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Veterans groups quietly come to the aid of returning soldiers

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published October 12, 2007, 10:18 a.m.)

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Most people will tell you the local VFW is where vets meet up with their buddies, share war stories and play some cards.

That perception isn't always completely wrong--but it's always incomplete.

In reality, there's more that goes on inside than most would imagine.

The members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Elkhorn Memorial Post 6375 are some of the most modest, sincere and loyal people you'll ever meet. They're the kind of guys who would never toot their own horns or tell you long stories about the good they've done.

"There is a stigma of us being just a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking beer," joked Lee Kampstad, commander, Elkhorn Post 6375.

"But we'll do anything for another veteran and (their) family."

This is the vow they take as seriously as they did orders from their commanders during active duty.

They keep their ears to the ground and when they hear of a fellow veteran or their family in need, they're right there for them, helping wherever they can.

'They really came through for me'

"My medical unit was en route to the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad," remembers Staff Sgt. Chris Cook. "We encountered a suicide car bomber. I shot the driver of the car. Then the vehicle exploded about 30 yards from where I was standing."

Cook's account of the events that nearly took his life--and many others--is hauntingly mechanical.

Cook, 38, 118th Medical BN based in Waukesha, was critically injured Sept. 11, 2004 in Baghdad, Iraq.

"It nearly blew off my left leg and severely injured my right ankle."

He came home to Elkhorn from Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. three months later, completely wheelchair dependent.

His roommate was a nurse and tried her best, but getting him to physical therapy three times a week and working full-time just don't go together.

"It had become a financial burden," Cook said.

Martin Davidson, quartermaster of the Elkhorn Post, is another no-nonsense stickler when it comes to being there for his military comrades.

Martin says the transportation arrangements left a lot to be desired before the VFW stepped in to help.

"He deserved some dignity," Davidson said.

Cook's recollection isn't quite as severe. But he does remember just trying to get by, and how much the rides from the VFW brothers to doctors for months on end changed his situation.

But for the post, it was just the beginning.

"They immediately took me under their wing," Cook recalls. "The guys from the post visited me and kept me company and kept my spirits up."

Then they learned that Cook had not received the Bronze Star that he had been technically awarded.

With the help of Rep. Paul Ryan and the VFW, Cook received his Bronze Star--with "V" device signifying valorous conduct in the face of the enemy for meritorious achievement during Operation Iraqi Freedom for saving no less than three other service people's lives--on June 16.

Cook is now back in his hometown of Mukwonago and has been back to work full-time for over a year as the Emergency Medical Service educator at Waukesha Memorial Hospital. He also serves as a medic with the Walworth County Sheriff's Department SWAT team.

"I became a lifetime member (of Post 6375) shortly after I realized what a great organization this is," he said.

"They really came through for me."

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