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New leadership assumes command of Gateway Wing

  • Published
  • By Christa D’Andrea
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

Col. Willie Cooper III assumed command of the 37th Training Wing from Col. Lauren Courchaine May 30, during a ceremony at the Pfingston Reception Center here.

Maj. Gen. Michele Edmondson, 2nd Air Force commander, presided over the ceremony and acknowledged the pivotal mission of the wing, citing the many accomplishments and innovations that occurred during Courchaine’s tenure.

“This wing is perhaps the biggest opportunity we have in the United States Air Force to make an impact on the Air Force and the Department of Defense at large,” Edmondson said. “As a whole, I believe it starts with the leadership that sits at the top of this wing.”

Edmondson described that Courchaine led “monumental changes across the wing and, no doubt, making the wing better than when she found it.”

Under Courchaine’s leadership, the wing made significant advancements in Basic Military Training, including the introduction of Zero Week, and streamlining the naturalization process enabling over 1,000 Airmen to become U.S. citizens. She secured funding for modernization in the Military Working Dog program and technical training arena, facilitated English language instruction for Ukrainian students at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center in preparation for their training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and spearheaded the implementation of the first Defensive Cyberspace Operations Course at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy.

“She has transformed the way we train and develop our Airmen and Guardians,” the general stated. “She is a leader with passion, a leader with determination and she is a leader who wants her team to succeed.”

Introducing Cooper as Courchaine’s successor, Edmondson highlighted his distinguished career noting that his background as a personnel officer and his previous positions, including the most recent as the 375th Mission Support Group commander at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., underscore his readiness to lead the 37 TRW. Edmondson stressed that Cooper is joining the Gateway Wing with a wealth of knowledge, leadership, and education.

He is a “genuine leader, possessing sound judgement and often sought out by his peers,” Edmondson stated. She summarized his career thus far stating the common theme has always been about taking care of people.

Following the presentation of the Legion of Merit to Courchaine and the official passing of the guidon, Cooper made his inaugural address to the wing.

He said he only had a few minutes to make a positive impression and asked for audience participation.

“Raise your hands if you have seen a movie in the last three years,” he said. “My guess is you probably saw a movie trailer and it piqued your interest. And your hope going in was the trailer and movie matched.  Consider the next couple of minutes your movie trailer about me.”

Cooper emphasized the themes of change, trust, preciousness, and purpose. Directing the crowd to take a deep breath in and out, he stated change is hard, and despite being acclimated it to it, it can still cause confusion, fear and insecurity.

“I want you to think of this as a Continuity of Command instead of a Change in Command,” he told the audience, recognizing the challenges of change and identifying wing personnel as the catalysts of the wing’s success.

Cooper continued to tell the audience that he trusts “each and every one of you,” but knows he is the variable, and it is his job to earn trust. He also asked to be granted patience and grace as he learns the mission.

“Spoiler alert. I have never been a wing commander and I have not been assigned to this wing,” he said. “Which means I will need some time to learn and understand what each of you do that make this wing successful.”

Cooper also highlighted the preciousness of everyone within the wing stating, “I want to ensure the environment we share and the experiences we will have together, are positive, allow you to continue to be better, to achieve your goals, to feel safe and to feel appreciated.”

He then stated the purpose all Warhawk wing personnel share, whether they develop citizens into Airmen and Guardians, provide critical initial skills training, nourish international partnerships, or providing language training, is that “we have the opportunity to develop better citizens for the world, simply by showing up.”  

As the 37th Training Wing's 44th commander, Cooper assumes leadership of the largest training wing in the Air Force, while Courchaine transitions to a new role as the Senior Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon.