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Face of Defense: Father, Son Reflect on Air Force Maintenance Officer Careers

By Air Force Senior Airman Cristina J. Allen, 177th Fighter Wing

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Like father, like son.

Almost 40 years after Air Force Capt. Thomas J. Cooper was commissioned, his son, Air Force Maj. Brian T. Cooper, followed in his footsteps.

Father and son, one in Air Force uniform, look at a maintenance manual.
Air Force Maj. Brian T. Cooper, commander of the 177th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard, and Thomas J. Cooper, a retired Air Force captain, look over paperwork on the flight line at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., March 14, 2018. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Cristina J. Allen
Father and son, one in Air Force uniform, look at a maintenance manual. 180314-Z-NL199-2010
Air Force Maj. Brian T. Cooper, commander of the 177th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard, and Thomas J. Cooper, a retired Air Force captain, look over paperwork on the flight line at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., March 14, 2018. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Cristina J. Allen

Brian, commander of the 177th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at the 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard, was commissioned in the Air Force in 2003, and his father, Thomas, an aircraft maintenance officer, was commissioned in the Air Force in 1965.

Their reunion was made possible by Brian’s temporary duty assignment at the Air Dominance Center here, close to Bluffton, South Carolina, where his parents have lived since 2004.

‘We’re Just Two Jersey Guys’

“We’re just two Jersey guys, and this just happens to be close to where they retired to,” Brian said. “I haven’t lived with my parents in over 20 years, and I happen to be deployed here.”

As the two discussed their military careers, some similar views emerged.

“Everything is different, but nothing has changed,” said Thomas, an ROTC graduate out of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Brian agreed.

“It is interesting on how different it is, yet how similar,” said Brian, distinguished Air Force ROTC graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “The very unique thing for us is the maintenance bible.”

Maintenance ‘Bible’

Brian described the 500-plus page “maintenance bible,” the main Air Force instruction on maintenance, as an all-encompassing manuscript on everything one needs to know about maintenance. Thomas commented that the maintenance bible he followed early in his career was only 63 pages long.

One thing the pair agreed on completely: maintenance camaraderie is one of a kind. “It’s the camaraderie you won’t get anywhere else,” Brian said. “Maintainers are the silent sentinels.”

Thomas agreed.

‘The Camaraderie Will Never Change’

“The military is a club, especially maintenance,” said Thomas, who received his master’s degree in program management from the University of Southern California. “The camaraderie will never change.”

Brian described himself and his father as being very similar.

“It is very ironic that we’re both kind of ‘gear heads,’” he said. “We butted heads a lot, and the Air Force definitely brought us together.”

When asked if his father was his inspiration for commissioning, Brian simply laughed.

“It’s the running joke in the family,” Brian said. “My dad’s first advice when I came in was, one, don’t be a maintenance officer and, two, don’t do fighter jets. So here I am, as a maintenance officer on fighters.”

The room filled with laughter.

“All of the stories he told were really what got me interested; the stories are just unbelievable,” Brian said. “That’s ultimately what brought me to the military.”
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