Former Elizabethton resident co-authors book on revolution of drone warfare

Published 1:13 pm Friday, January 22, 2021

It is no surprise that Mark Cooter joined the United States Air Force when he graduated from college and it’s no surprise that he made a career of it being he was a military brat. Mark’s father was retired Major Doyle “Dick” Cooter, who retired after 24 years of service as a command pilot with more than 6,400 hours of flying. His mother was the former Betty Lou Hathaway Day, who grew up in Elizabethton and also spent her latter years here.
He is a brother to Dicky Lou, Michael, and Matt Cooter.
The family moved back to Elizabethton before Mark began high school. It was while a student at East Tennessee State University, he began mulling his career options. “I thought military life was good for Dad, so let’s give it a shot. I was too blind to fly, so I chose the intelligence field. It sort of nabbed me. But, there are worse ways to make a living,” he said this week as he mused about his past.
Mark after a successful career in the AF admits it made him daring, not afraid to take chances or accept new challenges. However, the biggest challenge of his career was when he was invited to become a part of the Predator Drone program. “It was something new. Before that I was doing things to support fighter airplanes, among them operating drones for surveillance purposes. The Predator Drone opened a whole new world to me, and eventually co-authoring the book NEVER MIND, WE’LL DO IT OURSELVES with Alec Bierbauer and Michael Marks,” shared Cooter. The book was released earlier this month.
Cooter explained that the book is the story behind the origins of the Predator Drone program and the dawn of unmanned warfare. It chronicles the risks Cooter and his team took, and the rules they broke to meet the project’s deadline. 
Cooter served as mission commander of the unmanned MQ-1B Predator in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He provided superior command and control during multiple air strikes and his devotion and meticulous attention to detail contributed to the squadron making Air Force and aerospace history.
Part of his motivation in making the program work was a former Elizabethton High schoolmate, Master Sergeant Jefferson Donald Davis, who was killed while on a mission in Afghanistan.
Cooter writes in the book: “I knew him as Donnie, and I knew his face like I knew my own. Donnie and I went to high school and played football together…our friendship strengthened throughout college and continued when we both went off to the military.”
Davis, a member of the Special Forces group out of Fort Campbell, was waging a last-stand battle against Taliban forces near an enemy stronghold north of Kandahar. Air support intended to provide much-needed firepower went astray. A two-thousand bomb intended for the Taliban fighters slammed into the group just a hundred yards from the clustered Americans, killing Davis and the men in his group.
Cooter’s mission was to make sure that didn’t happen again, meaning his missions had be precise and exact. He had to make sure the Predator Drone did its job, and did it right.
The book is a never told, first hand narrative of the development of the United States government’s drone program, born of necessity in 2000 to find Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. After 9/11 the mission gained even more importance.
Cooter and his CIA counterpart, Alec Bierbauer, were charged with its creation; a story that never had been fully told to the program. The book takes the reader into the back offices and secret government hangars where the robotic revolution went from a mad scientist idea to a pivotal part of global air power.
Their story reveals the often conflicting perspectives between the defense and intelligence communities and puts you inside places like the CIA’s counterterrorism center on the morning of 9/11. Through the eyes of the men and women who lived it, Cooter and his counterpart share experiences in the hunt for Bin Laden and the evolution of a program from passive surveillance to the complex hunter-killers that hang about battlespace like ghosts.
After 39 months of back and forth with the CIA and Department of Defense Publication Review Boards, the book was fully cleared for release.
At times disparaged, disavowed and denied, the Predator team met each challenge with the battle cry: Never Mind, We’ll Do It Ourselves, thus the name of the book.
The book is a firsthand account told by Cooter, the operations officers, and Bierbauer, the CIA team leader.
It is an American story of bravery, daring skills and challenges, and determination by a group of diverse individuals that came together and did great things.
“Mark’s history with the developmental system went back several years to his work in the Balkans, and Alec learned about the concept while desperately searching for technologies to use against America’s targets without unnecessarily risking American lives,” says Jon Arlan, editor at Skyhorse. “What the book tells us about modern warfare is quite literally a paradigm shift. We’re moving into an era in which we will no longer lose a flight crew when a plane gets shot down.”
“Some people might look at our determination and how we did things as arrogance, but it was more a matter of persistence. Every time I looked at Donnie’s picture, I thought this is why we do this. We can’t do enough to make sure what happened to him and his crew doesn’t happen again. We have to be on target, and we have to get it right. That was the goal of the Predator Drone program,” Cooter explained.
Mark and his wife, Angelina, who is also an active Air Force Colonel, are the parents of three daughters, two of which are grown and the youngest, 10 years old. They presently live in San Angelo, Tx., where Angelina is in charge of all intelligence personnel.
Copies of NEVER MIND, WE’LL DO IT OURSELVES was published by Skyhorse Publishing and sells for $16.99 and is available from most major publishing houses and book stores.

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