The Company of anonymous heroes

On November 14, 2004 Colonel James H. Coffman accompanied the 3rd Battalion, 1st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade as it moved quickly to help out another of its platoons under attack in a Mosul police station. Major General Adnan Thebit's Special Police Commandos had previously proven their mettle during operations in Samarra.  Afterwards, Col. Coffman's boss, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, sent him to evaluate the unit.  The colonel, a West Point graduate and Special Forces officer, found them well led and disciplined, with a solid command and control structure. In November, Col. Coffman, now senior advisor to the Commando Brigade, went into battle with them and earned the Distinguished Service Cross.

Second only to the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross was established by Act of Congress on July 9, 1918.  According to Army regulations it is

'awarded to a person who while serving in any capacity with the Army distinguishes himself or herself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States... The act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades.' 

Multi—National Force commander General George Casey pinned the DSC on Col. Coffman during an awards ceremony in Baghdad August 24.  

When 3rd Battalion commandos were 100 yards from the police station they ran into a hail of small arms fire, rocket—propelled grenades and mortar rounds and the beginnings of a 5 ½  hour firefight with the terrorist who ambushed them.  'We deployed out of the vehicles and took what cover we could, but we were pretty exposed,' Coffman later reported.  One hour into the battle an enemy round hit his left shooting hand and disabled his M4 rifle.  Coffman bandaged his hand and kept fighting with AK—47s taken from Iraqi commando casualties nearby.  When only loose rounds remained, he pressed magazines between his knees and loaded them with his right hand.  By now all but one of the commando officers had been killed or seriously wounded, so Coffman rallied the men while trying to radio for assistance. 

'Under heavy fire,' the citation reads, 'he moved from commando to commando, looking each one in the eye and using arm and hand signals to demonstrate what he wanted done.' 

'When the bad guys started advancing on us, I was essentially the only guy in the area shooting.  I thought I might not be able to beat them off, but I had a bunch of wounded guys behind me and whatever it took to keep those guys from getting to us was what I was going to do,'

Coffman said afterwards.  When a second commando unit arrived four hours after the ambush was triggered, Coffman led them to his position and kept fighting.  More reinforcements in the form of a Stryker Brigade reaction force were soon on the scene, along with air support.  Coffman still refused to be evacuated.  Instead, he supervised the evacuation of the wounded. Then he guided other commando reinforcements to the Iraqi police station. When the Stryker unit and air support began their concerted attack against the terrorists, Coffman returned to his men to check on the wounded.  Only after doing so did he agree to be evacuated.  Having accomplished these feats of valor and perseverance, Col. James H. Coffman will soon join that distinguished group of Americans known as the Company of Anonymous Heroes.

For this writer and other strong supporters of the Bush administration in the global war on terror, and specifically, the war in Iraq, it has been frustrating that they have not effectively promoted in any sustained manner the ongoing and very real progress and successes in that liberated country.  They have not established a positive communications program to get the word out.  Since they know they cannot rely on the adversarial, if not hostile, media to do this, they must come up with their own media alternative.  The Pentagon Channel counts, but how many people know it exists?  This overdue effort is absolutely necessary to sustain national will, morale and support for the war.  One of the things the Pentagon or White House might consider is to remind Americans on a regular basis of the anonymous heroes in their midst; to make that distinguished group as familiar to Americans as Audie Murphy was in WW2.   Who are some of its members?  How many reading this ever heard their names?

Some might recall that Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith of the 11th Engineer Battalion was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Colonel Coffman was the second US Army member to earn the Distinguished Service Cross. 

The other was

Master Sergeant Donald R. Hallenbeck.

There have been ten awards of the Navy Cross. Like the DSC, it is second only to the Medal of Honor.  These men earned it while serving in Afghanistan: 

Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass

Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski. 

The eight who earned it serving in Iraq are: 

1st LT Brian Chontosh, USMC, 

Gunnery Sgt. Justin N. Lehew, USMC

Corporal Marco Martinez, USMC, 

Lance Corporal Joseph R. Perez, USMC, 

Hospitalman Apprentice Louis E. Fonseca,

Sgt. Scott C. Montague, USMC, 

Sgt. Willie L. Copeland, USMC, and

Captain Brent Morel, USMC.

Two members of the Unites States Air Force earned the Air Force Cross in Afghanistan.  Both were awarded posthumously.  The pair who gave their last full measure of devotion were

Senior Airman Jason Dean Cunningham and

Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.

Should anyone want to read the inspiring citations for the heroes listed above (minus that of SFC Smith), go to www.homeofheroes.com

Meantime, it remains to be seen what the administration will do to communicate effectively the heroism, the valor, the dedication and the perseverance of this Company of Anonymous Heroes, that includes approximately 160 who have earned the Silver Star. They have more than earned their honors, and their names shine as a beacon to the rest of us, albeit in a shadow of media disregard.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian.

