Death of a Patriot, by Joe Roche

Joe Roche has written again:


On Thursday, I attended a ceremony at the U.S. military base in Heidelberg to dedicate a site in honor of Command Sergeant Major Eric F. Cooke.

This man was a true American hero, one of the great soldiers who make our military strong and our country proud. Our country is hurt by the loss of such a soldier. During the ceremony, I looked at our flag, the American flag, and felt something I feel compelled to share with you tonight.

Though you probably didn’t know him, you may remember the death of CSM Cooke. It was on Christmas Day that you learned of his death in America on the news from Baghdad. The night before, Christmas Eve, he went out on a combat mission that included checking on soldiers out on other missions. It was cold, lonely, dangerous, dark, and everyone was feeling the sadness and loneliness of being a world away, in a war zone, in danger, completely separated from loved ones for many months. At the bases there were ceremonies marking Christmas and lots of effort to make things somewhat special, as best as can be, so that soldiers at base would feel, well, ok and not so homesick. How many people in America really know what that is like?

The soldiers in Baghdad that dark and lonely night were cold and sad. No better way to put it. Every one of them wanted to be home. For some of the young soldiers, this was their first time away from home, not to mention being in the Army in combat in a foreign country on the other side of the world where they are facing death and injury at any moment. While Americans at home enjoyed parties with the comfort and coziness of home and family and friends, the soldiers of your military were deployed on combat missions. There were soldiers in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen, all over the world, but I am speaking of the ones in Iraq, Baghdad specifically, right now.

While there were celebrations, somber and sad despite the best efforts of everyone to make it special — including the local Iraqis at each base who helped out — the most difficult, lonely and sad ones were those soldiers out on missions that night, Christmas Eve in Baghdad, facing danger and hardship.

The reason I am stressing this is because CSM Cooke, a top-ranking enlisted soldier, did not have to do anything that night. He could have stayed on base, enjoyed the comforts being provided, and huddled around the phones and Internet stations to communicate with home while enjoying a hot meal. He could have avoided the danger of missions in the streets of Baghdad. Instead, he cared too much for his soldiers, for us, for your loved ones in the military, so he went out to check on soldiers who were out on missions that night. Of course, this meant going to some of the most dangerous areas, because that is where U.S. soldiers were guarding, patrolling or otherwise on duty.

The soldiers he was with were my fellow soldiers. The admiration and respect for him was the highest. No soldier who met him and worked with him failed to be affected by his courage, determination, optimism and positive outlook. General Bell, the commander of the Army in Europe, said “it didn’t matter where or how difficult a mission was, Sergeant Major Cooke always did it.” Those who knew him well said he treated everyone with respect, and that he was absolutely committed to the whole mission in Iraq. He kept the soldiers going even when they were hurting and tired. He was the type of military leader who could inspire us at the worst and most difficult times. He always saw hope and purpose in what we were doing.

CSM Gravens told us that CSM Cooke “would make and inspire soldiers to do more things, no matter how hard or challenging, than they themselves thought possible.” He was the type of leader who respected and honored his soldiers, seeing that his example was important to our performance. As such, he always set the standard for top quality performance and incredible determination to overcome obstacles. It was also this that, on Christmas Eve, prompted him to go out when it was actually the job of other soldiers to do that. He went, so they would not have to go. And as such, when he was killed, “he took one for another soldier,” as CSM Gravens pointed out.

This was just like him. CSM Cooke had served 25 years in the Army, joining in 1978 when it was not fashionable to join and patriotism was not so honored in an America reeling from the Vietnam War. He worked hard, climbing the ranks through an amazing career of duty, dedication and service to our nation. He served in the 1st Gulf War, in the Balkans, and in many other deployments and operations.

From soldiers who knew him well, I learned that he was a rugged tough man who reminded them of the great heroes of our past. He smoked cigars and loved to inspire love and patriotism in his soldiers for our country.

In Iraq, he led us as a only a hero could do. I believe such people as him are the best that America has, and I wish you and more Americans could get to know such people.

In the Army, we are instilled with seven core values that every soldier is pushed to learn and to grow with. They are: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage.

Sometimes we soldiers struggle with these, and we sometimes feel cynical about them because of the daily challenge in doing our jobs. It isn’t easy being a soldier. When you encounter a soldier like CSM Cooke, however, you realize right away that such values are the core of being a good soldier, and that they are the distinction that separates us from other militaries.

His career reached the critical height in Iraq of commanding the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, dealing with some of the most difficult events of last year. CSM Cooke exemplified the seven core values in his job. General Dempsey, the commander of the 1st Armored Division, said that his leadership and dedication to the soldiers even more emphasized Selfless Service. I think we can all appreciate that.

Gen. Dempsey quoted Will Rogers in speaking of Sergeant Major Cooke. “The most a man can hope to accomplish in life is to leave the pile of wood a little higher.” This he did, every day, every year. Today I’m struck by the impact and loss of this man to our nation.

I know that Americans are caught up in a political season in which all the major issues of the day are being debated. I am sharing this with you as best I can because I think people should also pause to bear in mind that behind the issues are true American heroes like CSM Cooke. He isn’t the only one, either. I think, though, that if some people feel distant and disconnected to the soldiers who are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, they should pause to reflect on this man and realize that he represents something that should make us very proud to be Americans and very proud of our women and men in uniform.

It isn’t every country, every military, that produces such leaders. General Dempsey said he was “a true soldier’s soldier.” On Christmas Eve, he made the ultimate sacrifice to our nation, to our mission, to our flag and all that America represents. His life, and his death that sacred night so far away from home, was truly the Last Full Measure of Devotion that a citizen will ever make to our Republic.

Amy, I know that you have some special people who follow your work, who believe strongly in our country and in our military’s missions, and that they respect and honor the sacrifices that our soldiers make every day. This is perhaps the case more with the people you work with than most other people because your work is so dedicated to upholding and preserving our country’s values and principles. I remember how so many people listened to you to send us soldiers in Baghdad care packages, and that really made a difference.

All of us strive to make the pile of wood a little higher, and I know that you are doing that. Few of us, however, will ever achieve what CSM Cooke did in his service to our country.

I hope that people will take today’s issues affecting our soldiers seriously, and that they will continue to support the soldiers now deployed. The holiday season again is not far off. Let us all bear in mind that others will be following in the example of CSM Cooke.

George Washington called us “citizen soldiers” because though we become soldiers, we never stop being citizens of our great Republic. Let us do endear ourselves to our nation this season and always seek to honor our soldiers with patriotism in the flag they are serving, and with gratitude for the service and sacrifice they are making. They are the ones defending the Constitution and our way of life every day with their lives. Freedom is not free.

I think this is a proper tribute for our fellow citizens in America to do tonight in honor of CSM Cooke. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that thinking of CSM Cooke brings me such pride in being in the U.S. Army. What incredible people these are and what a special nation we are serving. Thank you for taking the time to read this.



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