A 43-year-old Baltimore man who joined the Army Reserve just shy of the cutoff date for enlisting and was deployed to Afghanistan two weeks ago was killed there Friday in a roadside bombing, his family said.
Spc. Christopher James Coffland had spent his life counseling, coaching, traveling, and studying people and cultures, at one point pursuing anthropology graduate work that took him to Gabon, Africa. A month before he turned 42, the enlistment age limit, he signed up to become an Army intelligence specialist, relatives said.
"Desk jobs were not for him," said Sharon Kroupa, a cousin from Baltimore, speaking on behalf of the family. "Everything he did had to have meaning."
Coffland trained for more than a year for his mission in Afghanistan. He and two Marines were killed when the vehicle they were in exploded in the Sayed Abud region, where they were investigating another blast, relatives said. Coffland's body arrived Saturday night at Dover Air Force Base, according to base officials.
Coffland was a 1984 Gilman School graduate and earned an undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University in 1988.
His biography reads like that of several people combined: played professional football in Finland, coached football in Australia and lacrosse at Boys' Latin School of Maryland, worked as a university counselor at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, tended bar in Baltimore, studied anthropology at Washington State University, lived with Pygmies in Africa.
When he was in Baltimore, he stayed with his sister, Lynn Coffland, and her husband in Homeland. His parents, Dave and Toni Coffland, live on the Eastern Shore.
"He never married and had a family, so he was part of everyone's family," Kroupa said.
Many of his Gilman friends drove in a caravan to Delaware to support the family after they received Coffland's body.
Willie Franklin, who was among them, said Coffland was a "selfless person who wanted to serve his country."
"He knew the dangers involved," he said. "But he was a very courageous person. He was absolutely the kind of guy, who, when the going gets tough, you want him on your side."
Friends and relatives said Coffland had considered military service many times and had won an appointment to West Point but declined because of the six-year commitment.
"He liked the idea of service," Kroupa said. "The idea of regiments and authority - not so much."
About two years ago, Coffland talked with an Army Reserve recruiter who found his skills and interest in others cultures a good fit for military intelligence work.
Family members said he graduated at the top of his group in boot camp and at Army intelligence school.
Franklin, his high school classmate, met Coffland for lunch in Washington last month, just before he was deployed.
"He was confident and ready to go," Franklin said. "He seemed fearless."
For all his career changes, Kroupa said, Coffland had "found a place where he could do something meaningful."
"If this defines how he'll be remembered," she added, referring to his military service, "I think he would be proud of that."
In addition to his parents and sister, Lynn, a Baltimore designer, Coffland is survived by sisters Karen Bresnahan and Laurie Bartlett and a brother, David Coffland.