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(Host) We now have a profile of one of the 1500 Vermont Guard members serving in Afghanistan.
Among the soldiers VPR’ Steve Zind spent time with on his recent trip there was Laura Cook.
Cook is spending her deployment at a large base in the Afghan capital. She spoke with Steve about her reason for joining the military and the challenges of communicating with family and loved ones during the deployment.
(Zind) Lieutenant Laura Cook of Castleton serves with Alpha Company 186 Brigade Support Batallion based in Camp Phoenix – which is in Kabul. She’s the executive officer for the distribution company which transport personnel and cargo to the eleven bases located in the Afghan capital. Cook says her father, Donald Brent Cook is a huge influence in her life. She calls him her inspiration. A former service man himself, he’s the reason Cook decided at an early age that she’d join the military.
(Cook) "Dad has always been a supporter of the military and he still acts like he’s in the military even though he’s out: orders, commands, the way he talks to you. Every task has a purpose. I sort of embraced it. I really liked the structure. When we were talking about the military, my father really stressed education. So we decided on Norwich University in Vermont, it was close to home. My senior year came around and that’s when I decided to join the National Guard. I hate to say this but I signed for the National Guard due to be engaged to a man in Vermont who said we couldn’t be together if I went active duty. My father was really against it, he wanted me to go active. At that time my father doesn’t know what the National Guard is, from his knowledge it was just a weekend warrior, didn’t know about training or war or anything so he was highly against it. But I did it. I’m an adult now dad."
(Zind) Laura Cook says her father’s views about the National Guard changed as Vermont soldiers began deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan and he began to see that soldiers like her were receiving the same kind of training and going on the same missions as full-time military. Still, Cook says her father reacted strongly to the news of her own deployment.
(Cook) "I was told July of 2008 that we were getting deployed and I told my parents on July 4th. My dad gasped. It crushed him, he was devastated. Every time I talked to him it was what have you heard, when are you leaving, what are you doing to prepare yourself. We got into a huge fight one time on the phone. He asked me how my PT; my run time, my push ups, my sit-ups. He’s like, ‘that’s not good enough, you need to work harder, you’re going into battle’. We got into fights about it because he would come down so hard on me that I’d be overwhelmingly stressed out."
(Zind) Cook says during the deployment she’s been careful when she talks with her family not to get into too much detail about what she’s doing – because of her father.
(Cook) "He worries. I try not to tell him exactly what I’m doing. The pictures that I post or that I give him are generally happy pictures. There was one picture that I showed him where we had stopped at a local bread market and bought bread. He got really angry because it’s not something we’re supposed to do here. We’re supposed to go drive here, drop off these people ,go here drop of these people and come back. Don’t stop in the middle and buy bread. So my father said, ‘don’t put yourself in those situations’. I don’t want him to worry and I don’t want my mom to worry, so the pictures I send are not like that anymore and I don’t generally talk about how many missions I go on."
(Zind) Communicating with people back home, also includes staying in touch with her boyfriend in Florida. Cook wears a promise ring he gave her before the deployment.
(Cook) "Keeping the relationship alive is something that’s difficult. So, having something to look at that’s on your finger everyday reminds you that you have someone waiting back at the home front."
(Zind) Cook says she and her boyfriend use Skype to stay in touch while she’s in Afghanistan. That’s because Skype enables them to see each other using their computer Web cams. And that visual element makes a big difference.
(Cook) "I mean there’s talking on the phone, but when you’re actually seeing that person every once in a while, you don’t lose that touch. Even though we’re not physically here together, seeing him in his house and with his son brings reality back and you just keep that flame alive and you can."
(Zind) Cook says the last months of the deployment are the most difficult for the Vermont Guard soldiers in Afghanistan – and that takes its toll on morale.
(Cook) "We’re on that home stretch but we’re not there yet. And the routine is just getting mundane. I don’t know anybody whose morale would be sky high, I really don’t. Because everyone’s missing their families."
(Zind) As for her future plans, Cook plans a return to civilian life. But she doesn’t envision a life in her home state.
(Cook) "I grew up in Vermont. There’s just no jobs for my generation there. I feel that Vermont is for someone that’s ready to settle down, start maybe a second career, but as far as a growing job market its really not the place to be. "
(Zind) Cook says among the first things she’ll do when she returns from deployment is go on a 9 day cruise with her boyfriend and her parents. For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.
(Host) You’ll find all of Steve’s reports on his trip to Afghanistan at our Website, VPR dot net.