Gratitude and Transitions

by Scott Cooper

I vividly remember my change of command. I handed the guidon to my successor, and the work of the squadron continued—a unit where I had spent ten years of my Marine Corps career. I knew I would miss the Marines (I still do). I hoped I was leaving the unit a bit better than I found it. But I also knew that they were in capable hands.  

I have a similar feeling today as I embark on a new and different path of service. My last day at Human Rights First and Veterans for American Ideals will be March 29th. I’m turning over the leadership of Veterans for American Ideals to Bishop Garrison, whose life seems destined to lead an effort like this. A native of Lexington, South Carolina, Bishop graduated from West Point in 2002. In private moments, he admits that he wishes he had attended the Naval Academy (Beat Army!). He served in the 3rd Army Calvary Regiment, known as the “Brave Rifles,” seeing combat in Iraq. After leaving the Army in 2007, he attended law school at the College of William and Mary, then served as a senior civilian leader in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Homeland Security. Most recently he served as the interim executive director at Truman National Security Project. Welcome aboard, Bishop! 

We also bid farewell to Fiona Tomlin, who is beginning a new chapter in her career. She accepted a position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which she begins next week. I can’t be sad—this is a tremendous opportunity, and the Senate will be better off with Fiona among the staff ranks. But we will certainly miss her. She has been the heart (and brains and brawn) of VFAI. Thank you, Fiona, for making this work possible and giving it your all every single day.  

In reflecting on the last four and a half years, I feel a profound sense of awe and gratitude. I look back at the path that led to this work. I was retiring from the Marine Corps, and like all of my friends who served, I wondered if I could find something as meaningful and important. I think we all came to the conclusion that nothing could compare to going to war. 

We needed another mission. We agreed that we wanted to serve—taking off the uniform didn’t slake that thirst. True patriotism, we all recognized, is the willingness to take up the joyful, frustrating, and sometimes costly struggle to make the country better, and not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. By good fortune (or maybe blind luck), I found my way to Human Rights First, and it was from this post that we started the work of Veterans for American Ideals. 

It’s fundamentally an idea that your service must never stop, that citizenship isn’t a spectator sport, that we all owe our country something in every chapter of our lives. Indeed, we may owe it our lives.  

I have been witness to the very best in our country—you who have taken up the mantle of truly being a unifying, civilizing force in our country. You have inspired me every day of this journey, and I can’t wait to see what you achieve together next. So, as I step away and leave the reins in your and Bishop’s capable hands, thank you – for your passion, for your dedication, and for lifting me up as we created something special. You’ll forever have my gratitude. Take heart. We do live in a land of ideals. Continue the work. I intend to, only in a new and different arena. 

I hope you will stay in touch. You have inspired me by your selfless service.