Joe Cooper: Career rooted in command, control, and communication

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jayden Ford
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations

A man stands solemnly in a quiet room and watches as a Soldier diligently pieces together ribbons onto a rack for a fallen service member. As he scans the room in
observance, he notices a nameplate ready to be placed on the pristine uniform. The name is very familiar to him — because he was the one who received the mission notification a day earlier. As things come full circle in his head, he realizes this is where he wants to be.

Joe Cooper, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations command, control, and communication training manager, has served in many positions in multiple branches of service — all of which eventually led him to work at AFMAO.

Cooper’s interest in joining the military stemmed from generations of service with family members serving in every branch of the Department of Defense.

“My father served in the Navy, my grandfather and uncle served in the Army and I have cousins who served in the Marine Corps and Air Force,” Cooper said. “Growing up, I learned about their experiences and wanted to serve my country in the same way that they did.”

After enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve, Cooper found himself at the beginning of his career in command, control, and communication working as a field radio operator with the Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“As a field radio operator, we would set up communications by setting up antennas, running cables to radios and setting up the tactical operations center,” Cooper said. “This allowed pertinent information about our operation to be communicated to us, and then we would relay the information to those making operational decisions.”

While Cooper served as a Marine Corps reservist, he also served his local community as a police officer and detective at the Wilmington Police Department and as an officer at the University of Delaware.

“I spent my first five years as a patrol officer where I responded to calls and drove the streets watching for criminal activity,” said Cooper. “I spent the next two years as a detective investigating crimes and then transferred over to the university where I stayed for another seven years.”

Cooper completed his first enlistment — leaving the Marine Corps reserve while continuing his police work.

In 2015, his former supervisor and colleague from the Wilmington Police Department Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Ragonese, then the superintendent at the 512th Contingency Response Squadron, reached out and informed him there were some openings in the squadron that he thought Cooper would be a good fit for.

“Ragonese mentioned to me that there were several vacancies at the unit, and he asked me if I would be interested in enlisting into the Air Force Reserve, and at the time, I didn't know anything about the Air Force,” Cooper said. “He explained the mission of contingency response, the training involved, the requirements and the professional experience I would gain. After our conversation, I did some research and after learning about the missions they were a part of, it sounded awesome to me, so I enlisted into the Air Force.”

Part of Cooper’s training as a command and control operations Airman required him to do a seasoning tour at an active-duty command post, which he completed at Dover Air Force Base.

It was during his seasoning tour he was introduced to the AFMAO mission.

“We had received an inbound mission notification from AFMAO for four fallen soldiers,” Cooper said. “Around the same time as part of our training, we received an orientation of AFMAO where I observed an Army specialist putting together a ribbon rack for a uniform that was laid out. I recognized the name on the uniform from the news and realized it was for one of the soldiers who were coming here to Dover AFB. At that point, it all connected for me, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it in some way.”

Cooper continued pursuing opportunities in his reserve career — being tasked to improve and then run the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing’s operation center, setting up an operations center at Philadelphia International Airport for Operations Allies Refuge and Allies Welcome, and a one-of-a-kind deployment for his career field with the 305th Combat Rescue Squadron from Davis- Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

“The 512th CRS, the people I work with there, and the leadership have provided me with a lot of opportunities,” Cooper said. “I am thankful for the relationships I have developed and all the opportunities and experiences I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of which have enabled me to be where I am today.”

These opportunities would be exactly what led him to being a fit for the C3 team at AFMAO.

“We wanted someone that could hit the ground running and immediately have an impact on our Training and Emergency Management programs,” said Eric Merryman, AFMAO C3 manager. “We felt like we found that person while interviewing Joe because he was able to relate his previous positions to what we do here and even had a plan for how he could improve our day-to-day operations.”

Now as the C3 training manager, Cooper uses his prior knowledge from his years of command and control experience to develop training plans for deployed services Airmen who are not formally trained in this area of expertise.

“We are dealing with Airmen from a variety of different backgrounds,” Cooper said. “I try to accumulate all of my experiences to provide them the best training possible while making them feel like they are being heard, understood and valued.”