It takes a certain amount of grit and determination to survive in the world of special operations, it requires even more to lead and command the most decorated Air Force community since 9/11.
After 24 years of dedicated service, U.S. Air Force Col. Spencer Cocanour, former vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, is donning his beret and positioning his flash above his left eye for the final time during his retirement ceremony at the Soundside Club, here, Sept. 20.
“My view, for what it’s worth, I think Spence was absolutely the right officer at the right time,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Claude K. Tudor, Jr., Director of Air Force Integrated Resilience under the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, Headquarters U.S. Air Force. “He’s leaving this organization better than he found it … He’s served in war and in peace, and no matter what the challenge, no matter how high the mountain, no matter how wide the river – Spence has managed to cross it every single time.”
The Mansfield, Ohio, native received his commission in 1995 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts. After serving six years as an electrical engineer, Cocanour felt drawn to the idea of doing “cool things,” such as jumping out of aircraft, combat diving and bringing the fight to the enemy from the ground. After a lengthy process, he was granted an opportunity to pursue his calling and cross-trained into the elite field of Special Tactics.
“I met [Spencer Cocanour] in 2001 when I was an instructor at Lackland [Air Force Base] and he was a captain arriving to start the [Special Tactics Officer] pipeline,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Gross, commander of the 720th Operations Support Squadron. “He was mature, smart and in such phenomenal shape going through the pipeline that he was able to give more of himself, [more so] than most STO trainees, to taking care of the other Airmen.”
After more than two years of training, Cocanour completed the rigorous STO pipeline in 2003 and began a journey that would forever leave a footprint in the close-knit Special Tactics community.
As a STO, Cocanour led Special Tactics Teams in preparation for worldwide contingency operations in both hostile and austere environments, ranging from counterterrorism missions to global humanitarian assistance operations. Special Tactics operators are U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air-to-ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force leading global access, precision strike, personnel recovery, and battlefield surgery operations.
For the next 18 years, Cocanour would climb the ranks and be involved in many major operations ranging from ENDURING FREEDOM to the more recent FREEDOM’S SENTINEL and RESOLUTE SUPPORT. With more than 10 assignments, Cocanour has held various team and leadership positions from troop commander to acting wing commander in the Air Force.
Cocanour’s callings didn’t end with Special Tactics – he has also been active in U.S. Armed Forces Sports for the past 22 years. In 1997, he joined the United States Air Force Triathlon Team and began racking up countless miles in the water and on the pavement. Exercising his gift of mentoring, Cocanour took on the role of coaching the team in 2010.
“Coach Spence has been a great role model of what a professional leader looks like,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Joel Bischoff, a member of the USAF Triathlon Team. “He played a pivotal role in my growth as a triathlete and a leader.”
As well as being involved in the U.S. Armed Forces Sports, Cocanour has been a member of the International Military Sports Council: World Military Championship Triathlon Team.
“I can’t begin to describe the impact Spence has had on the national and international armed forces triathlon community,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Judy Coyle, a member of the USAF Triathlon Team. “He helped shape the direction and rules of that community through his leadership.”
As almost a quarter of a century of service comes to an end, “SC” is gratified that he can look back on his career and know he accomplished everything that he wanted to do in the Air Force.
“To the men and women of [Air Force Special Operations Command] and Special Tactics – it has been an absolute honor to work with you,” said Cocanour. “The former Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, said it very simply and it resonated with me – ‘Always leave the wood pile taller than you found it.’ I hope I have lived up to that simple proverb.”