Navy Captain Leads ‘Joining Forces’ Campaign

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2011 — Navy Capt. Brad Coop­er is third-gen­er­a­tion mil­i­tary, but unlike most of his fel­low offi­cers, he doesn’t work on a mil­i­tary instal­la­tion or aboard a ship.

Navy Capt. Bradley Coop­er dis­cuss­es his role as the new exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Join­ing Forces mil­i­tary fam­i­ly sup­port cam­paign dur­ing an inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice at the White House, Aug. 25, 2011.
DOD pho­to by Lin­da Hosek
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Cooper’s office is tucked away in the East Wing of the White House. Each day he heads down halls lined with black-framed pho­tos of the first lady on recent trips, and past rooms filled with mem­o­ra­bil­ia from past pres­i­den­tial events. Cooper’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in the civil­ian-dom­i­nat­ed White House echoes his mis­sion there: to help in build­ing a bridge between mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and the peo­ple seek­ing to sup­port them. As the new exec­u­tive direc­tor of the White House’s “Join­ing Forces” cam­paign — cham­pi­oned by First Lady Michelle Oba­ma and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden — it’s Cooper’s job to ral­ly nation­al sup­port from all sec­tors of soci­ety to hon­or and sup­port ser­vice mem­bers, vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies.

“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 in an inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice, “and bridge that with the extra­or­di­nary capac­i­ty of the nation to lend a hand.”

This soft-spo­ken offi­cer brings a life­time of expe­ri­ence to the job. He grew up in a mil­i­tary fam­i­ly — his father and grand­fa­ther both served in the Army — and he now has a wife and two chil­dren of his own. He’s com­mand­ed a guid­ed mis­sile destroy­er and worked for senior mil­i­tary lead­ers at the Pen­ta­gon.

He’s also served 10 deploy­ments and has moved a whop­ping 27 times in the course of his own career and his father’s. His chil­dren, he said, have each attend­ed 10 dif­fer­ent schools.

As a result, he’s inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the chal­lenges mil­i­tary fam­i­lies face, he said, from the fre­quent moves and deploy­ments to the career and edu­ca­tion chal­lenges.

“I’ve been there as a kid, and under­stand as a par­ent,” he said. “The chal­lenge is the nation has asked so much of [mil­i­tary fam­i­lies] over the past 10 years, in par­tic­u­lar, the tem­po that’s been asked,” he added. “That’s where the chal­lenge real­ly resides.”

Join­ing Forces is intend­ed to ease some of the bur­den for mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and vet­er­ans, he explained, with a focus on pub­lic aware­ness, employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and well­ness.

The first lady and Biden launched the nation­al ini­tia­tive with great fan­fare in April, and since that time, have made great inroads into these areas, he not­ed.

In late June, Biden and Deb­o­rah Mullen, wife of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, launched the Mil­i­tary Spouse Employ­ment Pro­gram to expand career oppor­tu­ni­ties for mil­i­tary spous­es world­wide, and to rec­og­nize the skills and tal­ents they bring to the employ­ment table. Two months lat­er, 72 com­pa­nies have 43,000 jobs on the Web, and anoth­er 200 com­pa­nies are com­ing in behind to make com­mit­ments, the cap­tain said.

Com­pa­nies are step­ping up to hire vet­er­ans as well, he said. For exam­ple, Sie­mans com­mit­ted to hir­ing 300 vet­er­ans and spous­es at the Join­ing Forces roll­out. The com­pa­ny reached its goal in two months, and announced it would hire 150 more.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the Cham­ber of Com­merce has com­mit­ted to hold­ing 100 spouse and vet­er­an career fairs over the course of a year, Coop­er said, and hun­dreds of peo­ple have been hired as a result of that com­mit­ment. Dozens of oth­er com­pa­nies are mak­ing sim­i­lar employ­ment com­mit­ments, he added.

