WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Most Saturday mornings, you’ll find Greg Cole selling his famous ‘Little Bits’ cookies at the Kansas Grown Farmers Market, but it turns out his love of baking stems from his time in the service.

As an army recruiter, Cole mentored hundreds of young soldiers. Years later, he would take those skills and translate them to the world of culinary arts.

“Everyone here knows me as the ‘Cookie Man,’ and very few people know that I was a retired military, 25 years,” Cole said.

For Cole, seeing his uncle return from the Vietnam War inspired the then-11th grader to join.

“When he walked into the house in that uniform, and I saw him in his full regalia, I said, ‘That is what I want to do,’ and I immediately signed up for the military,” Cole said.

The year was 1975: a time when troops were being removed from Vietnam. Unlike his uncle, Cole would be sent to another location in East Asia.

“I told my recruiter, I said, ‘I would like to do that piece,’ but he said, ‘No, we’re not, we’re moving troops out — how about going to Korea?’, and I said, ‘OK, well, then, I will do Korea,'” Cole said.

Cole was stationed in Chuncheon, South Korea, about 11 miles outside the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

“We were very close to the border, which was one of the reasons why he had to constantly maintain communications and listen in to communications that was going on between both countries,” Cole said.

As a radio/teletype operator with top-secret clearance, Cole would decode and send messages transmitted from North and South Korea back to base 24 hours a day.

“It was a constant alert status for us mentally and physically,” Cole said. “We would stay in the field for long lengths of time: from 15 days to 45 days being on top of a hill just listening to traffic with no one else there but myself and my sergeant.”

Many of the messages tracked the movement of military personnel from across the border.

“Movement of where they would strategically place soldiers, on the North Korea side, and oftentimes letting people know, or, or sending out messages that there would be an opportunity for them to transfer their equipment to new locations,” Cole said.

The terrain Cole and his sergeant would stay in to listen in on communications was high up in the cold mountains.

“Spot elevation 11-47 … I will never forget that as long as I live,” Cole said. “The elevation was so high that we actually lived in the cloud — you could look down on one side of that mountain and see North Korea, and walk about 500 feet and see the other side, which was South Korea.”

Cole said the equipment he used to track those communications was in need of constant care.

“We had multiple antenna units … we had to make sure that our equipment was always at the ready, making sure that it wouldn’t overheat,” Cole said.

Cole would track communications in South Korea for 13 months. After being transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, Cole says he knew immediately what his next step would be.

“I wanted to be an army recruiter to give other people the opportunity to join this magnificent force of ours, and I ended up staying on recruiting duty for greater than 18 years,” Cole said. “It was one of the best things that I could have ever done because it transcended my life into being the person that I really wanted to be.”

His time recruiting young people inspired him to become an educator. He is not part of the culinary arts program for Butler Community College, where he also received his inspiration to start his cookie company.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.