John Scocos and wife Kelly with baby. (photo: Jackie Johnson) Thousands of Wisconsin soldiers are serving overseas, and now the head of the state Veterans Department is officially en route to Iraq.

After getting his orders for deployment in mid-February, Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos is now on his way to Baghdad. The 51-year-old married father of three had two months to prepare for deployment and say good-bye to family. “I guess there's never enough time to say good-bye to your family, but I think I'm as prepared as I can be.”

Sporting a short, military-approved haircut, the state's top veterans official got on a plane Sunday, heading first to Texas for military training. Scocos is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve with almost 27 years of service in active and reserve duty, but he says this is the most extended time he's been away from his family.

The Secretary says his 4-year-old son has been pretty antsy lately, his 15-year-old daughter has been asking a lot of questions, his wife is being strong, and there's the baby. “It's a difficult thing. I know my one-year-old … will hopefully remember me.”

Scocos, who is a transportation officer, stresses that he's honored to serve his country, just as generations before him have served, including his father, who was a prisoner of war during WWII. The Secretary is looking forward to getting a firsthand look at what thousands of Wisconsin men and women are experiencing in this current war in Iraq. Scocos hopes his experience will help expand the awareness of the state Veterans Department in assisting our veterans and their families. 

“More than anything I just want to get on the ground and do the best I can to serve my country just like all the other citizens have done in Wisconsin and across the nation. … and come back and put those tasks to hopefully supporting our veterans.”

Scocos says he's been wrapping up his personal affairs, doing a lot of reading, brushing up on his skills, and getting mentally prepared to serve in a war zone, but as for his physical readiness, Scocos jokingly says it's a little too late for that! However, he admits to doing some exercise. “Well, I've been getting up early in the morning and working out, but I think the biggest change will be the heat.”

Interestingly, Scocos says he's been getting a lot of response to the news of his deployment. He says they've been hearing from family, past friends, and even complete strangers. “Well it's been overwhelming. I really feel humbled in a way because a lot of people I haven't talked to in 25 years, old army friends.”

Secretary Scocos's tour could keep him in the Middle East for up to a year. The Department's Deputy Secretary Bill Kloster is serving as acting Secretary in his absence. Scocos is believed to be the first Veterans Secretary in our state ever to be called to active duty, and the highest ranking state official to serve in combat duty while still in office. (Pronounce: Scocos)

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report (2:53 MP3)

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