WASHINGTON — Navy Capt. Brad Cooper seemed at ease seated in an ornate room in the White House’s East Wing, surrounded by memorabilia from past events. He gazed at a wooden rack of military coins across the room, taking a moment to contemplate my question about his mission there.
Cooper recently became the executive director of the White House’s “Joining Forces” campaign, a military family support initiative led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. This nationwide campaign calls on all sectors of society — from businesses and communities to nonprofit organizations and individuals — to rally in support of troops, veterans and their families. His mission, he told me, is to help build a bridge between military families and the people seeking to support them. And like the first lady and Dr. Biden, he’s passionate about building this support, he said.
“I want to focus on the extraordinary [nature] of military families and veterans who have been asked to do a lot over the course of a decade of war,” he said, “and bridge that with the extraordinary capacity of the nation to lend a hand.”
This is more than just a job; it’s personal, Cooper said.
With 10 deployments and 27 moves over the course of his own and his father’s Army career, he said, he’s more than familiar with the challenges military families face. His two children have attended 10 different schools. And he frequently asks his wife, his high school sweetheart, for the military spouse perspective.
He’s confident Joining Forces can help ease some of the challenges military families face, he said, from the frequent deployments and moves to education and employment challenges.
The first lady and Dr. Biden already have made inroads to that end, the captain said. Companies have stepped up to hire spouses and veterans, and the Chamber of Commerce is hosting spouse and veteran career fairs across the nation.
Cooper said he also recently met with the Council of Governors, and they identified three issues in which states can make a difference: professional licensing for spouses, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, and job credentialing for transitioning service members.
The council committed unanimously to doing everything it could to move those pieces forward, he said.
Along with leaders and companies, I asked Cooper how individuals can help.
He responded with a quote from the first lady: “Do what you do best.” Business owners can hire military spouses, universities can connect with veterans, and individuals can help by mowing a lawn or watching a military parent’s kids, he said. “It’s a pretty broad spectrum, and in between are thousands of opportunities.”
While they may not know exactly how, Cooper said, it’s evident people want to help. He cited the huge success of the Operation Honor Cards program, which encourages people to volunteer for community service to honor the service of military families. In just a few months, people have pledged nearly 7 million hours and served nearly 3.5 million hours. The goal, he noted, was 2.5 million.
The first lady often says everyone can do something, Cooper said. “What that is, in doing something, is the bridge that needs to get built,” he said. “And the great piece is it’s our bridge to build.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)