the aircraft is amazing
would not do it justice. Howard, Mike, Greg, and Maria are wonderful host. I
thank you all for making our experience so wonderful.”