ARLINGTON, Va. - -For all of the unconventional choices that Spc. Christopher Coffland made in life, his family took comfort in the time-honored rituals surrounding his burial Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery.
The perfect rows of marble headstones stretching as far as the eye could see. The three rifle volleys followed by a somber rendition of "Taps." The flags, folded tight and handed with care to the parents and sister of Coffland, a Baltimore native killed Nov. 13 by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
"I had seen the procedure on television," said David Coffland, his father. "But it's really touching the way they go through everything. It makes you feel good and respected. I felt uplifted at seeing what he was a part of."
"When you're surrounded by all these men and women who have also given their lives, it's an extreme comfort," said the soldier's sister, Lynn Coffland.
Before his burial, Coffland was honored with seven medals, including two Bronze Stars for bravery and a Purple Heart.
He had volunteered for the Army Reserves a month before reaching the age cutoff of 42 and had arrived in Afghanistan to work as an intelligence specialist only 2 1/2 weeks before his death.
Coffland's decision to join the Army at an older age was one of the many bold moves he made during his life. He had played professional football in Finland and had lived with a Pygmy tribe in Africa. Always, he searched for the experience that would give him the best chance to examine human nature and serve the greater good.
He believed he could do both as an Army intelligence specialist.
"I wish that he wasn't in a coffin and was still out there doing what he wanted to do," said his mother, Antoinette. "If he had lived, I believe he would have made a difference there."
Scores of family members and close friends made along the way watched the ceremony at Arlington. Coffland grew up in Fullerton Heights and Timonium and graduated from the Gilman School in 1984. He went on to captain the football and lacrosse teams at Washington and Lee University, graduating in 1988.
He never settled on a single profession, instead playing and coaching football, studying anthropology, serving as a residence life adviser at several universities and helping to design and produce custom furniture.
Chaplain James Key noted that while Coffland had many options, he ultimately chose to serve his country.
The burial of a loved one inspired divergent thoughts from family members about President Barack Obama's decision to send thousands more American troops to Afghanistan.
"I don't want his death to be in vain," said Coffland's sister, Karen Bresnahan of Ocean City. "I don't want those men over there to be abandoned, so I want the president to make it a full military operation."
Lynn Coffland offered a different perspective: "Everyone over there is a brother, a father, a sister, a mother, and I don't want to see any more die," she said. "I want to ask President Obama if he would make the same decision if he had just buried his brother."