USCG Aviation Centennial – CDR Thomas F. Cooper, U.S. Coast Guard

CDR Thomas F. Cooper, U.S. Coast Guard

CDR Thomas F. Cooper, U.S. Coast Guard

Commander Cooper graduated from the United States Coast Guard (CG) Academy in 1994, and reported for duty as the Operations Officer aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter RED BEECH, home ported in Governor’s Island, NY. In 1996, he received orders to Naval Flight School and earned his wings in March, 1998.

Following flight training, Commander Cooper reported to CG Air Station Savannah, GA, where he served as a duty standing aviator and participated in search and rescue and law enforcement missions including a JIATF South counter-narcotics deployment. Upon earning his Aeronautical Engineering designation in 2002, he was assigned to CG Air Station New Orleans, LA, the busiest all helicopter unit.

In August 2005, as the Engineering Officer at Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans, CDR Cooper led the New Orleans area logistical support for Hurricane Katrina. In a ten-day period, crews operating from Air Station New Orleans saved over 7,000 lives nearly tripling the number of lives saved in the previous 40 year history of the unit.

In 2006, Commander Cooper attended graduate school on an Aeronautical Engineering sponsored tab, and in 2008 was subsequently assigned as the H-65 System Manager in CG-41, Office of Aeronautical Engineering. In 2010, he fleeted up to the Chief, Resource Management Division within CG-41. CDR Cooper is a 2011 DHS Senior Fellow, having completed his 60-day rotational assignment with CBP. In 2012, CDR Cooper was assigned as Executive Officer, Air Station Los Angeles, CA. In June 2015, CDR Cooper fleeted-up to serve as the last Commanding Officer of Air Station Los Angeles, CA, which is scheduled to close in 2016.

speaker_cooper02Commander Cooper has Masters Degrees in Systems Engineering (2008) and Technical Management (2011) from Johns Hopkins University. He holds a Naval Postgraduate Certificate in Project Management. He has over 2,500 flight hours and has served as an Instructor Pilot/Flight Examiner in the HH-65B & C helicopter variants. His personal awards include a Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Coast Guard Commendation Medal, and various other personal and unit awards.

He is married to the former Lynn McDowell of Setuaket, NY. They have two daughters Mary Kate (15) and Caroline (7). Mary is a congenital below the knee amputee who in 2010 was Operation Homefront’s Top 5 CG Military Child of the Year. CDR cooper’s twin brother, David, is the Commanding Officer of Air Station New Orleans, LA.


CDR Cooper and his twin brother, CDR D.W, Cooper, USCG, graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in the same class. After their obligatory tours on a Coast Guard ship, both of them went into aviation, graduating with their Wings of Gold from flight training at Pensacola. Thereafter their careers seemed to parallel each others until today, when Tom is the C.O. of USCG Air Station Los Angeles while David is C.O. of USCG Air Station New Orleans. Oh, they are on a very similar advancement track too: Dave gets his O-6 rank in May while Tom has to wait until July. The twins were the subject of an article in Wings of Gold many years ago and it will be made available on our website soon.

So, when the 12 May speaker position became available recently, I just happened to be in the audience when CDR Cooper presented his brief on Air Station LA. It is a very busy time for the Station as it is in the last days at LA before moving to Point Magu. The Station lost its lease at LAX and has to move. I found out that JFTB Los Alamitos is pushing hard to get a couple of the Coast Guard aviation assets stationed at Los Al but it does not look promising.

Having acquainted you with the history of CDR Cooper and the short version of his brief, I asked whether he could make it to our luncheon and he said that he would look at his schedule upon his return from a short vacation in Temecula with his wife. We should have an answer early next week but that is after the OpPlan goes to press. Notwithstanding the possibility that CDR Cooper cannot make it, we are still going to run his photo and bio and hope for a positive answer. See you all on 12 May.

He is not a bad pilot either. Read this:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Lieutenant Thomas F. Cooper, United States Coast Guard, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight from 29 August to 6 September 2005, while serving as Aircraft Commander aboard Coast Guard HH-65B helicopters in response to Hurricane KATRINA. Demonstrating exceptional aeronautical skill and judgment, and innovative rescue techniques, he saved numerous survivors from treacherous conditions during 15 sorties, totaling over 29 day and night flight hours, including 13 hours as a single pilot. He repeatedly and skillfully pushed the power-limited HU-65B to the very edge of its performance envelope, in close proximity to unlit hazards, despite continuous reports of violence and shots fired, thousands of distressed survivors needing rescue, and the constant threat of midair collision in the highly congested and uncontrolled airspace. As the first aircraft on scene after the storm’s passage, his initial recommendations laid the procedural foundation for the entire air rescue operation. Battling winds in excess of 50 knots, he adeptly hoisted a pregnant woman from a small, constricted balcony, the first rescue in metropolitan New Orleans. Most notably, he completed a pinpoint vertical rescue swimmer pick-up of a 400 pound, non-ambulatory survivor directly from her second story bed through the damaged rafters and roof. In addition, he held a precise hover within five feet of power lines at night to deftly thread the hoist cable through a web of obstructions, saving an elderly couple off a small third story porch. Balancing power limitations against the urgent need to hoist survivors as floodwaters rose; he landed “light” on a semi-rigid rooftop, rescuing 12 trapped people. He kept his crew focused in the face of an overwhelming disaster and the stress of repeated life or death decisions about who to rescue and who to leave behind. He intrepidly continued hoisting and saving lives after being warned by authorities about a toxic cloud of hydrogen sulfide in the area, refusing to abandon the mission. Lieutenant Commander Cooper’s actions, aeronautical skill, and valor were instrumental in the rescue of 146 victims. His courage, judgment and devotion to duty are most heartily commended and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.

Action Date: August 29 – September 6, 2005


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