- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Riding his bike through the Cloverdale community to school, Charles Bradford Cooper II never dreamed he would be sailing at the helm of the USS Gettysburg, commanding one of the U.S. Navy’s warships in the Atlantic.

“Never in a million years; not even in my thought process,” said Cooper, a Navy captain. “But along the way I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of satisfaction from the people I’ve worked with, and it’s been an amazing experience.”

Cooper might not have predicted he would one day command his own crew at age 47, but his mother, Lee Cooper, always knew he would become a great leader because of the family, teachers and fellow sailors who influenced his life.

Cooper follows a long line of service members, from his grandfather who served as a navigator in the Army Air Corps during World War I, to his father and uncle who also served in the Army.

“I felt that he had a good background in leadership. You just have to work hard and learn,” Lee Cooper said. “To command a ship shows you have the capacity to care for the men and women in the Navy, and you watch over them and watch out for them and show them by word and deed.”

Finishing up school at Sidney Lanier High School, Cooper met instructors, particularly his ROTC drill instructor, who led him in the direction of the military and the Navy. After he visited the Naval Academy during a field trip, the deal was clinched.

“After having moved at various Army bases, I got a great appreciation for the Army and admire the Army, but I had a chance to visit the Naval Academy, and it was something I knew I would be really interested in,” Cooper said.

His interest has lasted 25 years and is still going strong. Cooper attributes his success not only to educational and career role models, but also to the 350 men and women who sail under him each day.

“There’s an amazing camaraderie among shipmates who have a common purpose of serving where it matters and when it matters. Everyone being a part of a team and putting the team first is really unique, meaningful and impactful, and it’s manifesting in young men and women who work every day and give everything to be successful,” Cooper said. “That’s what makes being here special.”

As a testament to Cooper’s leadership and the hard work from his crew, the USS Gettysburg was awarded the prestigious Battenburg Cup in July after a nine-month deployment. The award is given annually to the best ship or submarine for operational excellence.

Cooper graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1989 and has since served in Afghanistan and participated in U.S. military efforts in and around Kuwait, Iraq, Haiti, Columbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Somalia.

Recently, Cooper served in the White House as the first executive director of Joining Forces, a nationwide advocacy for veterans, service members and families, among many other assignments.

Before commanding the USS Gettysburg, Cooper also served as commanding officer for the USS Russell and has served aboard the USS Vicksburg, USS Anzio, USS Fitzgerald, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Thomas S. Gates.

The USS Gettysburg is stationed out of Mayfort, Florida, and is a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser.

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