CDR Cooledge is a native of Portland Maine and a 1985 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy. He eamed his Bachelor of Science Degree in Nautical Science and his United States Coast Guard Mates license Unlimited Tonnage all Oceans. After a year of working in the merchant fleet CDR Cooledge attended Aviation Officer Candidate School and was commissioned an Ensign in July of 1986. He then attended flight training and was designated a Naval Flight Officer in September 1987. After his first tour lte was selected for a pilot transition and after completing Pilot Training was designated a Naval Aviator in August 1991. Ill May 2005 CDR Coo/edge reported to Patrol Squadron Forty-Six as rite Executive Officer, assuming command of tire Gray Kniglrts in May 2006 and immediately deploying to a split-site Kadena-Misawa Japan deployment.
In March 2007 CDR Cooledge assumed Command of a Joint Force Interagency Provincial Reconstruction Team covering Ghazni Afghanistan where he was responsible for Security, Reconstruction and Governance. For one year CDR
Cooledge and his team operated from a forward operating base in the volatile southeastern region of Afghanistan
conducting over 500 Ground Assault Convoys into Afghanistan ‘s fifth largest province. For his actions CDR Coo/edge
was awarded the Bronze Star as well as the Army Combat Action Badge. In Feb of 07 CDR Cooledge was selected for
Captain, in August he begins National War College.
I would like to start by thanking the family for allowing me to be a part of today’s memorial and also thank the entire staff here at the region who worked so hard to get me out here to be part of this day, your organization’s tremendous support of Jeffs family over the past couple weeks has been superb. I will tell you it was always something we all worried about over there, how our wives and children would be handled by our units back at home if we didn’t make it back. The notification, the follow up care, the ceremonies; from what I have seen so far Jeff would be very pleased with how his loved ones have been looked after by his Navy family here at home.
Before I get started I would like to recognize another member of my team that is here with us today, LT John Gildea, John was my other engineer on the team and Jefrs counterpart and close friend. John is a Seabee and was awarded a purple heart and a bronze star for his service in Afghanistan. A reservist, he left a high paying job with Intel Corporation to serve for a year in Afghanistan.
He survived an IED strike on his vehicle that took the life of another one or our team mates. He made the trip up from California to honor Jeff. John I want to thank you for coming and thank you for your service.
What a tremendous honor to be able to stand up here today before you all, dressed in the cloth of my country, in the presence of like minded men and women and pay tribute to my friend and comrade LT Jeff Ammon. So what is my role here today; well for 16 months I was Jeff’s Commanding Officer on the ground in Afghanistan, so I am uniquely qualified to tell you all about the final year and a half of Jeff’s life. I first met this young man in early
January 2007 when he came into my tent at Fort Bragg asking if he could join our team. Our unit’s engineer that had been ordered in was a no show at the start of training and Jeff was on the alternate
list still not yet scheduled to deploy with a team. Now while some of Jeff’s counterparts were actively searching for ways to be sent home and get out of doing their duty, Jeff was busy going tent to tent aggressively lobbying the various teams commanding officers looking for a way to go on mission and do his duty. Needless to say I immediately loved his enthusiasm and wanted a man like him on my team, we got him moved into our tent and on our team that night. Over the next 3 months we trained together and lived together at Bragg, 18 men to a tent, eating MRE’s, a weekly cold shower and no liberty. The woods of North Carolina were a horrible place but it was necessary to get us ready to go to war. In late March with very little fanfare we climbed aboard our aircraft as one unit and departed on what would become the defining year in most of our lives, a year spent providing freedom and a better life for hundreds of thousands of Afghans .
The Jeff Ammon you all knew in many ways is probably not the same man I served with over in the battlespace. I know this to be true because I watched all my men change over the course of the year. Afghanistan does that to you, it gets inside you and affects you deeply. When you spend a year of your life in the most devastated place on earth with some of the most vulnerable, at-risk people on our planet it changes you. I will do my best today to articulate to you just who and what Jeff was to the Afghan people and to his teammates. I will also try and describe what a small group of Navy guys were doing over there on the ground, what Jeff’s mission was and how he contributed to the counterinsugency plan we were executing in Ghazni province. I will attempt to explain why I think Jeff chose to extend and remain behind for a second tour of duty. And finally I will describe to you some of the bonds that Jeff experienced both with his fellow soldiers and sailors and with the Afghan people, bonds that held us all together and drew Jeff to remain behind when we all left in late March.
