Fred Cook served in the Air Force, joining in November of 1961. He retired 21 years later in August of 1982. Against his mom’s wishes, Cook left Graceville High School to join the Air Force.
When asked why he chose the Air Force Cook said, “That is a good question, one is I loved aircrafts. I was a sharecropper’s son, farmhand and I’m from Graceville. I would be out in the field working in Graceville and then Graham Air Force Base was going in and planes would fly over where we lived and would do their training. I said, ‘One day I’m going to get out of this cotton patch and go in the Air Force.’ That’s kind of why I chose the Air Force.”
Cook says of his first assignment in the Air Force, “My first assignment was of course basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. When I first went in the Air Force, I was in the fire department in crash rescue. That school was at Greenville Air Force Base in Greenville, Mississippi. I served in the fire department for approximately three years. Then rank was frozen and you couldn’t move up so I needed to cross-train into a different career field. So, I cross-trained into helicopters and served in ‘Special Operations.’ I started as a mechanic, then crew chief where you’re responsible for the helicopter and the operation of the helicopter. Then came flight mechanic with the additional duties of ‘door gunner.’ I was ‘Door Gunner’ and then later they changed our title to ‘Flight Engineer’, as helicopters got more complicated.”
When asked where his training took place Cook said, “I went to Wichita Falls, Texas at Shepard’s Air Force Base for training. Back to Eglin Air Force Base for my first assignment and from Eglin I went to Thailand in 1966.”
Cook says it was very active over in Thailand at that time. He says, “In fact we flew combat missions out of Thailand into Cambodia, Laos and other places we can’t name. Then rotated back to the States and nine months laterI had a set of orders back to Vietnam and spent another 12 months flying combat missions.”
Cook talked about his experiences flying combat missions, “We did some rescue pickups, but mostly what my outfit did was special operations. We flew across the river into Cambodia and Laos and we worked with Army field special forces in search and recognizance teams in and out, prisoner snatch teams, info gathering teams in and out of places they needed to go. I was shot down twice, but the Lord was with me and he had other plans for me.”
When asked if he was injured Cook said, “No ma’am, the Lord blessed me in that. I was shot down twice and many times my helicopters would come back filled with holes, but I was never wounded.”
Cook was not in Vietnam when it ended. He was in Vietnam from 1968-1969.
From Vietnam, Cook went to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas. He was assigned to former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s helicopter after Johnson was out of office. Cook was able to meet the President, “After that, then they were talking about the possibility of another tour to Vietnam, so I went into recruiting for a while. I recruited for the Air Force in Albany, Georgia. After Albany, Georgia I went to Korea. This was in I think, ’72 I’m not real sure on that. After Korea, I went to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden Utah assigned to helicopters. Following that assignment, I was at Hurlburt Field Florida, in special ops, ’73-’74, something like that. The powers that be decided they would close down the 20th Special Ops Helicopter Squadron and they transferred our helicopters to reserve units. I was asked to go to the reserve unit at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona. They were transitioning from rescue to special ops and I was asked to go as an advisor to the reserve unit. I was there two or three years, I don’t remember exactly. The powers that be decided that the Air Force did need a Special Ops Squadron so they reactivated the 20th and transferred me back to Hurlburt Field. I was there for three years maybe and that’s when I tried recruiting again. I went to Pembroke Pines for a couple of years, then they transferred me to Lexington, Kentucky as a supervisor for that region. I was there two years and transferred back to Hurlburt Field, where I stayed until I retired.”
After retirement Cook said, “Actually, God called us in to some kind of fulltime work. We didn’t know what, so when we retired from the Air Force we went back home to Graceville and I enrolled in college, back then it was BBI (Baptist Bible Institute). I went to school and I lasted two semesters and I had trouble transitioning from a Special Ops Air Force high adrenaline rush job. As a door gunner, you’re standing in the door of a helicopter like that up there, or like these two here, and go into landing zones to pick up teams you had put in. Again, going from there to school, I had trouble transitioning, so I went into law enforcement with the City of Graceville. Off and on, I was there a little over 10 years, but during that time I worked with the school board in truancy and I worked for HRS as a child abuse investigator.”
Lowell Centers was the superintendent at the time Cook worked with the school board. Cook says of Centers, “He was a history teacher. If you want to get him side tracked ask him how many jumps he made, because he was a paratrooper in the Army. He would start talking about that and you had him off. We weren’t smart enough to realize we were going to be tested over this material anyway.”
Cook went on to say, “Working in law enforcement, I kind of got settled down and I went back to school and finished my bachelor’s. I went on to Troy and completed a master’s degree.”
Cook’s bachelor’s degree is in Theology and his master’s is in Counseling Psychology, “During that time God really spoke to us and he called us his missionaries. My wife and I, we’ve served with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board for five and half years. Our country assignment was Mexico.”
Cook and his wife were in and out of Mexico during those five and a half years. They would be there a couple of years come back to America for a break and go back again. Cook then opened a ministry center in Dothan in 2003 and he was there for three and a half years. In 2007, Cook decided it was time to retire, he did and his retirement lasted just four months. Cook says that he can’t do ‘retired’ and the director of missions in Jackson County at the Chipola Baptist Association Coba Beasley asked him if he would come as the director of the ministry’s center. This month will be Cook’s 11th anniversary at the ministry center. Cook says in 2010 the ministry center distributed 123,352 pounds of food to 7,000 people and last year they distributed 358, 000 pounds to over 24,000 people.
Cook served his country and continues to serve the people of Jackson County with the same integrity.