WELCOME BACK, LT. CROOK!
BURLESON – It’s been nine months since U.S. Navy Lt. Valerie Crook of Burleson was deployed to Camp Lemonnierl, a United States Naval Expeditionary Base situated at Djibouti Africa’s Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport.
That’s nine months of helping heal many people of different ages, races, genders, creeds and countries. The lieutenant is an Emergency Room trauma nurse with a sub speciality of psychiatric nursing.
Back at home, she is the ICU manager at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Denton, where she will return to work after taking some leave time to be with her family. (One of the first things she did when returning home was to “turn off” her Facebook while catching up with her loved ones.)
Crook – known to her colleagues and patients as “Mama Bear” because of her authenticity, dedication and compassion – returned home this past week to a bit of fanfare. Altogether, her announcement on social media that she was returning to Burleson generated over 600 responses, including “Likes” and actual written replies.
“Welcome home!” wrote Sarah Rubel Howorth on Facebook
Facebook poster Eric Spear had similar sentiments.
“Can’t wait to have ya home,” he wrote. “Thanks for all you’ve sacrificed being gone!”
Indeed, the 42-year-old said she missed her family incredibly while in Africa. But she said she treasures the experience, which gave her a true chance to serve her country.
“When you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help others – and for them to see the love that America has for others – you take it,” she said.
Although incredibly busy in the hot, hot portion of Africa, Crook said she also gave much of her time as a volunteer.
She helped bring supplies to a local baby orphanage. While there, she assisted the caregivers there in taking care of – providing love and support to – the children trusted to their care.
She also assisted the Army veterinarian station there with the military working dogs.
“It wasn’t part of my mission, I just volunteered,” she said, “I helped them use some of the equipment and with some surgeries to make sure they were mission ready.”
Additionally, she visited Germany as part of the Warrior Transition program for four days before coming home. That program gives those returning from combat areas the opportunity to discuss their experiences, get rest and see historic sites while getting acclimated to daily life.
“It’s an amazing program,” she said.
Her service did not go unnoticed. While deployed, she received a total of seven awards, including Army Achievement and Navy Achievement medals. She also became certified in sexual assault prevention and response. Additionally, she received recognition from the U.S. Embassy Department of State for excellence in nursing care.
Plus? She got to hang out with some really cool famous people who were passing through. This includes Sugar Ray Leonard, Jr., Country music singer Clark Hill and members of the Clark Hill Band, and Chef Robert Irving from the Food Network. She photographed her time with them copiously.
Originally from Salisbury, Maryland, Crook has been in the Navy for six years and a nurse for 10. She has worked as an ER trauma nurse for Texas Health Resources in areas such as Cleburne, Dallas and Denton. During her career, she has responded to tornadoes and helped work the Ebola crisis in Dallas a few years ago.
“Texas Health Resources is an amazing company and incredibly supportive of the military,” Crook said. “They have been supportive of me the entire time I was gone and made is possible for me to return as an ICU manager after I take leave.”
There are probably a million different stories and anecdotes stemming from the lieutenant’s military adventure. But the only one she was interested in focusing on this week was the story of how she is reconnecting with her beloved children.
Valerie Crook’s 10-year-old son Seth can be seen on tape greeting with hugs and kisses and tears in the luggage area of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
It was an extraordinary moment for both of them. Seth wipes away his tears and was all smiles as his mother held him close and spoke to him quietly.
Her children also include Victoria Parsons, 17, David Parsons, 21, who lives in California, and her stepson, Gage Creek, 21.
Reuniting with her beautiful young daughter was as emotional an experience as kissing and hugging on Seth, Crook said.
There were many tears then as well.
“Oh yes,” Crook said. “Oh, yes.”
Lt. Crook can be found on Twitter, @ValerieCrook.