Our 2011 Marine of the year is making headlines again–this time, for an ambitious project to honor all the fallen troops hailing from his home state.
We caught up with Maj. David Cote, a Pentagon budget analyst, earlier this year about his work in support of homeless veterans, centering on the development of an analytical tool to determine risk factors that caught the attention of San Diego mayor Bob Filner and a number of members of Congress. The tool, the the Service Member Attrition Risk Tool (SMART) is now being used by Veteran’s Village in San Diego to serve its homeless and at-risk population.
If he wasn’t staying busy enough between that project and his day job, Cote recently announced the launch of a 12-month project to commemorate all the troops from his home state of Maine who have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Called the Summit Project, it will culminate on May 26, 2014 in a hike up Mt. Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park to create a memorial at the top with a stone inscribed to honor each service member.
Cote was inspired by hike up Mt. Whitney, Calif that he completed over Labor Day last year. High up that mountain, there is a small crevice where Navy SEALs place stones etched to honor their fallen brothers-in-arms.
Cote said he wanted to begin a similar tradition for Maine, because the state has the third-highest percentage of veteran residents, and those who live there have a strong sense of patriotism and service.
“Whenever I have a Memorial Day off, as long as I’ve been in my career, I count the number of fallen veterans that I know, and the list grows and grows,” Cote said. “When I talk to their families, they just say, ‘make sure my son or daughter’s memory is not forgotten.’ It’s very important that we honor their sacrifice and pay tribute to their sacrifice.”
Cote is using his Memorial Day weekend this year to visit families of the fallen and ask them to contribute a stone in honor of their loved one, taken from a place of significance to them. One father planned to find a stone by the water at his son’s favorite fishing spot, Cote said, and a mother told him she would bring one from the hill where her son would go to rest and meditate.
Cote and a group of volunteer hikers will carry the stones in their backpacks for the several hours it takes to hike Maine’s highest mountain.
That part of the journey is also symbolic, he said; the weight of the stone will help to represent the burden of grief and loss that the loved ones of the fallen bear.
Though Cote said his plan for the memorial hinges on getting permission to set it up atop Mt. Katahdin. But if he’s successful, he said, he envisions installing the little memorial in a quiet, out-of-the-way spot that will be special for those who put it there.
“What I envision is a real discreet place, off the beaten path,” he said. “People will discover it and they’ll see the initials, and they’ll be very curious; they’ll want to find out the story.”
A Military Times database puts the number of fallen troops from Maine at 46, though other counts using different methods total up to 59. Cote said he doesn’t plan to exclude any fallen service member with ties to the state in his memorial.
Get more information about the project on his website.