BANGOR, Maine — Capt. David J. Cote really knows how to observe his 10-year anniversary as a U.S. Marine.
Just over a month after driving to Vancouver, British Columbia, to attend the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup game seven win over the Canucks, the Waterville native and Bangor High School graduate was named Marine of the Year at the 11th annual Military Times Service Members of the Year Awards Ceremony at the Cannon House Building on Thursday evening in Washington, D.C.
The former BDN paperboy was honored for his promotion of education, his dedication to the plight of homeless veterans, and a selfless quality exhibited by his donation of a kidney to his father.
“This is nothing I ever expected,” Cote said during a phone interview while on his way to the ceremony in the nation’s capital. “It really means a lot, though, because a lot of people in my home state helped me get to this point and I love Maine, and I hope I did the state and everyone back there proud.”
There’s one person in particular Cote credits for starting him on the career path that has led him to this point.
“There was a guy a year ahead of me at Bangor when I was a sophomore named Jeremy Walsh,” Cote said. “He went to UMaine, but before he went there, he wanted to go to the [U.S.] Naval Academy.
“I really looked up to him,” said the three-sport Bangor High athlete, who won three state titles while swimming for coach Phil Emery. “I didn’t have an older brother and really respected him. We were swimming one day at Husson College and he mentioned wanting to go to there, so I went home and looked up everything about the academy and he inspired me to go there.”
It was the only college the future Marine operations analyst applied to.
“Yeah, I had no Plan B,” he said with a laugh.
The 1997 Bangor High graduate — who was nominated by Gov. John Baldacci to attend the academy — was honored along with members of the four other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. All five honorees were selected from peer nominations by readers of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times.
Cote served in the operations section of the Recruit Training Regiment of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot last year in San Diego, managing the special projects section. He fostered relationships between high school educators and recruit training personnel, but he found many other ways to contribute while there.
“I’m working with Veterans Village of San Diego, which provides medical services, legal services, social services, chemical dependency, mental health, just about everything to displaced and homeless veterans,” said Cote, who now resides in Pacific Grove, Calif.
The plight of homeless veterans has become a personal cause for Cote, who specializes in applied mathematics. As a Marine, he optimizes processes and makes them move or work more efficiently. It’s kind of a military version of the CBS-TV show “NUMB3RS.”
“I want to build a mathematical model that can predict the probability of success of a veteran coming through the system so we can direct attention and target the right kind of services to more at-risk veterans,” said Cote, who earned his Bachelor of Science in mathematics at Annapolis in 2001 and is working on his master’s degree in operations research on a full scholarship at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
The value Cote places on education is evident. While stationed in San Diego, he met with every senior noncommissioned officer at his headquarters to emphasize the value of the tuition assistance programs and benefits of the Post-911 G.I. Bill. His efforts led to more than 100 Marines enrolling in college courses or technical degree programs.
After his father, Vincent Cote of Brewer, was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure, Cote was tested as a kidney donor and found to be a match. In May 2010, just two days before the operation and transplant, Cote ran in The Run to Home Base, a 9-kilometer fundraiser sponsored by the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital. He personally raised more than $4,000 for veterans, combat stress and traumatic brain injuries and finished the run by crossing home plate at Fenway Park while wearing utility trousers, combat boots and a T-shirt reading “Living Kidney Donor Racing for Dad’s Life.”
The operation was successful.
“Giving a kidney to my dad wasn’t something I did for pride or praise. It was because it was the right thing to do, and I’m blessed to have him around and help him see his daughter get married,” Cote said.
Cote’s mother, Monica, resides in Bangor. His siblings include sisters Elizabeth and Margaret and brother Stephen.
Cote, who was deployed in Anbar province and Fallujah, Iraq, for 10 months in 2006, has come a long way since delivering papers in the Little City neighborhood of Bangor for eight years. Once a 10-year-old who accompanied his dad to be a troop greeter at Bangor International Airport during the first Gulf War, Cote is now the one being greeted enthusiastically.
“He is a story of true inspiration, having worked to improve assistance for veterans and help his fellow Marines access higher education while simultaneously volunteering with the National Kidney Foundation and donating one of his own kidneys to save his father’s life,” said U.S. Sen. Olympia Snow in a press release Thursday afternoon. “And somehow, in what little spare time he has, Captain Cote has acted as a guide for visually impaired athletes running road races and triathlons across central California.
“I could not be more grateful for his selfless dedication and the meaningful differences he makes in the lives of civilians, veterans and our service members every single day.”