WASHINGTON – Army Spc. Christopher James Coffland, 43, of Baltimore, died Friday of wounds suffered during a roadside bombing that day in Afghanistan, just weeks after he was deployed.
An improvised explosive device hit Coffland’s vehicle in the Wardak province of Afghanistan, according to a Department of Defense news release. Two Marines in the vehicle were also killed.
Coffland was assigned to the 323rd Military Intelligence Battalion in Fort Meade before transferring to the 321st Military Intelligence Battalion in Austin, Texas, to prepare for deployment. He left for Afghanistan in late October and was scheduled to be there for 400 days, according to the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Readiness Command.
Coffland graduated from Gilman High School in Baltimore in 1984 and Washington and Lee University in 1988, where he majored in psychology and played football and lacrosse, according to a university news release.
Willie Franklin, a high school classmate who kept in regular touch with Coffland, said his decision to enlist in the Army Reserve a month before his 42nd birthday, the cutoff age, was a carefully thought-out decision.
“He’s always had an interest in the military,” said Franklin, adding that Coffland wanted to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but was too old for the regular Army. He said that the intelligence field was a good fit for Coffland because of his people skills.
“He had a special talent on connecting with people,” said Franklin. “He was able to get people to speak with him because he was so focused on the task at hand.”
Coffland’s love of sports and people allowed him to travel around the world, Franklin said. He played professional football in Finland, coached football in Australia and coached lacrosse at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Several players from Loyola Marymount joined a Facebook fan page to share memories about their coach.
“He was just an amazing person. He was intense, he was funny, and he was just 100 percent all the time,” said Devin Penhall, a former player who created the Facebook page.
“He was a hard worker and he had a ton of heart,” said Will Murphy, another former player. “We loved hanging out with him after practices.”
He worked as a bartender in Baltimore, where he lived with his sister and her family, before enlisting, Franklin said.
“The death of Army Specialist Christopher James Coffland is a terrible loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and the people he touched in his life,” Baltimore Mayor Shelia Dixon said in a statement. “On behalf of the citizens of Baltimore, I express our deep gratitude for the service and sacrifice Specialist Coffland made on our behalf. We will never forget his courage and devotion. City flags will be lowered in his honor.”
Funeral services are at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.