Erwinville resident Josh Cooley, owner of Cooley’s Diesel, LLC in Port Allen, works on semi trucks and three-quarter one-ton trucks all day.
In fact, he’s quickly become one of the top diesel engine mechanics in the area, as he’s obtained knowledge throughout his years to build programs to help sustain the rigors of diesel engine trucks, and help give them more power.
But Cooley, 29, doesn’t only help give more power to big rigs - with his involvement in the Wounded Warriors Project and Wounded Warriors Program, he helps strengthen soldiers who have been wounded in battle, empowering them to live life outside of the military.
Upon sitting down with Cooley, many wouldn’t know he was a six-year U.S. Army veteran, wounded in Iraq.
He doesn’t like to talk about it.
“I was disabled in Iraq.” That’s about all he’ll say on the subject.
But that simple statement speaks volumes to other disabled veterans who see his thriving business and see his life with his wife and three sons.
“A lot of veterans have a real hard time when they come home, and that’s what I try to do – I help,” Cooley said, adding that when he returned stateside it took him nearly a year to bounce back to what could be considered a life of normalcy.
“I was wounded permanently, and I tried to stay in [the Army] for a while, but the injury was just too bad. I couldn’t manage it. It tore me down for a while,” he said. “I was sent back stateside. I hadn’t seen the United States in over a year - it was very weird. All my friends that I usually came back and forth with were still (in Iraq). I sat up in the house and didn’t do much. I slowly got back into it, but it took about a year.”
Cooley said that a childhood stint in West Baton Rouge and the fact that he had family living nearby caused him and his family to move to the area after his injury sent him to the U.S.
“I was here as a child and enjoyed it, so I wanted to come back,” he said, adding that the move to WBR began his rehabilitation back into civilian life. “I never really felt like I was back to normal until I moved here and I was away from the military and I was forced to make a living. I just dove back into it.”
Before the military, Cooley attended an automotive trade school in South Texas. With an interest in automotive engines from childhood, he decided to focus on diesel engines after realizing diesel engine mechanics were making a considerably larger amount of money than automotive mechanics.
Once in the military, he became a mechanic, working on military vehicles and tanks.
“I started out as a mechanic, I got promoted to a non-commissioned officer sergeant and eventually I did work as an instructor,” he said.
After his period in the Army, naturally, his proficiency as a mechanic is what he fell back on once he got back on his feet after moving to West Baton Rouge.
Cooley said he printed out a large stack of resumés and began applying for positions. He quickly began working again, which soon turned into starting his own business.
“I started a business doing field service for different trucking companies. We’d go to their shop and diagnose and repair what they needed us to repair,” he said. “We got so busy and we had so many customers that asked us if we would ever open a shop; they said they’d send us work.”
Cooley and a friend, Joshua Hulseman, whom he had met in Iraq, decided to pursue their individual childhood dreams of owning a business and opened Cooley’s Diesel, LLC. Though they met in Iraq, the men would eventually become brothers-in-law as Cooley married Hulseman’s sister.
They opened their shop in Port Allen, on Lafiton Lane, in September 2013, though since their opening, Cooley bought Hulseman’s share and is the sole owner.
Cooley said that coming back to the United States after being overseas in the military is like starting life all over again.
“It’s very scary getting out of the military – you’re told what to, when to do it, and how to do it, and you get out and it’s nothing,” he explained. “And some people don’t know how to roll their military skills over into civilian skills. What I worked on in the military was totally different.”
He said that he had no means of making money once he was no longer in the military, which scared him even more.
“I probably could’ve collected welfare. The training I had was good training, but it was hard to find a use for it in the civilian world,” he said, adding that the issue is the same with many soldiers who become wounded overseas.
Cooley said that he decided to help the Wounded Warrior Project and Wounded Warrior Program because he understands the struggles disabled veterans have.
“I’ve gone and I’ve talked to veterans getting out of the military, kind of giving them some hope,” he said. “I was a member of the Wounded Warrior Project, and I had a case worker and I just said, ‘hey, I’m at a point in my life where I can do something.’ I’ve been extremely fortunate compared to most veterans.”
Cooley’s passion for engines is apparent, but his passion for helping others is something more – it’s Josh Cooley.
He may not see it as a big deal, but because he was in the same situation, Cooley understands that lending a hand to a disabled veteran, or even lending an ear, could mean the world to that person.
“You’re basically starting your life over when you get out of the military,” he said. “Being able to talk to someone who’s made that transition, it helps.”