Born and raised in the District of Columbia, Col. Richard J. Cooper Jr. can look back on a lifetime of contributing to his local community and Civil Air Patrol’s National Capital Wing. He’s focused on giving back as a volunteer by helping provide youth development, leadership, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
Cooper has participated in the D.C. National Guard Youth Challenge Academy twice a year since 2015. He routinely addresses young students and instills a sense of self-worth and motivation. He’s also a familiar face at career fairs and student forums at Archbishop John Carroll, Cardoza, and Ballou high schools and St. Augustine Elementary School. He is a role model, especially to students of color.
“I think having role models like me offers the cadets a greater view of life challenges,” Cooper said. “We can act as pathfinders for the cadets with our life experiences.
“Also, with some of our connections, we can help the cadets obtain some of their objectives.”
Cooper, 82, attributes his success to a strong family unit; the support of friends, relatives, and neighbors; and a sound education. His schooling began in segregated Catholic elementary and middle schools.
He then attended the first integrated Catholic high school in D.C., where he ran track. He was recently inducted into the Archbishop John Carroll High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
As an active CAP member in the National Capital Wing for more than 30 years, Cooper has filled many leadership positions, including service as the wing commander from 2009-2013.
He has commanded the Tuskegee Composite Squadron since April 2021.
His focus is on youth development through Civil Air Patrol’s cadet and aerospace programs and as a pilot. He flew disaster assessment missions after hurricanes Sandy and Florence, has conducted numerous search and rescue missions, and is credited with one find.
He has also participated in more than 20 regional flight academies allowing CAP cadets to experience flight and obtain their private pilot certificates.
“Coop’s devotion to the [regional] flight academy is amazing and is a lasting contribution,” said Col. Mark Bailey, activity director.
Bailey said Cooper is a mainstay at the academy, performing a gamut of behind-the-scenes support since its inception in 1997.
“Hundreds of cadets owe their flying start to him because of his selfless devotion to the activity and its participants,” he said.
At CAP’s 2017 National Conference, Cooper was recognized with the Frank G. Brewer CAP Memorial Aerospace Award, Senior Member Category, for his dedication to and zeal for aerospace education. He was also selected National Capital Wing Senior Member of the Year in 2017 and received the wing’s Col Costello N. Robinson CAP Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
Cooper envisions and is working toward forging closer collaboration between CAP and various D.C. government agencies to foster youth development opportunities for students of color and to provide more operational support.
“We are talking to our ward councilpersons and school administrators,” Cooper said. “This is a challenge, so we are working with other STEM organizations to obtain a joint meeting for us and the councilpersons and school administrators.”