On November 14, 2004 Colonel James H. Coffman accompanied the 3rd Battalion, 1st Iraqi Special Police Commando Brigade as it moved quickly to help out another of its platoons under attack in a Mosul police station. Major General Adnan Thebit's Special Police Commandos had previously proven their mettle during operations in Samarra.  Afterwards, Col. Coffman's boss, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, sent him to evaluate the unit.  The colonel, a West Point graduate and Special Forces officer, found them well led and disciplined, with a solid command and control structure. In November, Col. Coffman, now senior advisor to the Commando Brigade, went into battle with them and earned the Distinguished Service Cross.

Second only to the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross was established by Act of Congress on July 9, 1918.  According to Army regulations it is

'awarded to a person who while serving in any capacity with the Army distinguishes himself or herself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States... The act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades.' 

Multi—National Force commander General George Casey pinned the DSC on Col. Coffman during an awards ceremony in Baghdad August 24.  

When 3rd Battalion commandos were 100 yards from the police station they ran into a hail of small arms fire, rocket—propelled grenades and mortar rounds and the beginnings of a 5 ½  hour firefight with the terrorist who ambushed them.  'We deployed out of the vehicles and took what cover we could, but we were pretty exposed,' Coffman later reported.  One hour into the battle an enemy round hit his left shooting hand and disabled his M4 rifle.  Coffman bandaged his hand and kept fighting with AK—47s taken from Iraqi commando casualties nearby.  When only loose rounds remained, he pressed magazines between his knees and loaded them with his right hand.  By now all but one of the commando officers had been killed or seriously wounded, so Coffman rallied the men while trying to radio for assistance. 

'Under heavy fire,' the citation reads, 'he moved from commando to commando, looking each one in the eye and using arm and hand signals to demonstrate what he wanted done.' 

'When the bad guys started advancing on us, I was essentially the only guy in the area shooting.  I thought I might not be able to beat them off, but I had a bunch of wounded guys behind me and whatever it took to keep those guys from getting to us was what I was going to do,'

Coffman said afterwards.  When a second commando unit arrived four hours after the ambush was triggered, Coffman led them to his position and kept fighting.  More reinforcements in the form of a Stryker Brigade reaction force were soon on the scene, along with air support.  Coffman still refused to be evacuated.  Instead, he supervised the evacuation of the wounded. Then he guided other commando reinforcements to the Iraqi police station. When the Stryker unit and air support began their concerted attack against the terrorists, Coffman returned to his men to check on the wounded.  Only after doing so did he agree to be evacuated.  Having accomplished these feats of valor and perseverance, Col. James H. Coffman will soon join that distinguished group of Americans known as the Company of Anonymous Heroes.

For this writer and other strong supporters of the Bush administration in the global war on terror, and specifically, the war in Iraq, it has been frustrating that they have not effectively promoted in any sustained manner the ongoing and very real progress and successes in that liberated country.  They have not established a positive communications program to get the word out.  Since they know they cannot rely on the adversarial, if not hostile, media to do this, they must come up with their own media alternative.  The Pentagon Channel counts, but how many people know it exists?  This overdue effort is absolutely necessary to sustain national will, morale and support for the war.  One of the things the Pentagon or White House might consider is to remind Americans on a regular basis of the anonymous heroes in their midst; to make that distinguished group as familiar to Americans as Audie Murphy was in WW2.   Who are some of its members?  How many reading this ever heard their names?

Some might recall that Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith of the 11th Engineer Battalion was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Colonel Coffman was the second US Army member to earn the Distinguished Service Cross. 

The other was

Master Sergeant Donald R. Hallenbeck.

There have been ten awards of the Navy Cross. Like the DSC, it is second only to the Medal of Honor.  These men earned it while serving in Afghanistan: 

Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass

Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski. 

The eight who earned it serving in Iraq are: 

1st LT Brian Chontosh, USMC, 

Gunnery Sgt. Justin N. Lehew, USMC

Corporal Marco Martinez, USMC, 

Lance Corporal Joseph R. Perez, USMC, 

Hospitalman Apprentice Louis E. Fonseca,

Sgt. Scott C. Montague, USMC, 

Sgt. Willie L. Copeland, USMC, and

Captain Brent Morel, USMC.

Two members of the Unites States Air Force earned the Air Force Cross in Afghanistan.  Both were awarded posthumously.  The pair who gave their last full measure of devotion were

Senior Airman Jason Dean Cunningham and

Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.

Should anyone want to read the inspiring citations for the heroes listed above (minus that of SFC Smith), go to www.homeofheroes.com

Meantime, it remains to be seen what the administration will do to communicate effectively the heroism, the valor, the dedication and the perseverance of this Company of Anonymous Heroes, that includes approximately 160 who have earned the Silver Star. They have more than earned their honors, and their names shine as a beacon to the rest of us, albeit in a shadow of media disregard.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian.