MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- * I got my first job when I was 11 at a little surf shop. I made a dollar an hour plus free pizza. I grew up with pretty much just my mom so this family gave me a job to sort of keep me out of trouble.
* I was never really into conventional sports. Growing up, I did BMX, dirt biking and freestyle. I also skate boarded and I surfed. I did all of those things practically my whole life.
* I also worked making t shirts later on and the next thing you know, I’m making jerseys of my favorite motor cross riders like Jean-Michel Bayle, Jeff Ward and Ricky Johnson. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
* I always thought I was right, and maybe that’s something I never quite got rid of, but I’m at least a lot more patient now.
* I worked for my wife’s dad as a handyman for a camp at United Methodist Church in Mission Hills. I worked a lot with my hands and it was only 10 minutes away from the beach so for a guy like me it was perfect.
* I admired her family so much. I guess you could say her father was kind of like a dad to me but kind of had more of a competitive rivalry. He’s like the master of all trades. He always said that it was good to know a little about a lot of things.
* When I think back, it’s kind of funny. There was this kid in high school named Chris, and he’d always have the high-and-tight and the red poolee jacket and we thought, “Dude, what a dork.” So, I never thought I’d be in the military. I wanted to get in to construction because that’s what my buddies were doing.
* I owe it all to my recruiter, Sgt. Sullivan, and I think my mom for calling him. He chased me down relentlessly. He even called my work and eventually, he finally cornered me and he goes, “Hey! Hey you! You had an appointment with me.” He told me that since I made a commitment to talk to him, that I needed to step up and do that. So, I did. I don’t know what my life would have been like if he hadn’t been so persistent.
* I’m an engineer by trade and initially I joined for the job. I had no idea what the title was but at some point, I really got the Marine part of it and I fell in love with that.
* One of the turning points was probably in my first unit, when I was running up cardiac and they just gave me the guidon and said get up front. I didn’t ask for it and kind of didn’t want it, but they said, “Cooper, get up front with this next to the (Commanding Officer) and I don’t even know how it happened but suddenly, I became the guide for Bravo Company, 3rd (Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.) I thought to myself, “I’m the freakin’ welder. How the hell am I up here in the front of an infantry platoon?” It just hit me like a ton of bricks
* Right around the time I was coming to the end of my first enlistment, a Master Gunnery Sgt. Jana brought be in and said, “Cpl. Cooper, you do a damn good job. You should stick around.” Honestly, I think it was because someone had believed in me that I kept going.
* My mom and my wife were always my biggest supporters. Every enlistment, they told me that they liked what I was doing and how proud they were of me.
* My wife is such a sweetheart and she doesn’t get caught up with rank. Her theory was that she’s not in the Marines; her husband is but she is not. I think that when you get up there in rank, you sort of get caught up in the lifestyle and it’s almost like they are serving in the military too. There’s a way you can balance it all and it’s tough, but now I’m coming home.
* I have a 13-year-old son, an 18-year-old daughter, and a 20-year-old daughter. My 20-year-old is out of the house and she has a son. I got them all into dirt biking from the time they could balance on one. My daughters both did it and my son, Kirby, is actually better than I am now.
*They’re going to be tired of me when I retire and I’m going to be glad. The words stay-at-home dad have actually come up and stay-at-home grandpa.
* Cpl. Cooper certainly wasn’t perfect but I had a good work ethic and a respect for the institution and I didn’t ever mistake what the Marines Corps’ mission was. That was to be ready to fight whenever the nation called and whether that meant you got recalled off your honeymoon to go to Desert Storm or you missed Christmas to go to Somalia it’s just what you had to do.
* The Marine Corps gave me an opportunity to grow up and be a part of something. It’s been a great ride. There have been a few bad days but it has all been worth it.