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Spotlight on Commerce: Kevin Cooley Director, Office of Planning & Programming for Service Delivery, National Weather Service

Guest blog post by Kevin Cooley Director, Office of Planning & Programming for Service Delivery, National Weather Service

President Reagan once said, "Some people live their entire lives wondering if they made a difference in the world…but Marines don't have that problem." This sentiment also applies to the dedicated career public servants I have had the honor to work with in government. As a member of the Senior Executive Service at the National Weather Service (NWS) I am what most people might think of as a general manager. Among wide-ranging strategic and tactical responsibilities, my office plans for the evolution of NWS products and services to ensure we continue improving on the high-quality weather forecasts, watches and warnings delivered to the Nation to save lives and property.

From an early age I felt a strong obligation to serve my country, having had the privilege of growing up in a great and safe community like Arnold, Maryland, during the Cold War. My parents and grandparents inspired my life and career choices. My mother was an emergency room nurse who combined an iron constitution with humor and compassion. My dad overcame poverty to graduate from college and become a great engineer. His strong code of ethics included hard work, respect, and plain dealing, which became central to my own character. My parents were married for more than 40 years, until my mom passed away in 2012. Their example of perseverance and loyalty to each other and their family had a profound influence on me. My paternal grandfather provided an example of loyalty and bravery with his service as an infantry officer during WWII. He suffered multiple combat wounds, including the loss of an eye. My maternal grandfather, the son of an Italian immigrant, overcame disadvantage to graduate from college and build long and successful careers in radio and business. He was married to my grandmother for more than seventy years. His example of fidelity, his wealth of experience and guidance were invaluable to me. 

Colonel Myron Harrington was a mentor who also had a great influence on who I am today. A highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran, Colonel Harrington displayed unbelievable bravery during the Battle of Hue City in 1968. As my Commanding Officer in the Marine Corps, he maintained the highest of standards and made sure I understood the sacrifice that would be required of me as an officer. I served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1985-1990, having trained as an infantryman with aspirations to become a commissioned officer. When a medical condition precluded my commissioning and continued service in the Marine Corps, I was devastated. I was young, otherwise healthy, good at what I did and I had found my calling - only to be told I could not continue to serve. This was perhaps the first true crisis of my life. Colonel Harrington provided me with important support and compassion, and he helped me understand that there were other ways I could serve and achieve professional success. His example of commitment to duty, high standards, humility, and compassion is one that I continue to aspire to meet each day.

In addition to military service, being a career civil servant is an honor in my view. Career civil servants choose to live in service to community and country, often for less pay and in some cases helping those in need and in harm’s way. This is especially true for the women and men of NWS, who work hard every day to deliver life-saving information to emergency managers and the public around the clock, every day of the year.

The variety of opportunity in the civil service is unique, and I would advise today's youth to pursue Federal service - even if only for part of their career. The experiences gained from service to our Nation are likely to be both memorable and transformative. Outside of being married to my wife Karen for more than 33 years and raising two wonderful daughters, my career in public service has been my most treasured experience and greatest honor. Sustained commitment to service and being a part of something good is truly rewarding. I believe this principle becomes more important over time as life teaches us the central goodness and importance of helping others.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Military Veterans in honor of Veterans Day.