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Team Kadena helps fellow Airman fallen ill

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- When Kadena Airmen heard a fellow Airman was ill and needed help, the response was immediate and impacting.

A long-time mental health technician, Senior Master Sgt. Jake Cooper, 18th Medical Group Life Skills Support Center superintendent, has been mentoring Team Kadena members for years. He was diagnosed Jan. 10 with a mass on his brain that is leading him back to the States for follow-on treatment.

"Actually, the response was overwhelming," said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Catherine Bobenrieth, Life Skills commander. "He knows hundreds of people on base, in fact, his is, in a way, like a household name because he's been here so long and active in many different things."

Sergeant Cooper began feeling something was wrong (Friday) Jan. 5. "He got weaker during the weekend and had church activities to attend - typically setting aside his own needs - then went to the (naval) hospital afterward and was admitted," said Doctor Bobenrieth. "From the instant he was in the hospital, there was an outpouring from his military and church family."

Monday the diagnosis was made. "People were hoping between Monday and Wednesday, when his surgery was scheduled, it would be found benign," the doctor said. The mass on Sergeant Cooper's brain was cancerous. "Everyone was stunned."
The mass was removed and he was scheduled to leave earlier this week to return to the States. "Average expenses for a move can be costly, but it's even tougher when you have to make an unexpected move in two weeks," said Doctor Bobenrieth.

"A few of us started to collect a small monetary amount, and it just got going," said Master Sgt. Arthur House, 18th Mission Support Squadron.

"Word got out and people were tremendously generous with donations - an unbelievable amount of affection and support, and that's because so many people care for him and have been touched by him," said Doctor Bobenrieth.

"He's been such a mentor and has consideration for everyone else," she said. "Talk about your 'crusty old NCOs,' he's not that way. Once there was a young Airman in trouble who had to do extra duty. Sergeant Cooper had him here (Life Skills) moving furniture and worked him hard. But, talked to him the whole time, inspiring and motivating him by asking what he liked to do, where he wanted his career to go, and telling him that he could go on and do the right thing.

"You could beat someone down for being in trouble, but he made this young Airman take his punishment, yet do it with dignity," Doctor Bobenrieth said.

"If you talked to the hundreds of people on base who know him, they would all have a similar story to tell. He's just consistent and what he's done will have a lasting impact on Kadena," she said.

Sergeant Cooper is being relocated to Fort Gordon, Ga., about 30-40 miles from his hometown of Greenwood, S.C.

He's a 22-year veteran Airman and spent the last seven years on Okinawa. The sergeant received the Meritorious Service Medal from Col. Jeff Kennedy, 18th wing vice commander, Tuesday.

"When I was writing the recommendation for his MSM, I asked him what he was most proud of," said Doctor Bobenrieth. "The first thing he said was, 'Mentoring.' The medical group's motto is 'People First, Mission Always,' the doctor said. "Sergeant Cooper lives that, prioritizing important things first."