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Hometown hero: Chatom elementary welcomes Purple Heart recipient
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Students at Chatom Elementary School welcome former Chatom Warrior and Purple Heart recipient Tyler Cook on Friday with resounding cheers and handmade signs. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

Chatom Elementary School students donned red, white and blue on Friday morning to celebrate former Chatom student and hometown hero Tyler Cook, who was injured when his convoy was hit by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device this past summer. 

“I was deployed to Afghanistan for about a month and a half and then I ended up getting hurt, so they sent me home and that’s why I’m here now,” Cook told students on Friday.

Students asked Cook various questions, including how long it took for him to travel to Afghanistan, whether or not he was scared, and why exactly he was rewarded a Purple Heart, which is a military decoration given to those wounded or killed in action.

“I was injured, which is why I ended up getting a Purple Heart,” said Cook. “The IED just happened to hit my truck, but I’m here and everyone who was in the truck was okay.”

While returning from a mission in Afghanistan, Cook said that his vehicle was hit by an IED. Although no one was critically injured, Cook suffered from a concussion that lasted for about two to three minutes.

“He says it’s just a concussion, but he was out for a pretty long time,” said his mother Kathy Cook, who is also the nurse at Chatom Elementary School. “He’s still not cleared for duty because he is still suffering from the effects like headaches and trouble concentrating.”

During the school’s opening ceremony, teachers and students greeted their fellow Chatom Warrior with thunderous cheering and applause, as well as handmade signs.

“This is an awesome welcome, so thank you guys for all that you’ve done. It’s really great to come home and have all this support from you guys,” Cook told students. “This is the best thing to ever happen to me so far, so I really appreciate it.”

Cook said that he originally decided to join the army in 2013 after he realized that college wasn’t for him. He also said that he was inspired by his dad, who was drafted in the Vietnam War, and that he wanted to follow in his footsteps. 

 “He always told me how much he liked it and that he would recommend it to anyone,” said Cook.

In the army, Cook is a forward observer, which is responsible for directing artillery and aircrafts where and when to fire. Additionally, Cook said that he is attached to an infantry squad which requires him to know how to work with radio and perform various medical procedures.

“I have to know all the basic stuff, like stopping blood or anything else that will help lengthen someone’s life if something were to happen,” said Cook.  

Over the past two years, Cook has traveled to Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training, Fort Sil in Oklahoma where he learned how to perform his job duties, Fort Drum in New York where he was stationed for about a month, Fort Polk in Louisiana for pre-deployment training, Germany, Kuwait, and Afghanistan.

Cook is scheduled to return to Fort Drum in New York this evening, where he will resume normal duties and attend follow up appointments.

“My job will just be to keep Fort Drum running while everyone else is still deployed,” said Cook.