Monday, January 29, 2007

A Hero to Remember ~ Col James H Coffman, Jr.

A Hero to Remember
Col James H Coffman, Jr.
Distinguished Service Cross
Standing in the blood of his Iraqi counterparts, back to the wall with just four bullets and a folding knife to defend against onrushing insurgents, Col James Coffman had just one thought going through his head - "I am not going to be on TV with them cutting my damn head off."

Col James H Coffman with his Distinguished Service Cross and the two Medals presented by Bayan Jabr, Iraq's Minister of the Interior and Major General Adnon Thebit, commander of the Special Police Forces

General George Casey, commander of Multi-National Forces, Iraq, congratulates US Army Col James H Coffman, Jr after pinning him with the Distinguished Service Cross in front of a formation of Iraqi Special Forces Commandos. Photo by Sgt Lorie Jewell

For exceptionally valorous conduct while assigned as the Senior Advisor to the 1st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade during a lengthy battle on 14 November 2004 in Mosul, Iraq, during which the unit likely would have been overrun were it not for the courageous leadership of Colonel Coffman and the one Commando officer not wounded. At approximately 1030 hours on 14 November, Colonel Coffman moved with a Commando Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to reinforce a Commando platoon under attack at the Four West Police Station in Mosul.

As the QRF neared the besieged platoon, it came under intense rocket-propelled grenade, mortar, machinegun, and AK-47 fire by a large insurgent force. Over the next four hours, the enemy repeatedly assaulted the Commandos' position, at times culminating their attacks twenty meters from Colonel Coffman's location. With all but one of the commando officers killed or seriously wounded by the initial enemy fire, Colonel Coffman exhibited truly inspirational leadership, rallying the Commandos and organizing a hasty defense while attempting to radio higher headquarters for reinforcements. Under heavy fire, he moved from Commando to Commando, looking each in the eye and using hand and arm signals to demonstrate what he wanted done.

At one point, an enemy round shattered Colonel Coffman's shooting hand and rendered his M4 rifle inoperable. After bandaging his hand, Colonel Coffman picked up AK-47s from Commando casualties and fired them with his other hand until each ran out of ammunition. With the assistance of the one remaining Commando officer, Colonel Coffman redistributed ammunition among the uninjured commandos until he had only loose ammunition that he loaded by placing magazines between his legs and using his one working hand. Throughout this period, he repeatedly demonstrated exceptional courage and an extraordinary example to the commandos as they repulsed attack after attack by the enemy.

Four hours after the start of the battle, a second Commando element arrived and Colonel Coffman guided them to his position. Even after their arrival, he continued to direct the fight, refusing to be evacuated until the enemy was defeated. Shortly thereafter, attack helicopters also arrived, followed closely by a Stryker Brigade QRF, and Colonel Coffman used Iraqi radios to direct air strikes and to provide vital information on the location of enemy and friendly forces. After supervising the evacuation of several dozen wounded Commandos, Colonel Coffman led a squad-sized element to the Four West Iraqi Police Station, fifty meters ahead of the Strykers, to make contact with the Commandos still in the station. After they linked up, the Strykers moved forward, and attack helicopters engaged the buildings occupied by the enemy, following which Colonel Coffman returned to his original position to ensure that all of the Iraqi casualties had been evacuated.

Only then did he consent to be evacuated for surgery for his own serious wound. During the fierce four-hour battle, twelve Commandos were killed and 42 were wounded. Twenty-five enemy were killed and many dozens more were wounded.

Col James H Coffman, Jr, 51, a 1978 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, received the Distinguished Service Cross on August 24, 2005 for his heroism in battle, leading the Iraqi Special Police Commandos through a 5 1/2 hour battle against insurgents trying to overrun an Iraqi police station on November 14, 2004. He was the senior advisor to the Iraqi Special Police Commandos with the Multi-National Security Transistion Command - Iraq's Civilian Police Assistance Training Team. He accompanied a commando Quick Reaction Force with the 3rd Battalion, !st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade to help a commando platoon under attack in a Mosul police station.

Col Coffman doesn't see himself as a big hero, just a Soldier who did what he had to do to keep himself and his men alive. "There are equal acts out there. This one just got written up," Coffman said. "I would like to see more people get written up."

Col Coffman is from Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the Army in 1972. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chinese Area Studies from the United States Military Academy, a Master of Science degree in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California. He was also a US Army Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and attended the Boston university Overseas Program for Master of Science in International Relations in Vicenza, Italy. He has a wife, Patricia, and two grown daughters.

His other awards include the Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge and Special Forces and Range Tabs.

To read all in the Hero to Remember Series, click here.


De'on Miller said...

What a great man. Thanks for his story!

Joe Pollhein said...

Very intersting

Sarge Charlie said...

Thanks for this post, I am linking your site if you do not mind

chrys said...

Impressive tribute to a Col Coffman! Did you send this to Wednesday Hero? This would be impressive to presentation to spread through "blogdum"

Flag Gazer said...

Thank you all for visiting.

He is an impressive man!