Wednesday, March 28, 2007

R. Clarke Cooper: Wartime Lieutenant Moving Up

Lieutenant Cooper (left) with me in Baghdad in 2004
Today I received an email from my former lieutenant, R. Clarke Cooper. During my tour in Iraq, he was the aide to Brigadier General Sandy Davidson. As the sergeant in charge of Davidson’s Protective Service Detail, or PSD, I received my daily briefings and instructions from Cooper.

After we came home, this remarkable young officer returned to Baghdad as a civilian employee for the State Department where he became the Congressional liaison for Ambassador Khalilzad. Now that Khalilzad is leaving his post in Iraq, Cooper is back in the States to “pave the way” for the man who will likely be America’s next United Nations ambassador.

I wrote the following about Cooper in my war journal:

"R. Clarke Cooper began his tour in Iraq as a “lowly” second lieutenant. He eventually made first lieutenant, but the requirements of his job in a war zone should have made him at least a captain. That was not the way it was, though. One-star brigadier generals like our boss only rated a lieutenant for an aide. General Davidson hit a home run when he got Cooper because the young officer was a professional and dedicated subordinate.

Cooper was no stranger to the world of politics. In 2001 U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton named him the Assistant Director of the National Park Service for Legislative and Congressional Affairs. Before that he was the Deputy Director of Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Federal Affairs Office in Washington where he helped negotiate the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Cooper also served as the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida.

Our lieutenant was a graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in history, the president of his senior class and the president of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. His military service included training at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. For crying out loud, the guy was even an Eagle Scout.

It didn’t take long to realize that Cooper was not your ordinary lieutenant. As an old man with a lot of dust on his boots, I knew this young man faced a promising future. He was focused and driven by an energy that wore me out sometimes. Cooper was awake each morning before the general and he was still working after the boss hit the rack. It took almost twenty-four hours a day to manage the activities of any general and Cooper was masterful at the job.

When Major Eversman left us, Lieutenant Cooper became my supervisor by default and we depended on each other to get the job done. With my tendency to scorn the political world in which he lived, the lieutenant often strained to keep me on a short leash. Fortunately, he knew his own limitations and he wisely depended on my experience for tactical decisions. His willingness to do this only increased my respect for him as a leader. He was diligent in his supervision, he knew how to use his soldiers as resources and he let them do their jobs.

I routinely met Lieutenant Cooper at the CPA (later the American Embassy) to review various administrative items and to plan the tactical movements related to General Davidson’s schedule. I waited for the L.T. in the large rotunda outside Ambassador Bremer’s office and we ate lunch in the ornate mess hall at the CPA. It was amazing to be in the heart of the operations center for everything going on in Iraq.

The CPA was filled with high-rollers from Washington, D.C., political appointees, diplomats, spies and the generals from the various countries in the Coalition. The place over-flowed with all the cloak and dagger stuff imaginable in a war-time headquarters building. It was a little like the Pentagon with a touch of Rick’s CafĂ© in “Casablanca” thrown in."

Clarke Cooper is on the fast track in the high-speed world of politics. He is intelligent, resourceful and destined for much greater things.

Remember his name. You will hear it again…

SFC Chuck Grist

1 comment:

  1. I wish him well in the viper's nest of politics. We need more good men willing to take that journey. Thank you for telling us about him.