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Recently, cooperative communications, in the form of having each node equipped with a single antenna and exploit spatial diversity via some relay node's antenna, is shown to be a promising approach to increase data rates in wireless networks. Under this communication paradigm, the choice of a relay node (among a set of available relay nodes) is critical in the overall network performance. In this paper, we study the relay node assignment problem in a cooperative ad hoc network environment, where multiple source-destination pairs compete for the same pool of relay nodes in the network. Our objective is to assign the available relay nodes to different source-destination pairs so as to maximize the minimum data rate among all pairs. The main contribution of this paper is the development of an optimal polynomial time algorithm, called ORA, that achieves this objective. A novel idea in this algorithm is a “linear marking” mechanism, which maintains linear complexity of each iteration. We give a formal proof of optimality for ORA and use numerical results to demonstrate its capability.