MAJOR Alicia Cooper is committed to positively shaping the lives of youngsters and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) recruits through her role as the first female detachment commander in the history of the JDF.
But this God-centred, family-oriented and hard-working woman did not always have an interest in the army; in fact, she told All Woman that she aspired to be a chef and took to cooking [as much as she could] as she thought it would prepare her for a culinary career.
Subsequently, on leaving St Andrew High School for Girls, she enrolled in the joint hospitality and tourism management programme at the University of Technology and The University of the West Indies and upon completion, worked at the Terra Nova All Suites Hotel before moving on to the Hilton Hotel.
But in 2005 when her sister married an officer in the JDF, her own inquisitive mind led her to begin thinking about a military career.
“Through him I became exposed to the JDF and all it had to offer. It sounded like a challenge and it sounded exciting so I thought I would give it a try,” she said.
And so, in 2006 Cooper, then 22, applied, was successful, and began her military training at Fort Benning in Georgia, USA. While there Cooper also did courses at the Fort Leonard Wood US Army Military Police School in Missouri.
On completion in 2008, she returned to Jamaica as a second lieutenant at Up Park Camp at the Support Services Battalion, before being transferred to the Combat Support Battalion. In 2011 Cooper was promoted to the rank of captain and in 2012, she was sent back to the Support Services Battalion as a force procurement officer, which led her on a career path in logistics. Later that year she was sent to Fort Lee in Virginia to do a captain's career course in logistics.
When she returned in 2013 she was posted to Headquarters, JDF, as a junior staff officer in charge of logistics. A year later Cooper was promoted to the rank of major.
For her, these transitions were not difficult, but rather eye-opening to the dynamism of military personnel.
“Hospitality is more bubbly and the military is sort of stoic, but it didn't dampen my personality. I was able to adjust and I would say the JDF brought out my true personality and here it is good to have personality and be able to relate to people on different levels,” she said.
In 2016, Cooper was sent back to Support Services Battalion, this time as the commanding officer for the JDF Transport Company, where she was responsible for leading soldiers and senior non-commissioned officers. The following year, Cooper returned to headquarters as the staff officer for acquisitions and disposals.
But in February when Cooper was posted to the directorate of training and doctrine as the detachment commander, she knew she was tasked to have a direct impact on youngsters and hit the ground running.
“I was honoured. It was not a career milestone I would have projected and not because a woman couldn't do it, but she hadn't done it before. It's an important role in the JDF and to be the first female appointed to it, it's an honour,” she said. “It is good to be seen as someone who can break down barriers and bring about change. My predecessors would have done a remarkable job and I intend to continue.”
In this post Cooper is in charge of military training-related matters in the force and has oversight of the Jamaica National Service Corps programme to train unattached youth and turn them into contributing members of society.
“In the past the JDF did just regular recruit training but with this programme there will be more mentorship and focus on the individual well-being of recruits. Regardless of whether or not they decide to stay in the JDF, people who pass through this programme would have gained life skills,” Cooper said.
Cooper, whose personal philosophy is not to sweat the small stuff, and rather, focus on what's important while doing your best, enjoys spending time with her 10-month-old son Jordan, travelling, and spending time with friends.
Outside of military work, she hopes to one day start a mentorship programme for women and volunteer at a children's home or hospital. Also passionate about entrepreneurship and helping people become the best versions of themselves, Cooper is thankful to her role models who include Lieutenant Colonel Dionne Smalling and Brigadier David Cummings, in addition to her mother Imogene Cooper and sisters Judith Cooper-Batchelor and Nadine Thomas.
To women who aspire to have a military career, Cooper said, “Go for it!
“The JDF is one of the esteemed institutions in Jamaica. It's a career of service that contributes significantly to the development of the country in various ways,” she explained.