2011-11-10 / News

Air Force pilot will speak at Veterans Day ceremony

BY KEN SHANE

Bruce Livingston is the commander of the Jamestown post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. His 30-year military career included service in Word War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Livingston has chosen Lt. Col. John Cooper to speak at this year’s Veterans Day ceremony in Jamestown.

Cooper, on active duty with the United States Air Force, is currently studying at the Naval War College in Newport, and living with his family in Jamestown. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School before attending the Air Force Academy, where he graduated in 1991.

When he finished pilot training at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, Cooper learned that the military-forced drawdowns that were occurring due to the end of the Cold War meant that he wasn’t needed as a pilot just yet. “They told me to go do something else for three years,” he laughed. “So I was a security forces officer for the next three years.”

Cooper finally got back to flying when his stint with the security forces in southern California ended, and he was transferred to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb. He remained at Offut for eight years, flying the line and fulfi lling a number of different roles.

From 2003 to 2006, Cooper returned to the Air Force Academy as a commander of a cadet squadron. “There is a office and two enlisted folks in each of the cadet squadrons at the academy to kind of shepherd them through the four years there,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s three years back at the academy included one year of training in leadership counseling, and two years of actual command. In 2006, Cooper returned to Offutt as deputy commander for operations of the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron before becoming chief of safety, and then a squadron commander.

The next role for Cooper was as deputy commander for operations for the 55th Operations Group. The group is a component of the 55th Wing, which is the only Air Force wing with continuous operations, maintenance and aircraft presence in the United States Central Command area of responsibility. “It is a group in the Air Force that is comprised of 12 different squadrons,” Cooper said. After two years in that job, Cooper came to this area to attend the Naval War College.

“The war college is a year-long master’s program,” he said. “There is a senior and a junior course. Basically the juniors are majors and above, and the seniors are colonels.” Cooper said that each of the services have their own war college.

Cooper said that his courseware is in strategic thought and joint operations. He added that it focuses on the operational level of war, which is senior level management of military operations, and how that intertwines with all facets of national power from diplomatic to economic.

Cooper and his family have only lived in Jamestown since August, but they have enjoyed their time here so far. “This is a good place,” Cooper said. “I think Jamestown has really vaulted to the top of our list of places to retire.”

Although Cooper’s course of study at the war college will end in June of next year, he is unsure of what his next assignment will be, although he will definitely remain in the Air Force. “I’ll either go to a command or to a staff job,” he said. “Those are the two most likely scenarios.”

Cooper has spent considerable time overseas during his career. “Essentially the RC-135 is a reconnaissance platform,” he said. “One of the great things about the reconnaissance world is that it’s never practice. It’s always real, in peace or wartime. The motto of the 55th Wing is, ‘The Sun Never Sets on the Fighting 55th’ – and that’s literally true. There are squadrons deployed worldwide from Japan to the United States, to England, Greece and the Middle East. We constantly have aircraft in the air.”

During Cooper’s time in the 55th Wing, he was deployed constantly. “Even the decade before 9/11 wasn’t what I would call peaceful,” Cooper said. “There was Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch to contain Iraq, which was still actively fomenting trouble in the region.”

“Then there was Bosnia, Serbia and all of that in the ’90s,” Cooper added. “Those operations culminated in the air strikes against Serbia, but an active air operation to contain Serbia and limit ethnic cleansing was conducted for years prior to that. I was involved with all that.”

One of the courses that Cooper is taking at the war college is on Vietnam, and one of his assignments for that course was to do an interview with a Vietnam veteran. After asking around, Cooper was led to Bruce Livingston who had served there.

“His career was pretty phenomenal,” Cooper said. “He dropped out of high school in 1944 and enlisted in the Marine Corps to go off to WWII.”

Cooper is looking forward to his Veterans Day speech in Jamestown. “I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what to say,” he said. “Veterans Day is about remembering the service and sacrifice of our folks all over the world in every conflict. What I’ve been thinking about most is what do service and sacrifice mean, and I’ll be discussing some examples of what it means to serve in the military.”

Cooper said that much of the time the focus is on negative circumstances, but during his military tenure he has seen that service is enriching as much as it is demanding.

“I’m hoping to impart some personal experiences about what it means to serve,” he said.

Cooper is well aware of the role that Jamestown has played in the history of this country. “If you think about the history of Jamestown, it’s pretty unique in that it’s been right in the center of a lot of American history, from Washington’s Continental Army marching down Route 1, to the War of 1812, which was probably pretty interesting around here with British frigates prowling the waters.”

The meaning of the 150 flags that will be raised on Veterans Day is not lost on Cooper. “The 150 flags that are going to be raised are all essentially casket flags of veterans,” Cooper said. “Jamestown has done as much to contribute to the nation’s defense as any town in America.”

The flags will be raised on Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 a.m., and the commemoration ceremony – including Cooper’s speech – will begin at 11 a.m.

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