Leadership a defining feature of Gravois Mill veteran

Jeffrey Cocco.

Jeffrey Cocco parked his side-by-side outside his garage and unloaded a string Weed Eater on a warm fall day, hardly giving the visitor a second glance.

His Army appearance spoke volumes as he looked up, walked undaunted toward the visitor. With authority he asked “Can I help you?”

And so began a detailed look into the military life of Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Cocco who spent most of his adult years serving his country and training young men to become the best they could be.

The Chicago-area native from Worth (a south suburb of Chicago), epitomizes U.S. Army leadership even today 10 years after his retirement on Dec. 31, 2010. His stature commands attention. He simply looks the part of a Staff Sergeant who trained wet-behind-the-ears young men and woman how to drive a plethora of military vehicles in time of conflict.

It all began for Cocco when he joined the Army in February of 1981 after attending Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich., Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill., and finally Central Texas College in Killeen, Texas. His first enlistment was to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Aside from the typical training for young soldiers, he learned an important skill – networking – that would serve him his entire career.

In 1984, Cocco took a 10-year break from the military. At that time, he set foot on his property in Gravois Mills he purchased in 1981 and started improving the land.

He re-enlisted in 1994 where he spent three years at Fort Hood, Texas, and later Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., with the 628th Transportation Co. He quickly became a senior transportation instructor/writer teaching soldiers the intricacies of driving Humvees, 915 tractor trailers, Heavy Equipment Transportation Systems (HETTs), Heavy Equipment Military Transport Vehicles (HEMTVs) and Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTVs) in all sorts of combat situations.

Eventually, he was shipped to Camp Doha, Kuwait, for six months as a transportation movement control coordinator where he was supporting the 24th infantry division from Fort Gordon, Ga.

Then, because of his instructor/writer and teaching skills, he was ordered to South Korea, Camp Gary Owen 4/7 Calvary near the Decentralized Military Zone (DMZ) in September 2000. It was particularly challenging in Korea for the larger military transportation trucks because roads there are either one-lane, or narrower than what we’re accustomed to in the United States or even the wide open terrain of Kuwait.

His duties placed him in the potentially dangerous DMZ between the unpredictable North Korea and the U.S. allied South Korea.

But Cocco’s driving skills and his networking skills paid off. He was assigned as a personal instructor/writer/transportation trainer/Squadron Safety Non-Commissioner Officer (NCO) for 1,000 soldiers in the Squadron. He worked directly for the Squadron Commander (a Lieutenant Colonel) and the Squadron Command Sergeant Major. Camp Garry Owen included Headquarters of the 4/7th Cavalry Regiment (Headquarters Troop, A Troop, B Troop and C Troop). Its primary mission was to provide Cavalry support for 2nd Infantry Division Camp Casey, Korea.

“It was the best job I ever had in the Army,” Cocco recalled. “It was very self-rewarding to teach a thousand soldiers the needs of transportation skills and safety awareness.”

Cocco was scheduled to fly home early morning on September 11, 2001, from Osan Airforce base Korea to change duty station when his career took a sudden turn. Nineteen hijackers took control of four commercial passenger jets flying out of airports on the East Coast of the United States. Two of the aircraft were deliberately flown into the main two towers (the Twin Towers) of the World Trade Center in New York, with a third hitting the Pentagon in Virginia.

It looks like we’re going to war, he thought to himself.

After being grounded in South Korea for another week, he was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood where he “trained soldiers to go to war.” After training soldiers for three years at FLW, Cocco was transferred to Fort Sill, Okla., as a Truck Master/Platoon Sergeant. After serving three years at Fort Sill he was ready to leave the Army but wanted to get his 20 years in for full retirement benefits.

In 2007, he joined the Missouri Active Guard Reserve (AGR). Because of his organizational skills, he was put in charge of the medical and dental records at the Missouri State Guards Headquarters.

By 2010, Cocco had developed top-notch credentials, but a promotion wasn’t on the horizon for him because he had reached the Retention Control Point (RCP), a bureaucratic term that meant he could not go any higher in the Army or National Guard with his rank so he retired with 20 years.

Civilian life after retirement

Out of the military service, Cocco still wanted to be involved and do what he could to help his fellow veteran soldiers. So, he got involved with the Veterans Affairs Hines (VA) in Chicago as a supervisor and retired a second time after five years.

Working with veterans was a “very rewarding job,” he offered.

Along the way he fell in love and married his wife, Janet. Cocco always had a vision of retirement in Gravois Mills to really enjoy the property he bought in 1981.

“I really wanted to retire here,” he said. “I’ve always liked animals and working outdoors.”

When Jeff asked Janet how she felt about relocating and she said “Yes.” He was really excited to finally settle in on the land that he had waited so long to enjoy. Jeff and Janet relocated to Gravois Mills after Jeff was officially retired from the VA and built a retirement resort of their own.

They’ve built a new life on a homestead far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the lake area but close enough to enjoy what the lake and its communities offer.

Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Cocco

Honors Received:

Meritorious Service Metal (1st Award)

Army Commendation Medal (3rd Award)

Army Achievement Medal (2nd Award)

Army Good Conduct Medal (6th Award)

National Defense Service Medal (2nd Award)

South West Asia Service Medal

Global Ward On Terrorism Service Medal

Korean Defense Service Medal

Non-Commission Officer Professional Development Ribbon (2nd Award)

Army Service Ribbon

Overseas Service Ribbon (2nd Award)

Expert Marksmanship Badge W/Rifle Bar

Expert Badge (Hand Grenade)

Driver and Mechanic Badge W/Driver-Wheeled Vehicle Clasp

German Armed Forces Efficiency Badge (Gold)

Jeffrey Cocco at his retirement ceremony at the Skelton Missouri National Guard Headquarters.