The U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) recently hosted retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Elmer M. 'Mel' Cook and his wife Bette for a tour of the INSCOM headquarters and warrant officer professional development session at its Nolan Building headquarters, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, July 20.
Cook's storied career as a veteran of both World War II and Vietnam, service during the Korean War, member of the Army Aviation Hall of Fame, and role in preparing studies and plans that resulted in the creation of the Chief Warrant Officer 5 rank in 1991, led to an impact on the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Corps that is still being felt today.
Cook was invited to visit by Chief Warrant Officer 5 Kevin G. Boughton, INSCOM command chief warrant officer.
Boughton is acutely aware that America is quickly losing access to one of its greatest generation - the men and women who served during World War II. Boughton created an opportunity for Cook and Bette to share their extensive life lessons and provide words of wisdom to the INSCOM senior warrant officer corps, as well as learn the history of INSCOM and its predecessor organizations.
Boughton, who led the tour, first met Cook and Bette at the U.S. Army Warrant Officer 101st Birthday Celebration hosted in July by the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve (OCAR) on Fort Belvoir.
"We briefly discussed his time at the end of World War II as a young Soldier, his time serving during the Korean War and his tours in Vietnam as well as his time in the Defense Attaché Service," said Boughton. "I knew immediately, I wanted to invite him to INSCOM. His wife is also volunteer at the American Red Cross and served in the State Department."
Cook, a 92-year-old native of Delavan, Illinois, started his Army career from in 1945, as a private serving during World War II in the Asian-Pacific Theater. He resigned from the U.S. Army after the war ended, returned home to attend college and rejoined the Army in 1950.
For the next decade he served as a paratrooper with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and attained the rank of sergeant first class. He was accepted into the U.S. Military Attaché Service and was assigned to the American Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia, from 1959 to 1961. There he earned the first private pilot license issued by the newly independent country.
Today, INSCOM manages the Army Defense Attaché Program, providing a historical link to Cook and his service.
After applying and being granted the first age waiver (he was 35 and the age cap was 30), Cook was selected as a candidate for the first class of the re-opened U.S. Army Primary Helicopter School and graduated as a warrant officer in August 1962.
During Cook's first Vietnam tour in 1963, he had the unique opportunity to have Joseph Stilwell, commanding general, U.S. Army Support Command, as door gunner on his helicopter while he commanded flight missions. Throughout Cook's second deployment to Vietnam, from 1968 to 1969, he served as the aircraft commander for two successive commanding generals with the 1st Aviation Brigade.
Interspersed between deployments to Vietnam, Cook had two assignments (1965 to 1968 and 1970 to 1974) with the U.S. Army Aviation Warrant Officer Branch, where he participated actively in policy decisions for phasing aviators into Vietnam, the rapid expansion of the warrant officer aviation program from 1,700 to 7,000 pilots in three years, and the studies, plans and advocacy that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Chief Warrant Officer 5 rank.
Today, the U.S. Army has approximately 1,150 authorizations for Chief Warrant Officer 5 across all three components (Active, Reserve and National Guard).
Cook retired from the U.S. Army in February 1980, and was swiftly inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame two months later. Cook has been a member of the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Association for over 44 years and resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with his Bette, who he's been married to for 61 years.
During the tour, Boughton and the INSCOM team showed the Cook family the OV-1D Mohawk and the TROJAN SPIRIT communications system static displays on the INSCOM grounds and displayed the artwork located throughout the Nolan Building that captures the work and sacrifices of the U.S. Army Security Agency during Vietnam.
Following the tour, Cook led a warrant officer professional development session for INSCOM warrant officers to ask Cook and Bette questions about their Army journey.
Cook talked about the work he put in to expand the warrant officer aviation program that resulted in the creation of the Chief Warrant Officer 5 rank.
"I went all over the United States with the warrant officer branch chief for over two years advocating for the CW5 and CW6 ranks, briefing anyone I could about the ranks," he said. "Eventually I had to give up, but then a study for warrant officers came by and in 1991 the Army implemented the CW5 rank, more than 26 years later."
Boughton and those assembled thanked Cook for advocating for a higher-grade structure for Army warrant officers.
Cook and Bette shared a personal experience from his first deployment to Vietnam, where he was accompanied by his family, but due to imminent danger including bombings of the American movie theater, swimming pools and ball parks, Bette and their son were evacuated back home.
"It was a very stressful time for us," said Bette. "We felt like the third time is the charm after the last bombing, so it was time for us to go."
Cook ended by talking about his most memorable moments, which included when he took care of President William J. Clinton as director of golf at the Army/Navy Country Club.
"We never talked politics… but he was a very good friend of mine and in 2000 he took me to Hanoi and Saigon on Air Force One as part of the Presidential delegation which was a very good honor in my case," said Cook.
After the event ended, Boughton summed up the feelings of those who participated in the visit.
"It was really an honor for us to host Chief Warrant Officer 4 Cook and his wife Bette. I know the collective team of warrant officers listened very intently to his and his wife's stories, both professional and personal. It was quite evident that there were several direct historical threads interwoven through our collective history within the Warrant Officer Corps, INSCOM, our predecessor organization (the Army Security Agency), and Army Aviation," said Boughton. "It was incredibly valuable to take a few hours to remember where we came from, and the sacrifices of those that came before us so we can continue on to the future in defense of our great nation."