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Justin Cooper ’82

Mayor and Commander of
The Far Side of the World

By Donna Parker

Captain Justin Cooper ’82, commands Naval Air Facility, Atsugi, Japan, and refers to himself as the mayor of his small American on-base community inside the greater Tokyo area. Truth be known, this enthusiastic career military officer manages not only the daily activities of the naval base, but also the operational side, including the base airfield for 70-plus aircraft, which are part of the aircraft carrier USS Kittyhawk also stationed in Japan.

“I joke that I’m the number one complaint taker on base,” laughs Justin.  “In reality, we take care of all the community infrastructure including security, emergency personnel, the school system, family housing, recreation, and even our inter-faith base chapel.”

Justin also puts in his time as pilot of a C-12 turbo jet providing logistical support for cargo and passengers flying throughout the Pacific corridor.

“I’ve spent most of my career flying jets on and off aircraft carriers, which is so dynamic.  We are trained not to look at the flight deck itself, but keep our eyes on the optical landing system from which very precise beams of light guide us in on a specific slope.  They’re kind of controlled crashes!” 

Of note, Justin has touched down nearly 700 times, including 250 at night,  and many of those during “dark and stormy nights” traveling over 125 miles per hour and landing on a rather small carrier deck.

“Here in Japan, the emphasis is on our vital relationship with the host community.  As such, we visit orphanages, feed the homeless, volunteer to teach English at local schools, and are even sponsoring a Tokyo breast cancer foundation golf tournament and run on base.”

Justin, his wife Lynn, and their two children Hannah, 12, and Grant, 9, spend much of their free time traveling.  He says he’s fortunate as the Commanding Officer of the base to receive some pretty incredible invitations.

“We often tour the area temples and shrines with Japan’s top business leaders.  Next month, we’ll travel with them to Nagasaki to visit the atomic bomb museum.”

Justin credits Trinity for shaping his professional life journey.

“Truly, Trinity made education such a top priority that I pursued continuing education at every opportunity. Most recently I was granted a National Security Fellowship during which I was extended faculty status at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  It’s just a good thing they based my entry on something other than my undergrad grades!” jokes Justin.

“When I think back on it, though, the leadership and terrific mentoring by David Burkett, department of communication, and Raymond Judd, former University chaplain, were invaluable in charting my own personal course.”

Justin still abides by the motto of his campus fraternity, Chi Delta Tau, which basically said, “give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.”

“It’s like I tell my young officers and sailors all the time – just by showing up and getting involved,  you’re doing more than most people out there.  Through that, you find opportunities.  Countless times in my life through just a little initiative of my own, I was blessed.  There’s an old pilot saying about it’s better to be lucky than good, but you can make your own luck just by participating.”

“One of my favorite Trinity memories was the very first day when my parents dropped me off at the dorm and my roommate showed up pulling his own ski boat.  I knew then, it’d be a great year! Of course, I didn’t dream back then that I would join the military and fly, but now I’m absolutely passionate about wearing this uniform in service to my country - and giving back, which is absolutely what life is really all about.”

E-mail Justin at Justin.cooper@fe.navy.mil