April 25, 2020
Brig. Gen. (MD) Lorenza Cooper became the commanding general of the Maryland Defense Force (MDDF) on October 1, 2015 after a distinguished career in the Army National Guard and retired on April 25, 2020. At the retirement ceremony, Gen. (MD) Cooper was presented with the “Governor’s Citation” for his senior leadership signed by Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr., the governor of Maryland. Additionally, Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Gowen, the adjutant general of Maryland awarded Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper Maryland’s highest award, the Maryland Distinguished Service Cross, his third such award, for his dedication and service to the Maryland National Guard.
During his four-and-a-half-year tenure as commanding general he comprehensively realigned the organization to improve its support of the Maryland Military Department (MILDEP). Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper also rededicated the MDDF to its core mission which is providing competent technical support to the MILDEP while consistently stressing the need for continuous improvement. “I wanted to ensure that when I left the MDDF was an improved organization from a cultural, professional, technical and operational standpoint,” shared Gen. (MD) Cooper. “I knew that this would better positon us for mission success when called upon to support the State of Maryland,” he continued.
“Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper as an officer and a leader can be summed up as always taking the hard right instead of the easy left. Meaning he always did what was best for the organization, no matter how many people disagreed with it, and the MDDF is a better organization because of it,” shared Col. (MD) Charles Zimmerman who served as Cooper’s chief of staff. Some of the changes that Cooper instituted include a realignment of the MDDF recruiting efforts to match an updated table of organization, revamped job descriptions and MDDF requirements. The MDDF also improved training standards and military discipline with a focus on military customs, courtesies and professional bearing. In addition, the MDDF rank and promotion structure were modified to mirror the Maryland National Guard.
In another important effort to improve MDDF mission readiness Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper instituted a comprehensive health education and physical fitness program with the assistance of the Army Wellness Center and a “Culinary Boot Camp.” The Culinary Boot Camp utilized “the head chef of a celebrated Maryland restaurant chain, that demonstrated how to cook and eat right to maintain physical fitness,” according to Lt. Col. (MD) Isadore Beattie. Furthermore, “Gen. (MD) Cooper instituted a mandatory annual weigh-in and the MDDF physical fitness test was scored and conducted to U.S. Army standards” continued Col. (MD) Zimmerman.
“Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper also enforced a mandatory retirement age limit which,” made the MDDF, “more agile and better able to adapt to the needs of the Maryland Military Department,” shared Col. (MD) Zimmerman. This helped to right-size the overall organization and streamline MDDF unit support for MILDEP. This move may not have been popular, but it was in the best interest of the organization.
In order to improve technical competence, Gen. (MD) Cooper required all recruits to have emergency management training at the basic level. Each recruit had to get the Basic Military Emergency Management Specialist (MEMS) certification and all MDDF personnel were encouraged to receive the qualification. “MEMS training strategically aligns the MDDF with mission support of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) as well as MILDEP,” added Cooper.
On the operational front, the MDDF Cyber Defense Unit was launched and became a part of the adjutant general of Maryland’s Cyber Center of Excellence (COE). The Cyber Defense Unit has become an active part of the COE’s training, planning and programming initiatives while also supporting the Joint Staff. In recent years, the Cyber Defense Unit has been recognized for its cyber expertise and has been asked to help train and provide support to various state and local partners. “The MDDF Cyber Defense Unit adds significant value to the State of Maryland and it will do so for many years to come particularly as an asset to the MDNG Joint Staff UPAD team which Maryland recently stood up,” commented Gen. (MD) Cooper.
While Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper served as commanding general the MDDF was asked “to embed with the Joint Staff at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation,” said Col. (MDDF) Zimmerman. The MDDF helped to provide manpower to help support the Maryland National Guard’s Joint Staff operations. This was a clear indication of the new level of confidence that the Maryland National Guard had in the MDDF.
When asked to reflect on the tenure of Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper, Command Sgt. Maj. (MDDF) Guy Johnson recalled a conversation the general had at a Maryland National Guard gala in 2019 with a Vietnam Veteran who was Johnson’s guest. “After the conversation, my friend referred to Gen. (MD) Cooper as respectful, thoughtful, genuine, sincere and a leader.” Johnson continued, “It was an honor to serve with him.”
“Brig. Gen. (MDDF) Cooper's long tenure as commanding general will be well regarded for two principal accomplishments - better aligning the MDDF to the MDNG and a focus on personal mission readiness, “ added Lt. Col. (MD) Beattie. “Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper was able to accomplish the intent of the former Maryland adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, to make the MDDF a leaner, more agile organization, able to adapt to the needs of the Maryland National Guard and the Maryland Military Department. Brig. Gen. (MD) Cooper is one of the most outstanding officers that I have ever met and the MDDF is a better organization because of the work and effort he has placed in it,” concluded Col. (MD) Zimmerman.
The Maryland Defense Force (MDDF) is the State’s uniformed volunteer militia unit providing competent, supplementary, professional and technical support and soldiers to the Maryland Military Department and the State of Maryland as needed. Established in 1917, the MDDF consists of nearly 200 personnel who perform legal, engineering, finance, medical, chaplain, field support and ceremonial services for the State of Maryland.