When Mike Cox, volunteered to go to Iraq to help facilitate the drawing down of U.S. soldiers, he came home with a greater sense of appreciation for his job, the troops and his country.
Yet, when he returned home to Santa Rosa Beach, Cox, a civilian engineer with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, he received recognition of his own. Cox, along with four other civilians, received the Secretary of Defense Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Award, the equivalent to GWOT Expeditionary Medal awarded to military personnel, in a special ceremony on June 10.
Cox volunteered to be deployed as the director of public works at Contingency Operating Base Delta in Al Kut, Iraq, from November 2010 to October 2011. He was deployed specifically to assist with the management side of the operation, contributing social engineering skills to the project.
"It's really about supporting our troops, from my viewpoint." Cox said, humbly skirting the topic of the award.
While Cox did say he was honored to receive the medal, his real reward was being able to provide technical support to the troops.
"There was a need and I was able to contribute to that," he said.
Almost 30 years of employment at the Department of Defense, Cox has traveled overseas for business trips, but has never spent time in combat zones.
"It definitely provided a deeper appreciation for what we ask our military to do," he said of the experience. "They helped me more than I helped them."
Civilians don't always experience the perils of war firsthand as Cox said. During his year in Iraq, nine U.S. soldiers died from various causes. And as Cox missed his family during his volunteer deployment, he met soldiers who were on their third or fourth deployment.
"When they pack up and leave, they're leaving their families behind to support our nation and put their life on the line," he said. "We kind of forget that as civilians."
While in Iraq, Cox met people from India, Uganda as well as Iraqi personnel, air force and police officers. He engaged in a lot of interesting conversations, he told The Sun.
"I learned we have a lot of similar goals and wishes," Cox said of the Iraqis he met. "Those I worked with I found to be very gracious and hospitable. They actually thanked me. And I'm just a civilian."
"They have the same hopes for the future as we do; they just have a harder road ahead of them."
When he returned to the United States, Cox saw the world a little differently.
"I definitely have a different perspective of the things I used to consider important," he said. "I think it's important as civilians to be aware of what we ask out soldiers, airmen and sailors to do."