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App State Commemorates Memorial Day, Shares Reflections on its Mountaineer Military Community

The wreath laid at Appalachian State University’s on-campus Veterans Memorial in commemoration of Memorial Day 2021. Chancellor Sheri Everts selected App State couple and U.S. Air Force veterans David H. Cook and Christy M. Cook ’18 to place the wreath. Photo by Marie Freeman

By Megan Bruffy

Throughout the year, Appalachian State University’s Veterans Memorial serves as an ever-present reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by those who served in the armed forces. On Memorial Day, commemorated on the last Monday in May, it holds elevated meaning as the Appalachian Community reflects on the importance of the occasion.

Memorial Day is an American holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the military.

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. The first national celebration of Memorial Day took place May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery.

It is traditional to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff from dawn until noon. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. In national cemeteries, volunteers place an American flag on each grave.

The wearing of poppies in honor of America’s war dead is traditional on Memorial Day. The origin of the red poppy as a modern-day symbol of this day was conceived by Moina Michael after reading John McCrae’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields.”

In war-torn battlefields, the red field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was one of the first plants to grow. Its seeds scattered in the wind and sat dormant in the ground, only germinating when the ground is disturbed — as it was by the brutal fighting during World War I.

Today, poppies are both the symbol of loss of life as a symbol of recovery and new life, especially in support of those in service who were damaged physically or emotionally.

Air Force Veterans Reflect on their Careers in the Military and at App State

Air Force veterans David H. Cook, far right, and Christy M. Cook ’18, center, are joined by their son, Wyatt Cook, as they place a wreath at Appalachian State University’s Veterans Memorial to commemorate Memorial Day 2021. The couple was selected for the honor by App State Chancellor Sheri Everts. David is the director of constituency relations and scheduling in the Office of the Chancellor and Christy is a lecturer in the university’s Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management. Photo by Marie Freeman

U.S. Air Force veterans David H. Cook and Christy M. Cook ’18 served a collective 12 years in the Air Force as air traffic controllers before beginning civilian careers at Appalachian State University. Christy was a senior airman in Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) and David was a staff sergeant in the Air Traffic Control Tower.

Chancellor Sheri Everts selected the couple to place an honorary wreath at the university’s Veterans Memorial to commemorate Memorial Day — a day honoring those who have died in service to their country.

“David and Christy are exemplars who inspire others and have earned the respect of their colleagues across campus,” Everts said. “We appreciate their dedication to the university and to our country, and thank them for helping honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military.”

At App State, David is the director of constituency relations and scheduling in the Office of the Chancellor and Christy is a lecturer in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management. They have both earned reputations for their precision, dedication and expertise — skills which, prior to their employment at App State, enabled them to control Air Force One and battle-damaged aircraft overseas.

In the Chancellor’s Office, David is known for his steady and capable presence as well as his ability to make others smile. “David is a consummate professional who is unmatched in his ability to strengthen relationships on and beyond campus,” Everts said. “He is kind and conscientious, his talent for managing logistics is seemingly boundless and he never loses his sense of humor.”

Walker College of Business (WCOB) Interim Dean Sandra Vannoy echoed similar sentiments about Christy.

“Christy has an insatiable love of learning and teaching, and her enthusiasm transfers to her students and colleagues. She is innovative in her approach to education and daily operations, and we are fortunate to count her among our faculty,” Vannoy said.

Appalachian State University staff member David H. Cook is pictured in front of an F-16 at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. Cook was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and served honorably for eight years. As the assistant chief of training and standardization, he would occasionally evaluate Air Force base air traffic control services from the air in the back seat of an F-16. He is now the director of constituency relations and scheduling in App State’s Office of the Chancellor. Photo submitted

“One of the greatest strengths of our military is the genuine camaraderie between service members,” Christy said. “Individuals from all walks of life and from all different backgrounds are drawn together in the military and merge into a very positive and powerful force.”

David said he found his way to the military because he felt called to serve. For Christy, her time in the Air Force was born of a family tradition — her father, brother and grandfather have all served in the military — and her own sense of adventure.

