Recruiter on serving: ‘It’s very rewarding’

He didn’t recruit his own sons. Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Cooper left that to his colleagues at the U.S. Army’s Lynnwood Career Center.

His sons, Jeffrey and Jay Cooper, hardly needed a sales pitch to join up. They followed their father’s example of military life.

“They grew up with it. The Army, to them, was very normal. It was their own decision,” said Cooper, who at 56 has been told he’s the oldest Army recruiter in the county.

The Mill Creek man said he asked his sons, both Jackson High School graduates, to think about their choice, “to make sure it’s what they wanted to do.”

“I didn’t do their paperwork. My colleagues put their packets together,” he said. “But of course I’m their recruiter. I’m their dad. They’re the only two sons I have.”

His older son took an uncommon route to the Army. Jeffrey Cooper, 22, served in the Coast Guard Reserve. In May, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the California Maritime Academy. “He saw the light and found the Army,” the father joked about Jeffrey, who is about to leave for the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga.

Army Pfc. Jay Cooper, 20, finished Infantry School at Fort Benning in May. He is now with the Infantry 10th Mountain Division at Fort Polk, La.

Before this Veterans Day weekend, Douglas Cooper reflected on steering other people’s sons and daughters into the Army or Army Reserve. He has shared with parents that his own children are serving.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “I like talking to young people in high school. And I talk to a lot of college graduates, people really struggling to find their places. Many of the parents, I think they’re surprised to meet me. I show them pictures of my sons.”

Cooper said he sometimes asks people to mentally “change the channel” if their image of Army life is “going down the streets of Baghdad looking for bad guys.”

He tells parents there’s “a whole other Army Reserve, it isn’t all that shock wave depicted on TV.”

“I start with my Army story, where it’s taken me in my life,” he said.

His military duty, some of which he called “back-office paperwork,” was punctuated by a long civilian career. Cooper joined the Army in 1976 after high school in Pennsylvania. He was an active-duty soldier until 1980.

Trained by the Army as a lineman, he worked for AT&T, which later became Comcast. He stayed 29 years with the communications company, which transferred him from Philadelphia to Seattle. As a manager of technical operations with Comcast, he was responsible for the city of Seattle’s cable networks.

While working and raising his boys, Cooper was also in the Army Reserve. “Most of my career in the military was as a reservist,” he said. In 2009, he was mobilized as a reservist to teach classes “to get everybody ready for deployment.”

After retiring from Comcast, Cooper looked into the Army’s Active Guard Reserve program. Now with active-duty status, he works full time recruiting for the Army National Guard and Reserve.

He visits campuses, including Edmonds Community College. At Jackson High School, he taught a short course covering America’s founding fathers.

“I believe I am the oldest recruiter in the U.S. Army,” Cooper said. Mandatory retirement age in the Army Reserve is 62.

Cooper sees military experience as a solid first step in life.

“Raising your children, they pass through phases — infants to toddlers to adolescents. The hardest part you don’t see coming is when they get out of high school. If you don’t get a good solid step right out of school, you can really sink,” he said. “With the military, they’ve got that piece of concrete, that critical first step.”

The Reserves also help young people pay for college. One memory that stands out is talking with a young man who was working in pouring rain as a roadside sign-holder.

“He was dressed up in a Statue of Liberty outfit,” Cooper said. “I pulled over, introduced myself, and said I wanted to tell him about the Army Reserves,” Cooper said. “He is no longer holding that sign.”

Cooper said the man’s goal had been to attend culinary school, which he is now doing while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Along with the benefits of military service come risks. Ours is still a nation at war.

“It’s something to take seriously,” Cooper said. “But you’re not walking around with a sense of fear. You believe in the American way of life. It’s an honor supporting our beliefs and values. I look back on my life, I never regretted it.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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