COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – One day soon, the 100th Missile Defense Brigade’s retiring command sergeant major plans to be on a boat in the middle of a South Carolina lake, far from the mountains of Colorado and the brigade he helped shape from its inception.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery F. Coker, who joined the Army in 1984, said he will miss donning his uniform every day and the brigade he served with for nearly half of his 36-year military career.
“This unit has the most important mission in the Army when it comes to homeland defense,” Coker said of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade. “I enjoyed every minute of it. If I could do it all over again, I would. This is my second family, and it will be greatly missed.”
Coker hails from Easley, South Carolina, and enlisted in the South Carolina Army National Guard as a cannoneer. He has served as an Air Defense Artilleryman for the bulk of his career in the National Guard and active Army. In 2003, Coker stumbled upon an opportunity halfway across the country. A missile defense unit that would later become known as the 100th Missile Defense Brigade was activating in Colorado, and the National Guard Bureau was seeking men and women to fill its billets here and in the interior of Alaska.
Coker saw this as an opportunity to serve full time and bring his family with him. He accepted the job and soon had orders for Fort Greely, Alaska, to serve in the 100th Brigade’s subordinate unit, the 49th Missile Defense Battalion. He took part in the inaugural Ground-based Midcourse Defense Training and Exercise Basic Course that armed Soldiers with the knowledge of how to operate the emerging Ground-based Midcourse Defense Fire Control System, which was still in its infancy.
He reported to Fort Greely on July 4, 2004, to serve as a weapons operator at the Fire Direction Center there. He recalled the drive across the Alaska and Canada Highway that gave him and his young family a thrill seeing bison, bears, and wild horses for the first time.
“It was different, new and exciting,” Coker said. “When we first got into Fort Greely, the temperature was in the high 80s. It seemed like the sun never set. My first thought of Alaska is that it will be cold, but here I am wearing shorts and a T-shirt and I’m thinking, ‘This ain’t too bad.’
“However, by Christmas eve that year it cooled off to somewhere around 67 below,” he said.
Now, Coker is quick with a laugh. His laid-back sentences rarely end in exclamation points, but he acknowledged he was not always this way. A no-nonsense attitude was fitting to help mold a new unit comprising people from all over the U.S. He was soon elevated into leadership positions within the 49th Missile Defense Battalion including the first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and later the Ground-based Interceptor Military Police Company.
Coker rotated out of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion to serve as the Alaska National Guard Training and Operations sergeant major in Anchorage. From September 2010 to April 2011, he deployed as the senior liaison noncommissioned officer to the Mongolian Armed Forces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan. Upon his return, he served as the Alaska National Guard’s 38th Troop Command Operations sergeant major.
In 2014, he moved back to Fort Greely where he served as the battalion command sergeant major until 2016 when he was selected as the command sergeant major of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade. He returned to Colorado Springs where his journey with the brigade began.
“This job has been the honor of a lifetime,” Coker said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest people in the Army.”
The primary purpose of the unit’s command sergeant major is to advise the commander on issues pertaining to Soldiers, especially in the enlisted ranks. Coker said the most rewarding aspect of his job has been interacting with those Soldiers.
“They help me stay young,” he said. “With today’s generation, the train of thought is different. So, I try to find a happy medium where the Soldiers are happy, the mission is accomplished, and everyone feels like they are a part of it."
Coker said he hopes his legacy is that of a "Soldier's command sergeant major."
“I want the Soldiers I served with to remember me as honest and fair," he said. "Nobody worked for me; I worked for them. I always tried to consider the best interest of the Soldiers whether it be a problem or a move. I want them to remember me as a guy who would fight for them and support them.”
In retirement, Coker said he will fill his days hunting and fishing. Soon, he will be changing his title of Command Sergeant Major to Grandpa and said he will be quick to “get back to enjoying life." He offered this advice to all Soldiers:
“Always be honest and straightforward,” he said. “Don’t be in a rush. Trust your senior leaders to see things in a different light. We tend to look further into the future, so do not get frustrated or aggravated. Do your job and give 100 percent. Try to learn something new every day, sit back, and enjoy the ride because it will be over before you know it.”