By Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, 108th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 11, 2015
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, NJ -- In a double ceremony, Mount Laurel resident Lt. Col. Thomas P. Coppinger assumed command of the 108th Operations Group and was promoted to colonel Feb. 8, 2015.
The ceremony which was held at the Group's headquarters at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, included family members, officers and enlisted members from the various squadrons Coppinger commands, as well as members of the New Jersey Joint Force Headquarters - Air command and staff.
"The truth is that none of us here achieve what we achieve on our own," said Coppinger. "Even if you are working completely alone, in a locked office, you bring with you the experience you gained from parents, teachers, coaches, coworkers, peers, previous supervisors and the people you work for."
Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff, The Adjutant General of New Jersey and the former commander of the New Jersey Air National Guard's 108th Wing, presented Coppinger the Operations Group guidon. He then proceeded with the promotion ceremony, assisting Coppinger's wife Alane and their children Melissa and Aidan in properly attaching the colonel's eagles on his epaulettes.
As Operations Group commander, Coppinger is in charge of the 141st Air Refueling Squadron, the 150th Special Operations Squadron, the 204th Intelligence Squadron and the 108th Operations Support Squadron.
"Every day when we come into work, we have to realize that people are looking to us, looking at how we handle things and they are learning," said Coppinger.
Coppinger received a bachelor of engineering in electrical engineering from Manhattan College, N.Y. Upon being commissioned as a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program, Coppinger attended pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.
After completing KC-135 Stratotanker Combat Crew Training School at Castle Air Force Base, Calif., he was assigned to the 920th Air Refueling Squadron as KC-135A pilot at Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Mich., in 1989.
In 1992, Coppinger served at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, N.Y., as an aircraft commander with the 380th Air Refueling Squadron. Following his assignment at Plattsburgh, Coppinger was the wing's plans officer with the 319th Air Refueling Wing, and later the 912th Air Refueling Squadron's chief of training at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., from 1994 to 1997.
While at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., Coppinger was the chief of tanker scheduling with the 97th Operations Support Squadron and then as the 55th Air Refueling Squadron's combat crew training instructor from 1997 to 1999. During this period, he deployed in support of numerous contingency operations.
In 2000, Coppinger left the active duty Air Force and joined the New Jersey Air National Guard where he initially served as an instructor pilot with the 141st Air Refueling Squadron at the Joint Base.
"Even if you have not read the ANGI (Air National Guard Instruction) on mentoring," said Coppinger. "You are doing it every time you interact with people. By the decisions you take, you are influencing the people around you."
During his time with the 108th Wing, Coppinger has been the wing's plans officer, chief of training, chief of standardization and evaluation, squadron operations officer, squadron commander and deputy group commander. In addition, he has also deployed numerous times in support of Operation's Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
All this experience is wrapped up in Coppinger's approach to command.
"Every day is a new opportunity to make a positive difference in someone's life, so don't let it go to waste, do the right thing for the right reason...(and) they'll say, hey, that guy was a good role model. That's what I hope to be for you guys."