August 29, 2005
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Compiled from News Sources by DW Staff
A 51-year-old US Army colonel has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) – second only to the Medal of Honor in military decorations for leading Iraqi Special Police Commandos during a 5 ½-hour battle against insurgents trying to overrun an Iraqi police station.
The DSC has been awarded to U.S. Army Col. James H. Coffman Jr., a senior adviser to Iraqi Special Police Commandos assigned to the Multi-National Security Transition Command–Iraq's Civilian Police Assistance Training Team. He accompanied a commando Quick Reaction Force (QRF) with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade on Nov. 14, 2004 to help a commando platoon under attack in a Mosul , Iraq police station, Army officials said.
"It's humbling to me, to be in the company of heroes," said Gen George Casey, Commander of the Multi-National Forces – Iraq , after pinning the medal on Coffman during a ceremony last week in Baghdad . During the battle 12 Iraqi commandos were killed and wounded 24 wounded during the fight.. "Such exemplary conduct is a great example to Iraqi commandos and to all American Soldiers and warriors," Casey said.
According to the citation the battle began as the QRF approached the station, already under attack by insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and mortars. Coffman and the commandos fought the insurgents for four hours before help arrived. When the initial firefight killed or seriously wounded all but one of the commando officers, Coffman rallied the remaining commandos while trying to radio for assistance..
"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," the citation said.
When an enemy round shattered his left shooting hand, damaging his M4 rifle in the process, Coffman bandaged it and continued fighting with AK-47 rifles he collected from commando casualties until each ran out of ammunition. He also passed out ammunition to the uninjured commandos with the help of the remaining commando officer; when all that remained were loose rounds, Coffman held magazines between his legs and loaded the rounds with his good hand.
When a second commando unit arrived four hours after the fight began, Coffman led them to his position and continued to fight, refusing to be evacuated for treatment until the battle was over. Not long after the commando reinforcements arrived, air support and a Stryker Brigade Quick Reaction Force were on hand to assist to assist in the battle.
Gen. George Casey, commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, congratulates U.S. Army Col. James H. Coffman Jr. after pinning him with the Distinguished Service Cross. US Army photo - Sgt. Lorie Jewell
Coffman supervised the evacuation of injured commandos and led another group of commandos to the police station to make contact with the Iraqi Police inside. Once the additional air and ground support elements began attacking buildings the enemy forces were hiding in, Coffman went back to his initial position to check on the injured commandos and then agreed to be evacuated for treatment. Twenty-five insurgents were killed and dozens injured.
Following the award ceremony Coffman praised the commandos for their service. He also said he viewed the ceremony as a tribute to the Iraqi and Coalition forces that have fought, bled and died together.
"Third battalion, I am truly, truly honored to stand here with you today and remember your courage and bravery last November and in all the days since then," Coffman said, facing the commando formations. "It has been an honor to fight with you."
Prior to the ceremony, Coffman said surgery repaired the shattered bones in his hand but it still isn't back to 100 percent. In the months he's had to reflect on the battle, Coffman said his focus continues to be on the courage and exemplary performance of the Iraqi commandos he fought with.
"I'm very proud of them, and more importantly, they're proud of themselves," Coffman said. "The next day, they were back out on patrol – after suffering 30 to 50 percent casualties. That's pretty amazing. I'm not sure American units would do that. That says something about their resilience and their ability to maintain morale. They certainly mourned their losses, but they got back into the fight right away. I don't think you can ask much more of people than that."
After nearly two years in Iraq, Coffman is preparing to return home in early September. Ironically, Coffman will return to a Pentagon job he held prior to deploying to Iraq in December 2003, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict.
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. He believes there are plenty of heroic deeds going on in Iraq – particularly in the military and special police training teams – that go unrecognized.
"There are equal acts out there. This one just got written up," Coffman said. "I would like to see more people get written up."
Coffman may downplay his actions, but those who work with him on the commando adviser team describe him as a passionate, tough, and no-nonsense warrior.
Coffman enlisted in the Army in 1972 in Great Barrington, Mass.
Coffman has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chinese Area Studies from the United States Military Academy at West Point , N.Y. and a Master of Science degree in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey , Calif. He was also a U.S. Army Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University in Medford , Mass. , and attended the Boston University Overseas Program for Master of Science in International Relations in Vicenza , Italy .
U.S. Army Sgt. Lorie Jewell contributed to this article. She serves with the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Public Affairs.
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