The couple, both of whom are first-generation college students, earned their undergraduate degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and were stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. They also spent time abroad, serving a three-year post at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany before finishing their military careers at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

Their achievements and notable experiences include:

  • They controlled Air Force One when former President Bill Clinton visited their base in Germany.
  • They controlled U.S. and NATO aircraft returning to base in Germany with battle damage during the Kosovo conflict.
  • They routinely controlled the $2 billion B-2 Spirit stealth bomber housed at Whiteman Air Force Base.
  • As the assistant chief of training and standardization, David occasionally evaluated Air Force base air traffic control services from the air in the back seat of an F-16.
  • David was recognized as Airman of the Year in 1999 and Air Traffic Controller of the Year in 2001 for the 52nd Operations Support Squadron.

For David, a defining moment in his military career came when he was working air traffic control in Germany on 9/11.

“We were ordered, along with other Air Force bases around the world, to recall all of our American aircraft assets back to their assigned home base, effective immediately,” David said. “But we were unable to share with our pilots over our radio frequencies the reason for their abrupt return to base. The entire situation was surreal and we had no idea then how the events of that day would forever change certain aspects of American life.”

The Cooks said their time in the military also helped them find lifelong love. The couple met while they were both serving active duty at Whiteman Air Force Base. They were married in nearby Kansas City, Missouri.

Christy said as air traffic controllers, she and David would communicate with one another over radio and interphone communications to coordinate the flow of air traffic. When they finally met in person, they instantly became almost inseparable and have been together ever since.

The Cooks returned to David’s hometown of Boone in the early 2000s and began careers at App State.

The couple said even as civilians they continue to live and serve in a way that honors the Air Force’s three core values:

  • Integrity first.
  • Service before self.
  • Excellence in all we do.

Christy started at App State as a financial aid counselor and David began as a dispatcher for the Appalachian Police Department.

While a staff member, Christy earned a graduate certificate in instructional technology facilitation in 2017 and a Master of Arts in educational media with a concentration in online learning and professional development in 2018 — both from App State. She also completed 18 graduate hours in marketing from East Carolina University.

In 2016, Christy was honored with a Sywassink Award for Excellence. Before transitioning to her current position as a lecturer in the WCOB, she served as:

Christy said, “I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat of a lifelong learner, but it was really some of the faculty members and administrators within the Reich College of Education and the Walker College of Business — some of whom I am so very proud to now call friends and respected colleagues — who nurtured and sparked my passion for learning and teaching.”

David agreed that they both owe much of their success to the mentors they have been fortunate to have along the way.

David went on to earn a master’s degree in management and leadership from Montreat College while continuing to build his career at App State — moving from the Appalachian Police Department to a position in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance, now known as the Office of Title IX Compliance. From there, he became a program manager in the Division of Academic Affairs before joining the Office of the Chancellor in his current position.

In spring 2020, David taught a course in WCOB called Contemporary Issues in Management and Leadership. He also spent four years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Asheville.

The Cooks expressed their appreciation “to Chancellor Everts for her unwavering campus leadership and vision,” and said they were “tremendously humbled and honored” that Everts asked them to place the wreath at the Veterans Memorial for Memorial Day.

David said, “Memorial Day is about one thing, and that is remembering and honoring those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. Christy and I encourage our community to pause and reflect on what Memorial Day represents.”

The Cooks’ son, Wyatt, a rising sophomore at Watauga High School, plans to attend App State in 2024.

Christy said, “Wyatt is a caring, compassionate, funny and multitalented young man who has so much good to offer his future campus community as well as others. But in turn, we also know how many great things Appalachian State University has to offer Wyatt.”

“Christy and I both grew up modestly with limited resources and opportunities,” David said. Both their families focused on the importance of “hard work, strong faith, helping those around you and always having a sense of humor,” he added.

“Knowing that our son is college bound brings us great satisfaction and pride,” David said. “We observe firsthand every day the sense of community and culture of student success found on this campus that will undoubtedly provide Wyatt with an exceptional college experience and a solid foundation to ultimately accomplish his future aspirations and dreams.”