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Project Hero: COL James Coffman, Jr, Distinguished Service Cross
Posted by: McQ on Saturday, February 25, 2006

I noted in an earlier Project Hero post that CSMs are not ususally in the position to win medals for valor. They're leaders, of course, but usually, because of their rank, not found in the thick of the fighting. CSM Ron Riling was an exception to that rule. The same could be said about Colonels. They're usually found directing the battle, not fighting it. And add the job of "advisor" to that and you have an officer that is twice removed from battle. Unless you're talking about COL James H Coffman, Jr.

COL Coffman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest award for valor to those serving the the United States Army. COL Coffman's story is an amazing one. As Senior Advisor to the 1st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade his job was to help train and prepare that brigade to do battle with the insurgent, but not to actually conduct or participate in the battles himself. But, when circumstance dictated and it was literally do or die, COL Coffman not only rose to the occasion, but saved the day. Below is his citation from his award of the Distinguished Service Cross:
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.
Unable to speak the language fluently, he used hand signals and gestures. He kept rallying the commandos when all of their officers were out of commission. Although wounded he remained until the battle was done, constantly adjusting to the ebb and flow of battle, bringing attack aviation assets to bear and ensuring his wounded were evacuated. Only when the battle was done and all his wounded were cared for, did COL Coffman allow his wounds to be tended.

An inspirational and heroic story. And one that demonstrates again the amazing depth of duty, honor and valor the men and women of our armed forces display on a daily basis.

Previously featured in "Project Hero":

1LT Brian Chontosh: Navy Cross
PFC Daniel McClenney: Silver Star
PVT Dwayne Turner: Silver Star
MSG Robert Collins & SFC Danny Hall: Silver Star
SSG William Thomas Payne: Silver Star
CPT Christoper J. Bronzi: Silver Star
SSG Charles Good: Silver Star
SR AMN Jason D. Cunningham: Air Force Cross
PFC Jeremy Church: Silver Star
SGT Leigh Ann Hester: Silver Star
CSM Ron Riling: Silver Star
CPL Jason L. Dunham: nominee, Medal of Honor
PFC Joseph Perez: Navy Cross

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PROJECT HERO is an ongoing attempt to highlight the valor of our military as they fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We constantly hear the negative and far to little of the positive and inspiring stories coming out of those countries. This is one small attempt to rectify that. If you know of a story of valor you'd like to see highlighted here (published on Saturday), please contact us. And we'd appreciate your link so we can spread the word.
 
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