Soldier injured in Fort Hood shooting continues rehab, recovery at WTB
May 4, 2011
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FORT HOOD, Texas, May 4, 2011 -- For Spc. Matthew Cooke, Nov. 5, 2009, started off as an ordinary day. At the time, he was assigned to the 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, and was preparing to leave for his third deployment.
While the day started off like so many others, it ended with Cooke in the Intensive Care Unit, gravely injured after being shot at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, Texas.
In the year and a half since the shooting, Cooke has quietly applied himself to healing physically and mentally, as a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, Warrior Transition Brigade. His ultimate goal is to remain a Soldier in the U.S. Army.
Cooke began his military career in 1998, as a Marine.
"I was a legal service clerk," he said. Cooke served four years and attained the rank of lance corporal before returning to the civilian world in 2002.
"I became a civilian for two years," he said. "I was a collection agent. Basically, I was a phone bill collector," he added with a laugh. But the job wasn't lucrative, and Cooke had his first child on the way. So he decided another stint in the military might be the answer.
"I decided to join the Army on Jan. 22, 2005," he said. Before the year was out, Cooke was in Iraq, serving as an 88M, a truck driver, with the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
Cooke spent a year in Kirkuk, Iraq, and returned to the U.S. in late 2006. He wasn't on U.S. soil for long though before he was shipped back to Iraq for a second deployment, this time was 1st Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, out of Fort Sill, Okla.
After a 14-month deployment, Cooke came to Fort Hood in August 2009. He was at the SRP site with the battalion Nov. 5, when a gunman opened fire. Four Soldiers from the battalion were killed. Cooke was one of 11 who were seriously injured.
"I got grazed in the head, shot twice in the back and shot between my groin and butt," he said. "I don't know what kind of shot that that was," he added quietly.
The bullets did their damage. Cooke was rushed to Scott and White Memorial Hospital where he spent two weeks in intensive care.
"The bullet that went through my groin and butt, that bullet penetrated and took five feet of my small intestine out," he said. "It basically ricocheted all over in my bladder and it penetrated my colon."
After Cooke was stabilized, he was transferred to Carl R. Darnall Medical Center. He became a part of the Warrior Transition Brigade in January 2010.
While Cooke had lived through the traumatic event, he still had a long road to recovery. It was one he tackled as soon as he could. He's been active in physical therapy and conditioning, and has been attending counseling sessions to deal with the mental scars of the shooting.
To regain his strength, Cooke threw himself into physical activity, including a month-long physical training and educational program at the Productive Rehabilitation Institute of Dallas for Ergonomics. He also took part in a Ride2Recovery bike race in Florida, in December 2010. Wounded warriors, veterans and supporters took part in the ride from Tampa to Jacksonville.
"I wasn't prepared for that at all, so it was really tough on me for the first couple of days," Cooke admitted. But the Ride2Recovery event did act as a catalyst to push him into one of his hardest physical challenges to date, the Bataan Memorial Death March, which took place in New Mexico at the end of March.
"I would say this is what got me to push myself into the Bataan," he said. "When I was there I saw amputees with no legs, with metal legs, and they were happy and excited about life and full of energy. Their injuries did not affect them at all. I look at that, and if they can do that, then what's holding me back'"
Cooke's hard work and dedication has come to the attention of his chain of command, including his company commander, Capt. Jose DaCunha.
"I found out he was interested in doing it (the Bataan Memorial Death March), and as soon as I found out I said, 'wait a minute, I'm this Soldier's commander, if he's going to do it, I'm going to be there, and I'm going to encourage him,'" DaCunha said.
"He really impresses me as someone I look up to," he added. "I look up to him as an individual and as a Soldier, for what he's done in the past and more importantly, what he continues to do."
Both DaCunha and Cooke's platoon leader, Sgt. 1st Class John Gilbert, say they support his decision to transition back into the fighting force.
"I support him in that because that's what he wants to do," Gilbert said. "I look at what effort he puts forth and it would be a good thing."
Cooke hopes to go into the medical or legal fields.
"It's just something I could transfer to civilian life," he said. "No matter if I do one enlistment and get out, or do 20 and get out, I have to have something to fall back on. As long as I have a job that's successful for me and my boys, that's what it comes down to," he added.
Cooke's sons are now 7 and 2. He said he works hard to be the best he can be for them, and for himself.
"In order to progress you've got to get out there and do it yourself," he said. "You have your therapists. You have all these people like the counselors, but when it comes down to it, for you to get well you have to talk about it and you have to take the steps to move on."