SAU Buzz

Veteran Spotlight: Calvin Cooper

by Kat Gay
Posted on Apr 14, 2016

Honesty, loyalty and respect are just some of the traits Assistant Director of Security Calvin Cooper picked up during his time in the United States Army.

Before he beginning his career in the Ambrose security department, Cooper spent a little over 20 years serving our country in the army. Beginning in high school, Cooper knew that he would end up in the military. Spending the majority of his high school years in the ROTC, Cooper stayed true to his dreams and officially joined the Army in August 1978, immediately after his high school graduation.

Beginning his army career with basic training in Ft. Jackson, S.C., Cooper learned the importance of being honest. Remembering the instance of another soldier getting caught in a lie told to their drill instructor, and the punishment the soldier was given, is a lesson that has stayed with him all these years.

“He gave him a spoon, I kid you not, and said ‘go outside and dig a hole six feet deep and six feet wide,’” Cooper said. “That soldier went outside and started digging the hole. The instructor made all of us stand and watch him, we all circled him and he had tears in his eyes.”

He first joined the military as intelligence, and was given a top secret security clearance after basic training. After basic training he did a tour in Ft. Hood, Texas, for about a year and then was moved to Maastricht,  Holland. It was here that he spent almost four years working with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO.

“I loved Holland,” Cooper said. “I loved the windmills, the people. I never saw so many tulips in all my life! It was beautiful.”

The biggest challenge that the Army posed for Cooper was being away from his family. Having to leave them, especially his young son, for his first overseas tour in Korea was what he called one of the hardest times of his life.

“It tore my heart up,” Cooper said.

After spending a great deal of time overseas in Holland and Korea, the Army gave Cooper a choice of where he would like to go. Out of his three choices; Ft. Lewis, Wash., Hawaii, and Rock Island, Ill., Cooper ended up in the place he had never heard of before, the little island on the Mississippi known as the Rock Island Arsenal.

“I stayed on the Arsenal for six years until I retired,” Cooper said.

One of the big things that Cooper took with him from his time with the Army is that there is always one bond he knows he will have, and that is with fellow military members.

“They have all put their life on the line for this country,” Cooper said.

While working for Brinks Security as an armed guard, Cooper was first interviewed and offered a job at St. Ambrose by Don Challis in the early 2000’s, but turned the offered position of patrolman. Six months later, after a promotion at Brinks and work with the Federal Reserve, Challis called Cooper again, and this time he accepted the position.

“All the security employees he hired were prime military,” Cooper said. “I was one of the first officers he hired; prior to us it was athletes that did security. The football team consisted of your security department.”

Cooper says that his favorite thing about working at St. Ambrose is having a place to call home.

Over five years ago, Cooper left St. Ambrose and took a position as parking director at East Tennessee State University. Soon into his employment at ETSU, Cooper learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and began to miss the interactions he had with those on the St. Ambrose campus.

After about seven months in Tennessee, Cooper came back to the Quad Cities and applied for the position of Assistant Director of Security. Many times when you leave a place you don’t come back, but for Cooper things were different.

“Sister said, ‘Welcome back,’” Cooper said. “That is why I owe her my loyalty, because she made me feel welcome.”

The small community at St. Ambrose is one of the things that Cooper enjoys the most. Being able to say hi to faculty and staff while walking around campus is what he missed the most during his time away from campus.

“The family environment,” Cooper said. “That’s what I missed, that’s what I enjoy, and that’s what keeps me here.”