By Nancy Rasmussen, Public Affairs SpecialistJanuary 13, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- After taking care of Fort Rucker Soldiers and their Families for the past 30 months, garrison Chaplain (Col.) Stephen L. Cook is looking forward to retirement and reuniting with his own wife and Family.
The Garrison Chaplain Staff sponsored a tribute luncheon honoring his career and departure from Fort Rucker at The Landing Jan. 11, and his wife was by his side.
When he arrived here in July 2008 from Fort McPherson, Ga., Cook's wife, Vicki, stayed there, a situation he looks forward to changing with retirement.
"I have been a geographical bachelor for 2 1/2 years and I'm moving home to Stockbridge, Ga." Cook said.
While he is glad to be returning home, it was obvious by comments made by luncheon emcee Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Mickey Jett, Fort Rucker Deputy Garrison chaplain, and other participants on the program that his leaving will be peppered with sadness for many who have grown to know him.
"Retirement is often bittersweet. It is a time of welcome anticipation for the one retiring, but it is also a sad realization for those left behind. In my brief time here, I have been impressed with what Chaplain Cook has accomplished," said Col. James A. Muskopf, Fort Rucker garrison commander.
Cook's dedication to his profession is evidenced by those he has served with over the years, including retired Army Chaplain (Col.) Alvin M. Sonny Moore III.
Before Moore led the audience in prayer, he reminisced about the early days he spent as Cook's lead chaplain and mentor.
A video production portraying high points of Cook's career entertained the gathering following Moore's comments. The video, produced by Frances Turner, chaplain administrative assistant, featured a combination of Cook's favorite music and photos of him with Soldiers, chaplains and celebrities Gary Sinise and Robert DeNiro, among others.
"Since Chaplain Cook's arrival, he has always displayed a special care and concern for the Soldiers and Families, as well as the entire Fort Rucker community. His humor involves his great magic tricks which always put a smile on your face at the right time," Turner said.
When he first arrived, Cook was intent on providing the very best to Fort Rucker Soldiers and Families and caring for the chapel's Religious Support Team and their Families.
"We usually do pretty good taking care of our Soldiers and Families, but not ourselves. I really push that hard - that our chaplains and chaplain assistants, have got to take care of themselves and their Families, Cook said.
Cook's devotion to his spiritual team spans religious denominations - a welcome trait among chaplains here.
"In the brief six months that I have been here, it has been wonderful to work with an installation chaplain who is supportive not only of his chaplains in general, but I can also speak particularly to his support to the Catholic community," said Chaplain (Capt.) Christopher Butera.
"I wanted to make this workplace a better place where people want to come to work. I wanted to build a very cohesive and effective team delivering the absolutely best religious support," Cook said.
Ground breaking for the new chapel here was his proudest achievement, he said. He added that working in such a budget constrained environment and being separated from his family were the most challenging issues during his tenure here.
In addition to the many verbal accolades spoken at Cook's farewell, Muskopf presented both Cook and his wife with physical symbols of his military career achievements from Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Douglas Carver, U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains.
On behalf of Carver, Muskopf presented Cook with the Seal Chaplain Corps Retirement pin, a retirement letter and certificate of appreciation and Vicki with a gold chaplains' crest pendant trimmed in black.
After his departure this month, Cook said he intends to further his education and perhaps that of others.
"I hope to go back to school for a Doctorate of Ministry degree," he said. "I wanted to be a teacher when I started college in 1968. I was at the Chaplain School from 1995 to 1999 and got to teach new chaplains. I really enjoyed that - we will see how that goes."