For as long as he can remember, the command sergeant major at the 418th Contracting Support Brigade has always wanted to be a Soldier. Since his early childhood, the influential role played by his uncles who themselves had all served their nation was the impetus for the coming-of-age teen transitioning to early adulthood."My uncles were like father figures to me, and all five of them served in the Army," Command Sgt. Maj. Marlon Cooper said. "They would have me doing push-ups and drill and ceremony as a kid. I knew after graduation I wanted to start an Army career."That career, which culminates after more than 26 years of service following a 418th CSB change-of-responsibility ceremony Jan. 9 at Fort Hood, Texas, got its start before Cooper even graduated from West Brook High School in Beaumont, Texas.Cooper, now 43, decided to enter the Army delayed entry program prior to graduation. A tell-tale sign of his determination to follow in the footsteps of his uncles was his arrival for career day at West Brook already attired in the Army battle dress uniform given to him by his uncle, retired Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Cooper.The day following his 18th birthday, Cooper entered active duty and departed for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Upon successful completion, he next attended advanced individual training at Fort Lee, Virginia, where he learned to become a materiel control and accounting specialist, which shortly after converted to an automated logistics specialist and the military occupational specialty 92A.As a 92 Alpha, he supervised and performed management as well as warehouse functions for the receipt, storage, distribution and issue of maintained equipment records and parts in the motor pool. Cooper went on to complete duty assignments at Wildflecken and Hanau, Germany, Fort Hood, Fort Gordon, Georgia, and Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.It wasn't until late 2005 that he was introduced to contracting as a promotable sergeant first class still in the 92A MOS but with a G1 additional skill identifier. At that time the 51C Contracting NCO MOS did not exist and the award of a G1 ASI identified NCOs with contracting experience."Once the MOS became available, I converted over as one of the first 51Cs in the Army," Cooper said.Initial contracting assignments followed at the team and brigade level at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, before he was selected as the sergeant major for the 903rd Contingency Contracting Battalion at Kaiserslautern, Germany. Throughout his career, he has served in a variety of positions of increasing responsibility including more recently as the senior enlisted adviser to the commanding general of the Central Command's Joint Theater Support Contracting Command in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel, returning home in September 2015. His deployments span tours in Bosnia, Qatar, Afghanistan and Iraq.Over that time, he said he has seen the 51C MOS evolve tremendously, growing to require nine brigade command sergeants major and more than 25 sergeants major in the career field to meet an increasing operational role."When I initially entered the career field, we only had two sergeants major," Cooper said. "Contracting NCOs are a force multiplier. A contracting team consisting of two officers and three NCOs are capable of supporting a forward operating base and providing life support to an entire brigade-size element. Our 51C NCOs train the warfighter on field ordering officer and contracting officer representative procedures that are readily utilized during contingency operations."The 418th CSM believes the capable skills demonstrated by NCOs in the contracting career field epitomize the caliber of those choosing to serve today. "Today's Soldiers are smarter than ever, and I believe 51C NCOs are some if not the most educated NCOs in the Army," he said. "More than 85 percent of our NCOs holds a bachelor's degree or higher and has the capabilities of serving as business advisers to the commanders they support."As service leaders continue to implement force structure measures, Cooper said the Army's needs for a sufficient number of trained, experienced and certified contracting NCOs and officers in the active and Reserve components to support its core contracting mission seems to run counter to the drawdown."One of the major challenges I foresee is doing more with less. Even though the Army's operational tempo and the demand for contracting NCOs and officers seems to increase, the drawdown of forces has caused a decrease in our force structure," he said. "We are a very small career field and will become much smaller in the near future."He believes that the measures being applied to meet external factors leading to a reduced force structure in the Army is headed in the overall right direction. Nonetheless, he remains concerned with the state of the contracting community due to future reductions in the 51C MOS and the visibility of the significant contributions by contracting to the warfighter at the strategic level.It's evident that his concern is genuine as he admits what he'll miss most about serving his nation is the people."I will miss every officer, Soldier and civilian whom I have had the pleasure of serving with throughout my 26 years of military service to our nation," he said. "The Army has taught me many things but, most importantly it introduced me to people who have had a lasting impact on my life."Although Cooper's official retirement date is Aug. 1, he plans to use the months ahead as an opportunity to focus on those things most important in his life before entering the civilian workforce."I plan on taking a knee for a short period in order to spend quality time with my family. My wife, Tantanisha, and kids have been my No. 1. Without their continuous love and support, I wouldn't have made it this far in my military career," he said. "It's also a good idea to decompress after serving more than 26 years of service. Transitioning from active duty to the civilian sector is a challenging process; however, I'm looking forward to the challenge. "