Lt. Adam Cote — Focused on Engaging Maine’s Youth in Community Service

Lt. Cote and children near Dahuk, Iraq, 2004. They are outside a school that the 133rd helped to rebuild.

by Ramona du Houx

Without warning, a blast engulfed the mess tent. As the smoke cleared, dead and wounded soldiers of the 133rd Battalion of the Maine Army National Guard could be seen. Immediately guardsmen took action, helping those in need. Lt. Adam Cote managed to escape physical harm, though the memory will be with him the rest of his life. When the suicide bombing took place, he had just stepped in front of a refrigerator, which protected him from the blast.

The 133rd was responsible for rebuilding schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure in the Northern Iraq.

Cote is a lawyer at Pierce Atwood, where his primary focus has been on real estate and energy related matters. As a United States Army reservist in the military police, Adam served from 1997 to 1998 as a member of the Operation Joint Guard/NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he helped apprehend several war criminals wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague (Netherlands).

He later returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina as an energy advisor. "You could see that our presence had a tangible effect," said Cote. "People were interacting with the military, business was thriving and the marketplace was full with people and goods. I don’t see the same future for Iraq. In Bosnia-Herzegovina we helped implement a brokered peace. In Iraq we invaded."

Cote was a platoon leader with the 133rd Engineer Battalion, and served with the Maine Army National Guard in Mosul, Iraq, from March 2004 through March 2005. Proud of the work his unit accomplished, Cote believes in serving your country and has come to the understanding that it is time for U.S. troops to be pulled out in a balanced fashion from Iraq.

"Iraq is in the middle of a civil war. We were successful in Bosnia-Herzegovina because we helped implement the Dayton Peace Accords. Something along those lines is needed in Iraq," said Cote. "Staying the course is not an option."

Cote has always worked with youth when an opportunity arose. In Bosnia-Herzegovina he volunteered, teaching English at a Bosnian-Serb high school. In Iraq, after the 133rd worked on rebuilding a house or school, the structures were empty. Schoolchildren had to sit on floor. The basic necessities to run a school or simple items for households didn’t exist. Troubled by what he saw, worried about the future of Iraq’s youth, Cote created the Adopt an Iraqi Village program, where he coordinated the distribution of donated clothing, school supplies, toys and, household necessities to local villages.

"The Portland Press Herald had a reporter in Iraq when we just started the program and he wrote about it," said Cote. "The response from people in Maine was amazing. Boxes kept on arriving from people who cleaned out the attic; schoolchildren, various clubs ... from everyone," said Cote. "At first we would meet with all the parents and children of a village in advance to discover which items were needed most. Then after a woman wrote in that she thought we needed to give the goods directly to the parents to give them the satisfaction of being able to give their children something, that’s what we did and are still doing."

Cote received two Army Commendation Medals for his service in Iraq. He is still a member of the Maine Army National Guard, serving as an officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps.

Cote frequently speaks at high schools about his experiences and how to become civically involved in the community.

"Getting youth involved in their towns and schools really shows them the value of their democracy," said Cote. "It gives them a foundation that they can take with them."

In February Cote formed the Young Democrats of Maine — ages 18 to 35.

This age group represents the majority of our military who have served in Iraq. In the last election at least 10 million young voters cast ballots on November 7, 2006 — up four percent from the last midterm elections in 2002.

Rock the Vote, a youth group, said young voters favored Democrats by a 22-point margin, enough to decide tight races. In the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives, 22 seats were won by less than two percent of the vote and 18 seats were won by just 5,000 votes or less.

The group will become involved in getting out the vote and other political activities when the time comes. First Cote wants the group to become involved in food drives and community activities.

"You don’t have to be a Democrat. The focus is to get youth involved in their communities, so they can see they can make a difference. What they do with the experience will be up to them," said Cote. "It’s important for youth to understand that their voices are heard, that voting counts, and that America cares about their futures."

Last month Cote announced he will be running for U.S. Congress.