AZTEC — Aztec residents packed Koogler Middle School's gymnasium for its fourth annual Veteran's Appreciation Ceremony Wednesday evening.

The ceremony gathered veterans from around the community and honored Cpl. Michael D. Cook, a Marine killed in action on Feb. 22, 1991, while serving with middle school teacher Eric Stovall in the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion during the Persian Gulf war.

Stovall recalled their service in Iraq.

He got the call to deploy on Nov. 25, 1990.

"A lot of us didn't see Christmas," Stovall said. "We spent it somewhere over the Atlantic. We entered into the ground war in February 1991."

Cook is just one example of the sacrifices made by the men and women of the U.S. military, Stovall said.

"I think about (Cook) every year," he said. "This is who we call a hero. He made the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of others."

Koogler Middle School Principal Rick Espinoza asked the audience to recognize the service of Stovall and two other middle school staff members' service, Teresa Cash and Wayne Krinke.

"We're just going to honor our veterans," Espinoza said. "The freedoms we have today are due to the sacrifices of these men and women."

Army National Guard Maj. Anthony Lopez, executive officer of the 226th Military Police Battalion and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, spoke to the audience.

"The support for the military in the Four Corners is amazing," he said. "It makes everything worth it.


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Lopez served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, a time when improvised explosive devices were becoming popular among insurgency forces, he said.

"I've heard people question why we were there," he said. "But to me ... helping people who can't help themselves, that are living in fear, oppressed, that's what being an American is."

The ceremony opened at 6:30 p.m. with a drum cadence performed by the Koogler Middle School Band. The school's choir sang "America."

A short presentation on the history of Armistice Day and Veterans Day by Laci Phillips was followed by the presentation of the colors by Aztec High School JROTC Cadets. The middle school's JROTC Cadets carried the American flag into the gymnasium.

"It's a celebration," said retired Army Col. Berris Samples, Senior Army Instructor at Aztec High School. "Just to have a celebration, even if veterans aren't present, honors them. Every day is Veterans Day if you think about it.

Samples was inspired to see how to community came together Wednesday evening.

"The whole school joins together to make this happen," he said.