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Community bids fairwell to commanding officer

By Lance Cpl. Kamran Sadaghiani | | July 14, 2005

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The community bid farewell to the station commanding officer in a change of command ceremony last week.

Col. James J. Cooney relinquished his position as station commanding officer to Col. Ben D. Hancock July 7 at the station parade field, leaving behind a wealth of accomplishments.

Cooney accepted the position of station CO the same morning the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, nearly a year before he assumed command. Those attacks impacted his focus on improving station security.

"The security department exists because of Colonel Cooney," said Thomas A. Manfredi, station community planner. "He had a big concern about the security of this base and the people of this base, so he established a security department and worked closely with the people in the community to try and see if there were ways to correct security deficiencies."

The security department Cooney initiated is responsible for the Crisis Management Force, which guards our gates and ranges, and maintains coordination with the surrounding community regarding possible terrorist threats.

Cooney was also active in working with the range department to keep the ranges secure, which protects the ability to train, said Manfredi. Some of the challenges he was forced to deal with include trespassers and urbanization.

"The growth is happening so fast in this community," he added. "Things around the air station are pretty stable, but the growth is really happening on the fringes of our ranges and we're really concerned it would encroach (on) our capabilities to train and operate on the training areas."

Cooney demonstrated a great deal of concern with the surrounding community as well. City of Yuma Mayor Larry K. Nelson said that focus made him irreplaceable.

"Colonel Cooney was the right man at the right time for situations going on in Yuma and I think Colonel Hancock will be the same," said Nelson. "I think that Colonel Hancock will come in and he'll have a different perspective from Colonel Cooney, but each of them brings a different attribute to the community."

Cooney was also determined to prepare the station for its future, said Kathleen L. Hernandez, station administrative officer. Since he became CO in 2002, Cooney developed plans that would set up the air station ranges' growth and development as far out as a decade from now, she explained.

"He has done so much for the station," said Hernandez. "He's a very aggressive and out-of-the-box thinker. He doesn't think of what we're doing today. In his mind, he's ten years down the road and we're always trying to catch up, because he doesn't concern himself with today's accomplishments or this week's mission. He thinks about what steps we are taking so we can continue to be the premier aviation training facility for the Marine Corps."

Vicky Fry, Cooney's secretary, said the aspect she most admired about Cooney was how he inspired others to get work done and handle their own departments.

"I was just the number one cheerleader and coach," joked Cooney. "Frankly, the whole thing about leadership is getting the job done through people. The people here only needed a vector for where to go and then give them the resources to do it and they did it. I literally have my hats off to the people here."

"He's got a bright future and he's going to be a help to Yuma even though he's back in Washington because it was a great growing experience for him and for us, too," said Nelson.

Coworkers and associates on station and outside the gates expressed their best wishes for him, and Cooney returned those wishes as well.

"We think we've got one of the best working relationships with the community anywhere in the Department of Defense," said Cooney. "I wish (Yuma) the very best with all the growth and the changes happening here. I think there are some wonderful people here.

"I will never forget the hospitality and the open heartedness from the people of Yuma," said Cooney. "It's overwhelming."

Cooney moves on to Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., to work in information management in the command, control, communication and computer division.

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