Sunday, September 09, 2007

David A. Cooper dies 'from a non-combat related injury'

Sgt. 1st Class David Cooper Jr. died doing the only job he ever wanted.

Serving in Iraq with the Army's 4th Stryker Brigade, Cooper, 36, was killed Wednesday in Baghdad from a noncombat injury, according to the Department of Defense.

Cooper, a decorated soldier, left behind a wife, Michelle Cooper, at Fort Lewis, Wash. His twin 16-year-old sons from his first marriage live near Port Matilda and attend Bald Eagle Area High School.

A platoon commander, Cooper had served in the military since 1988, a year before he graduated from the former Sugar Valley High School in Loganton. His brigade, assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division in Fort Lewis, arrived in April for its first deployment of the war.

His death is under investigation, and details were not disclosed. Cooper became the brigade's 21st casualty since it left Fort Lewis.

"A soldier first, above anything," said Tracy Cornwell, whose five-year marriage to Cooper ended in 1995. "That's all he ever wanted to be. That was from the time he was a little boy. That was always one thing that always made me proud of him, that he was doing what he wanted to do and he was very good at it."

The military has identified Cooper as a State College resident, but Cornwell said they lived there while married. She said Cooper's death was not from a vehicle accident but declined to elaborate.

Cooper had been based at Fort Lewis for the past 10 years, but he visited his sons, Gage and Drake Cooper, at least once a year at his parents' blueberry farm in Rauchtown, near Jersey Shore.

David Cooper Sr. recalled that his son and grandsons would hole up in the basement "dungeon," laughing and playing with their computers, video games and widescreen TV. "They'd stay there all day long," Cooper said. "They'd come up for a meal, then disappear down there."

Cornwell said her sons enjoyed a close relationship with their father, despite the distance between them.

"You wouldn't have known that they didn't see each other very often," she said. "He was a very good dad."

Cooper said his son was also a bookworm whose love of history, particularly about World War II and the Korean War, dated back to his days in his school district's gifted program.

"He was very well read," Cooper said. "He was very conversant in any world issue you would want to discuss. ... I always wanted to be on his side in trivia games."

At an early age, his son eyed the military. Plastic soldiers were his favorite toys, and he wore his treasured Army coat to his first day of school.

Joining the Reserves initially, Cooper began his active duty career in 1994 with the 520th Maintenance Company in Korea as a material storage and handling specialist. After a stint at Fort Drum, N.Y., he trained at Fort Knox, Ky., and went on to serve as an armor crewman and, with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, a platoon sergeant.

The tank regiment was renamed the 4th Stryker Brigade. In January this year, Cooper joined the brigade's 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.

His wife told The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., that Cooper had planned to return to Washington in six weeks on leave.

She also told The Tribune that her husband was "a true leader of men and was deeply respected by his men and his peers. He didn't have a mean bone in his body."

Cooper's father said his son was all soldier on duty, once jumping out of his car at Fort Knox to rebuke a young enlisted man shuffling along with headphones on and his shirttail out. But on his own time, Cooper displayed a "wicked" sense of humor.

"When it came to his job and his men, he was very serious," David Cooper Sr. said. "He was very intense. When he was outside his work, he was the most hilarious guy."

Cooper's body will be flown from Iraq to Dover Air Force Base and then transported to Jersey Shore. Funeral details are pending. His only sibling, Germany-based Army Staff Sgt. Mike Cooper, will accompany his older brother to Arlington National Cemetery for a Sept. 17 burial.

There, Gage and Drake Cooper will say goodbye to their hero. Soccer players and band members now, they plan on following his footsteps into the Army.

"I never had to tell them anything about their father," David Cooper Sr. said. "They knew him well."

From the Daily Times