“A lot of that speaks to a patri­ot­ic dimen­sion, but I also think … it’s good busi­ness sense,” he said. “This is a tal­ent­ed group — vet­er­ans and spous­es — and that should be a com­pelling argu­ment of why you do it.”

Com­pa­nies also are help­ing with cre­den­tial­ing and train­ing to help in facil­i­tat­ing the path to employ­ment, Coop­er not­ed, cit­ing AT&T as an exam­ple. The com­pa­ny has com­mit­ted to offer­ing infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy cre­den­tial­ing to 10,000 vet­er­ans over the next two years, he said.

Coop­er said he recent­ly spoke 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.

Job licens­ing remains a big issue for mil­i­tary spous­es, who often have to start from scratch on a license when they move to anoth­er state, Coop­er not­ed. “This is a big deal, with almost 40 per­cent of spous­es who are full-time employ­ees being in some sort of a pro­fes­sion with a license,” he said.

The edu­ca­tion com­pact, which eas­es tran­si­tions between schools for mil­i­tary chil­dren, encom­pass­es 39 out of 50 states, he not­ed, but the goal is to get all of the states on board. “This is impact­ing my child and chil­dren of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple,” he said. “It’s time to do it, and the first lady is a great voice to push this for­ward.”

The coun­cil com­mit­ted unan­i­mous­ly to doing every­thing it could to move those pieces for­ward, Coop­er said. “In a very pos­i­tive way, it speaks to what we’re try­ing to do with Join­ing Forces,” he added.

The first lady, he not­ed, often says the initiative’s impact needs to be felt at a per­son­al lev­el.

“What impacts peo­ple is employ­ment, jobs, health and well-being, and your child’s edu­ca­tion,” he said. “We’re hit­ting these areas to make it per­son­al.”

Since they launched Join­ing Forces, Oba­ma and Biden have hit the road to spread their mes­sage of mil­i­tary fam­i­ly sup­port nation­wide, and Coop­er recent­ly joined their trav­els. This sum­mer, he accom­pa­nied the first lady to Fayet­teville, S.C., for the film­ing of an “Extreme Makeover: Home Edi­tion” episode fea­tur­ing a Navy vet­er­an who hous­es home­less female vet­er­ans.

He also trav­eled with the first lady and Dr. Biden to New Hamp­shire for a mil­i­tary fam­i­ly cook­out and with the first lady to Naval Sta­tion Oceana in Vir­ginia Beach, Va., to attend a screen­ing of “Har­ry Pot­ter and the Death­ly Hal­lows Part 2” along with hun­dreds of mil­i­tary fam­i­ly mem­bers.

The “Extreme Makeover” trip, Coop­er not­ed, was a great exam­ple of Join­ing Forces at work — from the 3,000 peo­ple who vol­un­teered to help build the home to the peo­ple who stood in the scorch­ing heat for hours to sup­port the home­own­er vet­er­an. On each of their trips, Coop­er said, the first lady and Biden took time to talk to mil­i­tary fam­i­lies as well as to peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty. Peo­ple often ask what they can do to help mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, he said, and the first lady usu­al­ly answers, “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, Coop­er point­ed out. “It’s a pret­ty broad spec­trum, and in between are thou­sands of oppor­tu­ni­ties,” he added.

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.

“I think it’s indica­tive of where the coun­try is in terms of what the chair­man [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] calls the sea of good­will,” Coop­er said. “It man­i­fests in dif­fer­ent ways.”

Mil­i­tary fam­i­lies pride them­selves on their self-suf­fi­cien­cy, he not­ed, but still, they need help. “Let’s lever­age the extra­or­di­nary capac­i­ty of the nation to give help,” he said.

Cooper’s ser­vice at the White House is tem­po­rary, but he said he hopes the Join­ing Forces ini­tia­tive is any­thing but.

“This isn’t a flash in the pan,” he said. “This is about deliv­er­ing atten­tion and focus­ing effort on fam­i­lies and vet­er­ans for the long haul.”

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)

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