Since gaining the title United States Marine, Cooney has deployed twice to Iraq. September 25, 2006 during his first tour, Cooney and his unit, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance, Charlie Company 2nd platoon, were in progress of searching personal vehicles at a traffic control point. Around a quarter after twelve, Cooney recalls waiting for the next car to be sent over so he went to grab a cigarette.
“I bent down to grab my lighter,” said Cooney. “That is when I felt a round penetrate the left side of my neck.”
Within seconds Cooney and his unit were under heavy sniper and machine gun fire. Yet, the courageous service members of 2nd platoon were able to reach Cooney within minutes of his injury.
Cooney remained positive while his senior Marines Cpl. Kevin Plummer, Cpl. Anthony Demarco and his Corpsman Dustin Black carried him to safety. In shock during the time he was shot, Cooney remembers making jokes. He credits the swift action of his Marines as the real reason for his confidence and survival. Cooney believes that the tragic events that occurred during his deployment happened for a reason.
“Every day I have memories of the events that got me here,” said Cooney. “But I consider myself very lucky. If I did not bend down at that moment, the round would have penetrated my head.”
Since being injured Cooney was sent from a traffic control point on the outskirts of Rutbah, Iraq to Landstuhl, Germany and then to Bethesda, Md. for more treatment, surgery and physical rehab before going home to Pittsburgh, Pa. where he was an outpatient at the local Veterans Affairs Hospital.
“I still have many struggles but I’ve come a long way,” said Cooney.
With the help of his fellow Marines, Cooney was able to get his life back on track. In 2007 Cooney learned about the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment through his best friend Cpl. John Chmill. The Wound Warrior Regiment stood up in 2007 to provide and facilitate non-medical care to combat and non-combat wounded, ill, and injured Marines, and sailors attached to or in direct support of Marine units and their family members in order to assist them as they return to duty or transition to civilian life.
Cooney’s case was immediately taken over by Gunnery Sgt. Michael Palarino a District Injured Support Cell at the Regiment. The DISC are mobilized reserve Marines who are located throughout the country to conduct face-to-face visits and telephone outreach to wounded, ill and injured Marines and their families who are recovering within their assigned region.
As a DISC, Gunnery Sgt. Palarino is equipped with the knowledge and expertise to assist Marines through various procedures, including the Physical Evaluation Board. Gunnery Sgt. Palarino worked on getting Cooney set up with the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa. Within a few months of speaking with Palarino, Cooney had received his disability rating and was now completing the Board for Correction of Naval Records process. According to the Naval Inspector General, the BCNR was created by Congress in 1946 to provide a method for correction of errors or removal of injustices from current and former Navy and Marine Corps member’s records without the necessity for private legislation.
Today Palarino continues to meet with Cpl. Cooney and other wounded, ill and injured Marines in the Pennsylvania and West Virginia region.
“Palarino is 100 percent awesome,” said Cooney. “He always calls to just check up on me and it is not always about the effects of my injury. He asks about my day to day personal issues. We definitely need more Marines like him.”
Since Cooney’s honorable discharged in 2009, Gunnery Sgt. Palarino and his network have also played a major role in finding Cooney a job. Gunnery Sgt. Palarino received information regarding several positions from Mr. Richard Waller, Marine for Life’s Employment Manager. According to the Marine For Life website, the goal of the program is to harness the skills, contacts and personal and professional networks of Marine Corps veterans and others in the community—to form a network to help Marines find job opportunities within their field.
After an extensive search and a lot of preparation Cooney finally found a job that matched his expertise. He was excited to build his future at a job in corporate America. March 21, 2011 marked Cooney’s first day as a security supervisor for loss prevention at American Eagle’s Corporate Office.
“My first day was awesome,” said Cooney. “It is not going to be easy but I know that I can succeed at this.”
Cooney wants to encourage other wounded, ill and injured Marines to stay positive throughout their recovery and transition process.
“The whole idea behind me wanting to have my story told is to motivate my fellow Marines out there. Even though I do not currently wear the uniform I am still a United States Marine. I will always do anything in my power to uphold our Corps values and to show other Marines that no matter what we endured in life, sky is the limit. We are warriors,” said Cooney. "We survived some of the worse situations and if we can do that, we can do anything.”