Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots
By Greg Bates
Special for Operation Fan Mail
Jim Cook wasn’t going to miss his dad’s 70th birthday get-together.
The sergeant major in the U.S. Army planned on flying from his base in Hawaii to Wisconsin to surprise his dad.
But Cook’s family played a little ruse on him, and the biggest surprise was actually going to come his way.
Cook, who is stationed at Fort Shafter in Oahu, knew his sister, Jessica Basile, had gotten tickets for the Green Bay Packers-New England Patriots game for Oct. 2.
However, Cook—who is a diehard Packers fan—wasn’t aware he was going to be honored by the Packers as a winner of the Operation Fan Mail program. The award is presented by WPS Health Solutions and the Packers.
Cook has spent 22 years in the military and will be recognized on the field prior to the game.
When Cook flew into Chicago on Wednesday night, Sept. 28, and made the drive up to his sister’s house in Wauwatosa, Wis., Cook was informed of the news.
Basile told her brother she nominated him for Operation Fan Mail, but sometimes these things don’t work out.
“She said, ‘But it did this time,’” Cook said. “I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ My reaction was like, this is going to be crazy. I was just excited to get to the game. I was just excited to be with my family and be at the game.” He added, “I’m on cloud nine.”
Basile nominated her brother for Operation Fan Mail because she’s so proud of his accomplishments as a service member for the past two-plus decades.
“Number one, he’s had such an amazing career and dedication to the military for his whole life,” Basile said. “He entered when he was 18 and his whole life has been in the military. This is a big year for him, he turned 40 and he’s actually retiring from the military next (year), and so when he was coming here, I thought what better opportunity to really honor him while he can be in uniform; he’s still serving. It would just mean so much to him to be recognized by the Packers and be on the field.”
With the four tickets provided by the Packers, Cook will be attending the game with his sister, dad, Mike, and mom, Mary.
“It’s amazing,” Basile said. “I was talking to his wife, my sister-in-law, the other day and she said, ‘Jessica, this is going to be the best day of his life. The best day.’”
Serving his country
Despite growing up on the West Coast, Cook was a Packers fan.
His parents followed the Packers and passed their love for the team along to their kids.
“During the Packers games we would get together and have a big old spread, and watch the game with Brett Favre and then we’d also watch the Badgers back when they went to the Rose Bowl a couple times, that was fun,” Cook said. “Even once, we rented a couple hotel rooms because we had so many people and so we needed the space to go down and watch.”
Cook lived in Arizona until he was 8. His family moved to Washington and he played football and soccer at Wenatchee High School, graduating in 2000.
Coming out of high school, Cook wanted to be a police officer. He spoke with some recruiters that told him the best route would be to go through the military, gain experience and go right into law enforcement.
Just over a year into his time in the Army, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened.
“That just kind of cemented me in the rest of my career to defend the country,” Cook said. “I was in Yakima (Wash.) for training exercise when it happened, so we were away from family and stuff. We got the news from our leadership and that was a crazy time — didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Concentrating on being a police officer, Cook put in three years in the Army and then went into the Reserves.
“While I was at college, the Army gave me activation orders, so I was activated as a Reservist down to Fort Huachuca to support as a drill sergeant, because all the active-duty soldiers were getting ready to go to combat and all that stuff,” Cook said. “I went down to Fort Huachuca to train up new soldiers to get into the Army and go and support overseas. That definitely changed my direction.”
He was in the Reserves from 2003–08 but was activated for four of those years.
“We had two kids by that time in 2008, so it was, I like doing it. I like seeing the soldiers develop and become actual soldiers when they leave our facility and all that kind of stuff,” Cook said. “I changed my MOS, which is my military operational skill set, from infantry to intelligence, and I did that at Fort Huachuca and I signed back in active duty in 2008.”
Cook was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina with the 82nd Airborne Division; he was qualified to jump out of planes as a staff sergeant at the time.
He made his first deployment, heading to Bagram, Afghanistan, for 14 months from May 2009–July 2010.
When Cook returned to the United States, he sent in a packet to request to move to joint special operations command. He was selected for the assignment and went into the intelligence section. He stayed at Fort Bragg from 2010–15.
Cook’s next deployment was to Djibouti, Africa, in support of special operations. He had two four-month stints between 2011–13. He went back one more time with 75th Ranger Regiment to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2016.
Cook was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia from 2015–17, and then he went back to Fort Bragg for two years. From 2019–21, he was at Fort Huachuca and then headed to his current location at Fort Shafter in Hawaii.
Cook’s days in the military are numbered. His last day of duty will be around May/June 2023. His retirement will officially be in December 2023 after he takes some leave and takes part in a career skills program.
“After 22 years, it seems weird,” he said.
“It’s definitely scary, because I know I can do the Army—I’m good at that, and I’ve proven myself and tried to take care of my guys and all that kind of stuff—but I have no idea how to do civilian life. It’s going to be different being at home all the time instead of at work all the time. The kids are probably going to be a little sick of me, but my wife definitely will be like, ‘Hey, you need to go find a job.’ I’m looking forward to taking care of myself and my body, so I don’t have to keep doing all kinds of craziness and then also being there for my family as they grow up, because they’re getting into high school and that’s really important to me.”
He doesn’t have any plans yet for his next profession. Cook just wants to spend time with his four kids: two sons, 15 and 10, and two daughters, 14 and 8.
Cook has missed so many of his kids’ events over the years, he wants to be at every concert, recital, and activity. That’s his top priority once he’s done with the military.
He is planning to move his family to where he grew up in Wenatchee, Wash.
Once Cook is retired from the Army, his days won’t be as hectic. He’ll get to enjoy life with his family, and also—of course—be able to follow the Packers more closely.
Cook relishes the fact that he’s a “part owner” of the Packers. During the franchise’s stock offering in 2011, Cook made sure he purchased a certificate.
“It’s definitely a conversation starter,” Cook said. “I’m always wearing something Packers, and when you kind of get into it and you’re like, yeah, I was able to buy a share. And how the organization supports its fans. And how the organization runs itself of always looking out for what’s best for the fans and the team and not having to just answer to one or two people but answering to a group of people that are giving those checks and balances and saying, look, we can do this, but we need to make sure that we support this decision that we made with other considerations.”
The Cook family has a dog named Lacy after former Packers running back Eddie Lacy. At one point, the family also had a dog named Lambeau.
While on one of his deployments in Afghanistan, Cook received a care package from the Packers that included a signed football from Brett Favre along with some signed football cards. Cook cherishes those items to this day.
Cook has only been able to attend a handful of Packers games over the years. But with retirement looming, he plans on having that number rise.
“One hundred percent more often, yes,” Cook said. “One hundred percent more often. I think I have a promise to myself every year: get to a Packers game this year. Like I’ve said, I’ve only been to a handful, but I try to get to one every single year. I think being not stationed across the world, I’ll be able to dedicate a good car ride over this way and stay with Jess and the family here and get up to games. I have a couple of buddies that have season tickets, a family member has season tickets, so we’ll get our kids over, get our family over in the future.”
The appearance of U.S. military visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement by the U.S. military.