CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan --
“I remember him starting to tear up and saying that when the aircraft were flying over head, the insurgents seemed to disappear,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brian D. Cook. “That moment made me realize how much my job means.”
When the Marines of Cook’s unit, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, left their homes at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., in 2008, they were slated for a deployment to Iraq, but the Marine Corps had other plans for a small detachment of them. The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment was operating in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and receiving heavy fire from insurgent forces.
“2/7 didn’t have air support and were getting hit hard with enemy attacks on what seemed like a daily basis,” Cook said. So a few days after his detachment arrived in Afghanistan, Cook was brushing his teeth when a young Marine walked in.
“I started talking with him and he told me he was a motor transport Marine with 2/7,” said Cook, a native of Concord, N.C. “I told him that Marines from my squadron had just arrived to provide close air support for his brothers on the ground.”
Upon hearing the news that Marine aviators were in country to support, Cook said the young Marine became emotional, and thanked him for what they had come to do.
“It is one of the memories I will never forget,” Cook said.
Three years later, Cook has returned to Afghanistan. His mission is the same, to load and troubleshoot the ordnance on to Marine Corps aircraft that will provide close-air support for Marines and their Afghan and coalition partners in southwestern Afghanistan.
The aircraft he works on, however, is new. Cook serves at Camp Dwyer with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 as the aviation ordnance chief for Harvest Hawk equipped KC-130J.
“I was selected for this job based on 16 years of experience with ordnance,” said Cook. “The aircraft has a pretty new ordnance system and I’m able to share my knowledge and experience while operating on it.”
The Harvest Hawk KC-130J is different from most other Marine Corps Hercules. While it retains its ability to transport troops and conduct aerial refueling, the Harvest Hawk KC-130J also provides close-air support for ground troops with a complement of AGM-114 Hellfire and Griffin missiles, as well as a target site system from the AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopter.
Members of the Harvest Hawk detachment said Cook’s wide range of experience makes him especially qualified for the armed KC-130J. Cook said he’s loaded ordnance on nearly every aircraft in the Marine Corps arsenal, from Hueys to Harriers, and has even spent a tour instructing Marines new to the ordnance career specialty at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.
“He is an excellent steward of a program with unique challenges and he still continues to succeed,” said Maj. Marc E. Blankenbicker, with VMGR-352, the lead fire control officer for the Harvest Hawk detachment at Camp Dwyer.
“Gunny Cook is a very professional staff noncommissioned officer and is extremely competent in his job,” added Blankenbicker. “He has demonstrated exemplary leadership and has exceeded every expectation.”
But Cook said he didn’t always exceed expectations. When he walked into a Marine Corps recruiting office 16 years ago, it was as a troubled teenager looking for a way to improve his life.
“I got into a lot of trouble in my late teens and I was running with the wrong crowd,” said Cook. “The Marine Corps was able to give me the focus and drive I needed to become who I am today.”
And after 16 years of service, Cook is no longer a troubled teen, but a family man with a wife and two children. He said he also sees his fellow Marines as family, too, and works tirelessly to support them the best he can.
“I’m proud to serve my country and to support the Marines on the ground directly defending our freedom,” he said.
“I’d like to be able to continue doing this job when I retire from the Marine Corps,” Cook added. “For as long as I can remember this is what I’ve wanted to do.”
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