Family Matters Blog: Navy Captain Leads ‘Joining Forces’

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)