The bonds that are formed in small unit combat arms teams are remarkable and truly must be lived lo be understood. For those who have never experienced these emotions they are difficult to understand. I could stand up here for hours and not be able to thoroughly explain to you what it meant to Jeff to serve beside like minded men under arduous conditions out in the field in southern Afghanistan. But needless to say he absolutely loved it and we
The mission of our unit was to provide for the security reconstruction and governance of Ghazni province, an area roughly the size of Maryland populated by about one and a half million people. Ghazni is locate in the southeastern region of the country between Kandahar and Kabul smack in the middle of some of the worst fighting in Afghanistan. We were a joint team made up of Navy, Anny, National Guard and Civilians. We had the responsibility of a battalion, some would even say a brigade but the force structure of only a platoon, what we lacked in firepower and manpower we made up for with naval power. My dirt sailors performed brilliantly under some of the worst conditions any sailor will ever be asked to serve in. Completely out of their element, they were fearless, they were tireless and they made our Navy proud every day. On any given day on a typical mission I would find myself rolling down a wadi in my Humvee in the middle of nowhere with ABE3 Boyle off the ROOSEVELT, a part time rodeo clown as my driver, ET2
Obrien out of N AS Jacksonville my gunner on the SO CAL, sitting behind me cracking jokes MA2 Cuccaro on his third IA doubling as my intel officer and personal security detachment and my submariner LT Jeff Ammon beside him riding dismount and directing the engineering mission. That’s a typical day in Ghazni, S Navy guys rolling down the backroads of Afghanistan with nothing but a GPS and a few small arms hanging it out there creating freedom and spreading democracy where it never before existed; it was an incredible experience for us all, it is what Jeff loved so much and it is why he stayed.
Jeff held multiple positions in my unit, he was my PPO and contract officer responsible for managing all coalition force contracts in Ghazni with over 200 million in reconstruction underway. Schools, hospitals, roads, you name it and Jeff built it. He was also my field engineer who did the quality control inspections on those projects, additionally he managed all the local nationals who worked for the PR T and finally and most importantly he was a statesman for the US government and an infantryman in the 82nd airborne always ready to run and gun on any
mission. Like all my men he earned an 82nd airborne combat patch that he wore on his shoulder and an army combat action badge on his chest. For the past year he was an American Soldier and Statesman.
A typical day for Jeff would see him meet with 3 or 4 local national contractors in the morning, bid negotiate and sign million dollar contracts. He would then gear up and climb into a humvee and roll out the gate on an 8 hour mission into Indian country working on governance, security and reconstruction. When he got home he would then change into his favorite traditional Afghan clothing and spend his evening resolving disputes between the local
national employees that he managed. I cannot tell you the number of times I would catch Jeff wandering through our base in flip flops and some kind of traditional Afghan dress with 3 days of growth on his face, a cup of tea in his hand, doing business with the locals. Military bearing was not his specialty or something he cared much about and he loved to challenge authority whenever he could. My XO, an old school Army officer came to me more than once with his concerns that Jeff had gone native. I used to just laugh and smile and tell the XO we needed to just Jct Jeff be Jeff, because after all he was getting it done and the locals absolutely loved him. Jeff gave the Sgt. Major fits and he loved to pull my chain and sec how far he could push both of us on uniform and grooming standards.
For those of you old enough to remember the show MASH, Jeff was my Hawkeye Pierce. And we all know what a good man
At the end of his typical day Jeff would love to enjoy a good smoke, cigars became a passion for Jeff while we were in country. He bought himself a new humidor online that he was extremely proud of. He filled it with what he thought were good cigars, of course his definition of a fine cigar differed greatly from mine but that’s another story. Almost every night Jeff, big daddy, JP and John along with me would sit under the stars behind our hoochies,
smoke cigars and discuss the day’s missions and talk about loved ones at home, talk about what we missed most and how lucky we were to be together. It was one of our few enjoyments and one of our favorite things to do.
