"I'm definitely excited, if nothing else for the extra training," said Cooper. "Any training that they put in front of me, I will go at as hard as I can. This is a different and unique opportunity."
A childhood dream of becoming a soldier has transformed into a lifetime of goals for Cooper. Over the last four years, he has taken several steps to ensure he achieves his military aspirations.
"I was 6 years old when I decided I wanted to join the military," said Cooper. "It wasn't until I was 8 that I settled on the Marines."
As a freshman, Cooper began visiting the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting substation in Joplin.
"Every Thursday, we open the doors to those who have enlisted or are interested in enlisting," said Sgt. Adam Chaney, who works out of the Joplin facility. "We don't demand that they be there every Thursday, but Kendal has made a conscious effort to be there, get into shape and learn."
Enlisted individuals are required to complete physical training (PT) at the facility one Saturday each month.
By taking part in both the weekly and monthly events, Cooper has jump started his military career and had the opportunity to take on several leadership positions. As a fire team leader, assistant squad leader and squad leader, he has overseen the training of four to 14 other enlisted individuals.
"I enjoy training," said Cooper. "I want to learn anything and everything. If you give me the opportunity, I'm going to grab it."
Last year, Cooper also enrolled in the JROTC program offered through the Southwest Area Career Center in Monett.
"I knew the program would help me get some of the technical things down for my career in the military," said Cooper. "I have definitely learned a lot about self improvement and leadership and improved my marksmanship.
"I have more understanding of the strategic part of the military," said Cooper. "We are learning a lot of key points."
Through JROTC, Cooper has earned his medical certificate for first aid. He has also taken part in around 300 color guards, including one at a Missouri State University Bears game and one at a Springfield Cardinals game that was broadcast to troops serving overseas.
"I have earned multiple leadership awards, PT awards and color guard awards," said Cooper. "I have achieved the highest ranking non-commissioned officer, which is command sergeant major."
Cooper oversees the Southwest Area Career Center JROTC's drill team, which earned second place at its last competition in Webb City.
"JROTC is a good opportunity to get yourself out there, and it gives you a small taste of military life," said Cooper. "The goal of the program is to make better leaders and to help cadets learn faster and teach others more quickly.
"Before I joined, I was very shy," said Cooper. "I hated to talk in front of people, but now I command a group of 12 to 80 cadets. It helps you get over your small fears and gets you out in front of people."
Even though involvement in JROTC has made Cooper's life more hectic, he said the extra work is worth it.
"I've gained an ability to think on my feet," said Cooper. "I don't just see the small picture. I see the big picture as it unfolds. Plus, this has gotten my confidence up a lot."
After graduating this year, Cooper will attend boot camp in San Diego, Calif. He will also likely participate in training at Camp Pendleton in California, said Chaney.
"After he completes basics, he will be home for 10 days and then he will go to the school of infantry for three months," said Chaney.
When he completes training, Cooper will begin his presidential security detail assignment, which will last two years. He will return to basic infantry following the special detail.
Some of Cooper's military career goals include earning degrees in Naval war science and military science with a minor in history. He hopes to one day work as a military strategic planning teacher at a military academy.
"Kendal showed us the work," said Chaney. "He kept himself out of trouble, put in hard work and has big goals. He will be a step ahead after completing the presidential security detail. It will be extra work for him, but it will also open a lot of doors to him."
Cooper said he is excited to begin his training in California.
"I could be doing my training right here, and I would still be excited though," said Cooper.
In addition to participating in JROTC, Cooper took part in cross country in middle school and has been a member of the Cassville track team since he was in seventh grade. He was a member of the Wildcat football team and was selected as a member of the National Technical Honor Society through the Southwest Area Career Center.
Cooper is the son of Michael and Lynna Cooper, of Cassville.