Hometown: Bangor, Maine
Education:U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., Class of 2001
MONTEREY, Calif. — Capt. David J. Coté grew up in a New England household big on blue-collar values: hard work, sound education, public service, always do right and help others in need.
So when Coté’s father, terminally ill with renal failure, learned he’d need a kidney transplant, his son moved quickly to help. But first there was a race to run. With $4,000 in pledges riding on his participation in Boston’s 9K Run to Home Base, organized to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress and brain injuries, Coté wasn’t about to back out.
His dad, Vince Coté, was there to greet him at the finish line: home plate at Fenway Park, the stomping ground for their beloved Boston Red Sox. Two days later, on May 25, 2010, they underwent successful transplant surgery.
The drive to help others, quite simply, is who this man is. Coté, a 32-year-old bachelor who’s been selected for promotion to major, has raised thousands of dollars running in marathons and road races for charities that support wounded combat vets. In his free time, he volunteers to help fellow Marines make sense of the military’s education benefits, such as tuition assistance and the GI Bill.
He also counsels homeless veterans and is enrolled at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, Calif., where he’s researching how the Veterans Affairs Department can better identify former service members most at risk of taking the wrong path before it’s too late. Along with his course work, Coté serves as an assistant scout leader with Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts, and volunteers with the National Kidney Foundation as a sponsor for prospective donors.
His latest pursuit? Serving as a guide for blind runners. For his relentless drive to improve others’ lives, Coté is the 2011 Marine Corps Times Marine of the Year.
“He is an inspiring role model to others to achieve their fullest potential,” said R.D. Fricker Jr., an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. “He embodies the citizen-soldier-scholar, upon which the future success of this country may depend.”
Coté grew up in a tight-knit family in Bangor, Maine. His path into military service began when he received a coveted nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he majored in mathematics. At his graduation in 2001, he was so excited during the ceremony that he threw a bear hug on the guest of honor, then-President George W. Bush.
Coté later earned pilot’s wings and flew AH-1W Super Cobras at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He moved on to a wing support group at nearby Marine Corps Air Station Miramar before spending a yearlong tour in Iraq in 2006.
Not long after his return from theater, Coté wound up working as a legal officer at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. There, he began talking regularly with Marines about their educational benefits. Coté recounts the story of a retiring 30-year sergeant major who hadn’t realized the importance of getting an education until he came face-to-face with the costs associated with retirement. He’d have to get a job, but what was he qualified to do?
To save others from this fate, Coté developed a brief aimed at junior Marines. His “Arm Yourself” presentation has now been delivered more than 50 times on the West Coast.
“I believe in Marines, and what they can do in their life,” Coté said. “I believe it is the senior Marine’s responsibility to look after a younger Marine, like a brother.”
Coté works regularly with the Veterans Village of San Diego, a nonprofit that serves thousands of vets and hosts the annual Stand Down program. It’s a three-day effort that focuses on counseling, medical and dental treatment, legal services and employment training for veterans. They can drop by, get a shower, do their laundry and receive donated clothing and food.
“My heart breaks for them,” he said. “They need somebody to believe in them because they’ve been hurting.”
This prompted the focus of his postgraduate work. While studying in Monterey, Coté hopes to unlock answers to the most pressing questions surrounding veterans’ homelessness
“How can we best intervene?” Coté said. “I think we can find out who are most likely to complete the program.”
He’s now halfway through the two-year curriculum. Once he graduates, it’s anyone’s guess. Coté hasn’t received his next orders yet.
Without a doubt, though, the fitness-related charity work will continue. He’s scheduled to participate in the San Francisco Triathlon on Aug. 21 and Hawaii’s Kauai Marathon in September. When competing, Coté scrawls “kidney donor” on his legs — to raise awareness for organ donation.
Thinking back to the transplant surgery, Coté recalls getting a look at his father afterward and seeing how the pink had returned to a face ashen for too long. The experience was punctuated by a week together in the same hospital room, enabling them to reconnect.
“We were like two soldiers in an infirmary,” he said, chuckling. “We awoke together. We had meals together. … We’re complaining about the nurses together.”
Today, 64-year-old Vince Coté is doing great, his son says. Asked why he does what he does, and gives so much of himself and his time, Coté downplays the notion of any grand motivation. He cites his own good fortune, of having family and friends who’ve shown him the value of life and the importance of helping others.
“It’s not pay-it-forward,” Coté said. “It’s the right thing to do.”