When we weren’t smoking our cigars Jeff and I Jogged dozens of missions and hundreds of miles together in the battlespace but one mission in particular sticks out in my mind and defines the good that Jeff was doing in country. We had to go into a village that on the night before was the scene of a pretty bad gun fight between
the Taliban and some of our special forces. During the course of that firefight there were some civilian casualties and some pretty extensive property damage in the village. Our job was to get into the village in the morning and assess the damage, treat the injured and negotiate compensation with the village ciders. The bottom line was we were there to clean up the mess. As we entered the village the people were decidedly angry with coalition forces. As my men set up a security perimeter Jeff leaned right into it and began doing what he did best, making friends. Over the next 4 hours I watched Jeff go house to house, treating the wounded, meticulously recording any damages and most importantly, creating relationships, holding babies, putting his arms around the shoulders of shell
shocked villagers and using his amazing talents to convince an entire village that despite the previous nights events we were not the enemy. He quite simply displayed the compassion of a great nation to that village. It is young officers like Jeff that arc out there every day implementing US foreign policy in tiny villages across
the globe that determine how the rest of the world views us, and their success or failure will be the deciding factor in this global struggle for the hearts and minds of entire populations. I can tell you the compassion that Jeff showed the Afghan people on a daily basis was sincere and never put on, they sensed his genuine concern
for their worth and human dignity and always responded in kind. Jeff had more Afghan friends than any member of my team.
Today our nation is at war yet Jess than . I percent of the population will ever serve in the military. Of those who do serve less than 10 percent of those will ever actually gear up, pick up a weapon, lock and load, and go eye to eye with our nations enemies. To stand within arms reach of those who hate us and want to kill us, to go forward into some of the harshest terrain on this planet and endure daily hardships and risks that arc unthinkable to most
Americans. In the end the real burden of defending this nation falls to a very small elite heroic group of men like Jeff Ammon. Men who understand that someone must go. Someone must raise their hand and say “Send me, I’ll do it, I’ll go.” And in Jeffs case to say “I’ II do it again.” I want you all to think about that for a moment- about the courage and commitment it takes for a man to raise his hand and say send me into battle, I’ll go. Never mind the
kind of courage it takes to say “I’ll do it again” as Jeff did when he extended for a second tour.
One night over cigars and one of our informal counseling sessions Jeff and I talked about how fortunate we were to be forward defending our nation, to be able to experience the brotherhood of small unit combat arms while defending the worth and human dignity of an entire population and despite the hardships and the separation from our families we agreed that we were right where we wanted to be even if it all ended on the next days mission, no regrets. Jeff had no regrets because he had learned as we all had that even one day spent as a lion was far better than a
lifetime lived as a lamb. For 400 plus days Jeff Ammon lived as a lion. In his time in Ghazni Jeff had logged dozens and dozens of ground assault convoys into some of the most dangerous terrain in Southern Afghanistan. On the day he died he was in the rear scat of the lead vehicle in his convoy. Now in any convoy every seat is a dangerous one, but the rear scat of the lead vehicle is without a doubt the most dangerous place in the convoy. You see the lead vehicle is the one most apt to set off a pressure plate JED, the weapon of choice of the Taliban in Ghazni and what we got hit with most. The rear seats in any Humvee are the most vulnerable because you don’t have the engine block in front of you to absorb the blast. Jeff knew all this and as a senior leader in the unit could
have easily mounted up in a vehicle in the rear, in the front scat. But that wasn’t Jeff. Jeff was a selfless leader who always went first taking the danger head on so others didn’t have to. That’s why he volunteered for every single mission that rolled out the gate, that’s why he was in the lead vehicle and that’s why he stayed for a
second tour. So someone else didn’t have to do it. Imagine it, a submarine officer wrapped in kevlar, it’s a 120 degrees, he’s loaded down with 50 pounds of weapons and gear strapped into a Humvee in the most dangerous position in the convoy, in one of the most volatile regions in the war on terror and he was saying, “Give me some more, let me go first, send me, I’ll do it again … ” think about that, that’s a lion, ladies and gentlemen, that’s a man who lived for 400 days as a lion. We should all be so fortunate.
For those of you here today who have yet to walk into your bosses office and volunteer for the next hard IA, let Jeff’s courage be a reminder of who and what we are and what our obligations are in this war. Let Jeff’s honor courage and commitment be the standard we all strive to live up to.
There were 5 of us who sat under those stars every night smoking cigars, 2 of them arc gone. For those of us left the loss is almost too much to bear. Today I stand here and try to make sense of it all and in 2 weeks I will travel to Nevada to do it again and scatter the ashes of another one of our team mates. I’m not sure where we find these men, men like Jeff Ammon and Tom Stefani, but I do know as a nation we arc fortunate to have men amongst us
who clearly understand their obligation and arc brave enough to act on that understanding.
Jeff, Tom, we miss you, we honor you and we understand you. Your brothers on the team will never forget you. We pledge to live up to the standard you have set for us, to live our lives as lions. We love you and miss you both dearly.