J. GARY COOPER
MAJOR GENERAL (RET.), USMC
General Cooper is a native of Lafayette, Louisiana. He received his B.S. degree in Finance from the University of Notre Dame and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps upon graduation in June, 1958. Following graduation from The Basic School, he initially reported for duty with the 1st Marine Brigade. General Cooper served on active duty for 12 years, commanding a number of units, including a Marine Detachment aboard the Guided Missile Cruiser Chicago. In 1967, he became the first black officer in the Marine Corps to lead an infantry company into combat which is noted in the historical calendar of the Corps.
In Vietnam, General Cooper earned a number of decorations for heroism including the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts for wounds received in ground action, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry three times. His other military decorations including the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.
He joined the Individual Ready Reserve in January, 1970. As a reservist, he has commanded the 13th Force Reconnaissance Company in Mobile, the 4th Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division and a number of other mobilizations assignments including Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C. In 1988, he was promoted to Major General and returned to active duty as a Director of Personnel, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps. He retired from the Corps in 1993.
In 1974, he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives. He was reelected in 1978 but resigned to serve in the Governor's Cabinet as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
President Bush appointed him in 1989 to be the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Environment and he served throughout the Bush administration.
In 1994, President Clinton selected him to be Ambassador of Jamaica, a position he held until December, 1997.
General Cooper serves as Chairman of CNB Bancorp, Inc. and he is retired Chairman of Commonwealth National Bank, which is the first minority owned national bank in Alabama. He serves on the board of Air University Board of Visitors, Community foundation of South Alabama, American Friends of Jamaica, Paymaster Jamaica, and the United States Marine Corps University Foundation. He is active in numerous other community organizations, especially those serving youth.
He and his wife Beverly live in Mobile. They have three children: Patrick, a graduate of Yale Law School; Joli, a graduate of Notre Dame and Wharton School of Business; and Gladys Shawn, a former Marine Corps Officer, a graduate of University of Southern California and the J.L. Kellogg School of Business.
WALTER E. GASKIN
LIEUTENANT GENERAL (RET), USMC
Lieutenant General Gaskin served as the Commanding General of the 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC from June 2006 until July 2008. In addition to this role, he simultaneously served as the Commanding General of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). During this tour, Lieutenant General Gaskin led II MEF (FWD) during its year-long deployment to Al Anbar Province, Iraq as the Commanding General of Multinational Forces-West.
Previous assignments as a General Officer include service as the Vice Director of The Joint Staff, Washington, D.C. from July 2008 until May 2009 and as the Commanding General of Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Quantico, Virginia beginning in September 2002. Additionally, he served as the Chief of Staff, Naval Striking and Support Forces- Southern Europe and as the Deputy Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces- Europe in Naples, Italy from 2002 to 2004. Gaskin's first assignment as a General Officer was the Commanding General, Training and Education Command in Quantico in March 2000.
In addition to his time as Commanding General, Gaskin has served four times with the 2d Marine Division (3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines; 6th Marine Regiment; and 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines). During his assignment to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Gaskin was the Commanding Officer and also served as the Commanding Officer of Battalion Landing Team 2/2 when the battalion was assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), II MEF for deployment as Landing Force-6th Fleet (LF6F) during Operations Assured Response and Quick Response in defense of American Embassies in Liberia and The Central African Republic.
Gaskin's other previous assignments with II MEF include service as the G-3 Current Operations Action Officer and Operations Officer for II MEF (FWD) supporting Exercise Battle Griffin in Norway; Head of Expeditionary Operations for II MEF G-3; and as Commanding Officer of 22nd MEU (SOC) during deployment as LF6F, participating in Exercises Bright Star 99/00 in Egypt and Infinite Moonlight in Jordan and acting as the Strategic Reserve for operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
In addition to his service at Camp Lejeune, Gaskin has also served with 3rd Force Service Support Group (Echo and Foxtrot Logistics Support Units); 3rd Marine Division (Division Command Center) in Okinawa, Japan; and with Combined Forces Command C/J-3, Seoul, South Korea as the Head of Ground Forces Branch. Gaskin's supporting establishment service includes assignment as Series Commander and Company Commanding at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina; Marine Officer Instructor, Savannah State University NROTC Unit; AssistantOfficer Selection Officer, Recruiting Station Macon, Georgia; Action Officer in charge of Unit Environmental Training Programs for Marine Corps Combat Development Center; and Ground Colonels' Monitor at Headquarters Marine Corps. Gaskin retired from the United States Marine Corps in October 2013.
VETERAN, USMC | Founder & Executive Director
Hellena currently serves as the Executive Director of Zahara Veterans Network, Inc. and is founder of the organization.
Hellena Pugh is an accomplished, results oriented professional, with an outstanding background of service as a military officer, corporate employee, and national volunteer. The youngest of six children, she was born on the south side of Chicago, and raised in the historic West Pullman neighborhood.
Hellena received her Bachelors of Science degree in Business Administration from Chicago State University (CSU) in 2002 and entered the corporate environment through sales and later transitioned into the purchasing industry. Upon commissioning, she became the first graduate of CSU to become an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
She served in the Marine Corps from 2008-2012 and separated after multiple surgeries failed to repair injuries she sustained to both feet. Always prone to research, she contacted several veteran nonprofit agencies for assistance after her transition and was surprised to hear the litany of excuses given for denial of assistance from veteran programs. The most repeated excuse given was that she had no “combat experience” a term used to discriminate against almost all women veterans by agencies that are often federally funded specifically to assist veterans. Those experiences exposed the reality of fraud, financial abuse, and waste within the nonprofit community.
Hellena realized the importance of networking and communication with other veterans during her own transition and led to her development of the business plan for Zahara Veterans Network, Inc. She established it to connect women veterans to each other and to share information on resources that actually assist veterans.
Today, Hellena is vested in the creation of Zahara Veterans Village to prioritize the housing of homeless veterans in a manner that helps restore dignity and establishes a clear path to stability, as well as provide the services women veterans have requested throughout the years but have yet to see come to fruition. Her focus is on the empowerment of the fastest growing segment of veterans, WOMEN.