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December 2013

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St. Louis Member: 'All Veterans Deserve a
Proper Welcome'

They put their lives on the line, serving their nation in dangerous overseas theaters. America's veterans are often away from their friends and family for years at a time.

The least they deserve is a proper welcome home, said St. Louis Local 1 member Rodney Cook. And that is just what Cook — an industrial electrician at GKN Aerospace — tries to provide through an organization he started with his wife, Gretchen, called Mission: American Gratitude.

"We want our veterans to feel like heroes when they come home and thank them for their service and the sacrifices they made for all of us," Cook told Local 1's blog.

When the couple, who live in southern Illinois, finds out a veteran is coming home, they reach out to the local community — from elected officials to veteran's groups like the American Legion — to make sure they get a proper welcome.

This can range from mayoral proclamations thanking the returning veterans for their service to miles of American flags and digital signs thanking them for their service.

It might seem like a small gesture, but "just 20 minutes on a line waving a flag for a returning veteran is a positive force that will be remembered for the remainder of the service member's life," said Cook.

The inspiration, said Cook, came after he and his wife traveled to California to meet their son, a Marine finishing his tour of duty in Afghanistan, at the airport.

"He was getting off the plane with his platoon and I realized that some of the troops had no one there to greet them," Cook said. "We decided that every one of our vets deserved a welcome home."

They decided to throw a welcoming event for a friend who was returning from Afghanistan, which led to a follow-up call from a local resident wanting to organize something similar for a returning serviceman.

Since then the couple's commitment to helping our men and women in uniform has blossomed into a full-fledged organization.

Cook says he is also working on a project to provide every returning local veteran with an American-made Stars and Stripes flag for their home.

"I think of the feeling I get when I see a lot of American flags — the sheer pride, it just brightens my day," he said. "I want to make sure they have that feeling when they get back."

He and Gretchen have delivered dozens of flags, including some to vets from previous conflicts. In November, he delivered flags to two World War II veterans.

"Both of them were in their '90s and didn't have a flag," Cook said. "It was incredible to meet men from that generation."

In addition to welcoming veterans home, Mission: American Gratitude is working with other veterans' organizations to provide a network to help ex-service members make the transition into civilian life — particularly handling post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I'm not an expert, but I want to at least be able to point them toward some resources, even if that just means connecting an older vet with a newer one," he said.

One of the main reasons Cook said he devotes so much time to the organization is his concern that many have forgotten about the very real conflicts American soldiers face every day.

"We've been at war in Afghanistan for 12 years now and it has become easy to tune it out and get complacent," he said. "I want to rekindle some patriotic spirit and make sure none of our troops are forgotten."

The organization is mainly active around southern Illinois, but Cook says he hopes others across the county will start their own veteran welcoming groups.

"I remember someone once told me, 'pursue your passion and you will find your purpose,'" Cook said. "Well, we've found our purpose."

Go to www.missionamerican​ to find out more, including videos of the some of the welcoming events it has put on.


St. Louis Local 1 member Rodney Cook and his wife, Gretchen, started Mission: American Gratitude to ensure returning local veterans receive a proper welcome home.

Resources for
Returning Veterans

• Helmets to Hardhats connects veterans with good jobs in the building trades:

• AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council brings together union leaders and union members who are veterans to speak out on veterans' issues:

Founded in 2004 by an Iraq veteran, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is the first and largest organization for new veterans and their families, with nearly 300,000 members and supporters nationwide: