A story by Adam R. Cote from 1996-2016
I was born and raised in Sanford, Maine and come from a family where service to country and community is a central value. My father Roland Cote served as city councilman and was a teacher and coach at Sanford High School for over thirty years. My mother was always, and is still, involved in civic organizations and volunteer work. As a young boy, I was in awe of the fact that many of our family members had served our country in the military. My father and cousin Becky served in the Air Force, Uncle Gerard in the Navy, Uncle Phil and Aunt Flonnie served in the Army and Uncle Dick was a proud Marine. My grandfather also served. At eighteen, he was among the first waves of Marines who landed on Iwo Jima in World War II. He witnessed the raising of the American flag on Mt. Suribachi. I knew, from a young age, that I wanted to join this tradition of service to Maine and the country.
I have had the privilege of serving for 20 years, first, as an MP in the Army Reserves and then in Maine’s National Guard as a member of the 133rd Engineer Battalion. I am humbled to have served with and led some of America’s – and Maine’s – finest men and women in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember and honor, every day, the men and women I served with and the four brave soldiers who did not come home from those deployments. I hold special reverence for the soldiers and civilians who were killed or wounded when a suicide bomber attacked our chow hall in Mosul, Iraq on December 21, 2004. I am torn by the thought of what strange set of circumstances and random calculus of events allowed me to survive that horror, and every day, I thank God for the leadership and medical training I had been given to respond and treat those around me who had been wounded. I am humbled by their sacrifice in service to our nation.
As an MP in Bosnia, representing our country and our values meant helping apprehend war criminals wanted by The Hague while maintaining the tenuous peace existing between the country’s devastated communities. We were also charged with having daily and meaningful interactions with local people to build positive civic relations between the people of Bosnia and the American presence on their soil. During this deployment, I was able to serve in other ways as well: By reaching out to family, friends, and several organizations back home, I had the chance to help our interpreter’s son finish his high school studies here in Maine. I also had the opportunity of volunteering as an English teacher at the local high school.
In Iraq, representing American values included leading over 100 convoys over some of the most dangerous roads in the world, building schools and medical clinics and repairing infrastructure. During these missions, we often lived in the villages we were rebuilding and got to know the families and children who lived there. This experience presented me with the chance to serve in ways that stretched beyond our stated mission. In response to the countless needs of these ravaged communities, I organized the Adopt an Iraqi Village program. Through the generosity of family and friends, churches, rotary clubs and schools here in Maine, our platoon received and distributed toys, school supplies, clothes and household items to needy villages throughout this war-torn country.
In Afghanistan, representing American values meant leading troops as a company commander in Maine’s 133rd Engineer Battalion and using my experience from previous deployments to train younger soldiers in the skills needed to handle the unique stresses and challenges faced in a combat zone. My time in Afghanistan is also marked by the opportunity I was given to serve my fellow national guardsmen from other states. Halfway through our combat deployment, I was called away from my company of Maine soldiers to take command and provide leadership to an underperforming unit that was beset by infighting and a dangerous inability to get the job done. Changing commands in the midst of a combat deployment proved to be one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced. In time and through hard work these servicemen proved to be outstanding soldiers and helping them finish the deployment as one of the best units in our brigade is one of the greatest honors of my life.
I am honored to have been asked to have my story included here, and hope it highlights the importance of doing all we can as citizens, policymakers and neighbors to honor our Maine veterans from every war, especially those who served in Vietnam. They were not given the honor and respect they deserved when they returned home and their service to our country should be recognized. I will add that while I truly appreciate it when someone says to me “thank you for your service,” I think the best way our society can thank our veterans is to make sure they have health care, housing, workforce training and support for those who leave their families and their businesses to serve our country overseas.
Lastly – and most importantly – no story about military service members is complete without honoring our families who are left at home to carry on while we are away. My wife, Paulina, belongs in a special category of military spouses that should receive Sainthood in my opinion. I left for Iraq the day we found out she was expecting our first child and returned when our daughter was 5 months old. As an even more difficult example, while I was in Afghanistan, she was home alone with our growing family of 5 kids, ages 1, 3, 6, 8 and 9 – for a year. As bad as I may have had it during my three deployments overseas, I would be the first to tell you she deserves far more recognition than I do.
My experiences serving in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan have had a deep impact on my life. I am now working to find ways to increase our energy independence here in Maine and in America, so we are not dependent on oil from a volatile part of the world. Additionally, having seen what happens to societies, people and communities who allow themselves to be divided by race, national origin, religion or other divisive factors – instead of pulling together, I believe positive, constructive public leadership and civic engagement is essential.
Major Adam R. Cote is a member of the Maine Army National Guard and a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Action Badge and numerous other awards and distinctions. He lives in Sanford, ME with his wife, Paulina, and their five children.
Adam Cote (center, back row) and his Platoon with recipients of Adopt an Iraqi Village program, Hamzan Village, Iraq, 2004