Coffman reflects on tenure as base commander
July 17, 2012
By Rhonda Apple
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall was an hour old in October 2009 when Col. Carl R. Coffman officially became the 101st Joint Base commander. With the drawdown in Army personnel, budget cuts and a variety of economic challenges, Coffman has spent the past two years and nine months commanding a joint base, overseeing a spectrum of projects developed through the directorates and command leadership on JBM-HH.
Throughout his time on base, Coffman, a down-to-earth and personable Texan, has built a strong alliance with community partners, including Arlington County, the Washington Waterfront Association and the utility, Dominion Virginia Power. He joined neighbors, Soldiers and essential personnel to clear parking lots and sidewalks during the 2010 Snowmageddon, and helped serve turkey to the troops on Thanksgiving Day.
"One of the key things I've focused on throughout the command while I've been here is developing a strong relationship with our community partners," Coffman said. The colonel stressed the importance of these partnerships because, "They are our neighbors, and we are part of their neighborhoods, and we have to understand and continue to foster the community relationship.
"As adjustments are made on the installation, we have to be aware of how this affects neighbors outside the gate -- [including] Arlington County, Arlington National Cemetery and the Southwest Waterfront in the District of Columbia."
Coffman said another important factor to strive for as a base commander is industry partnerships. "Our utilities privatization, our energy savings and performance contracts are things that can get us more efficient in providing the standard base utilities support functions that we're required to provide here," he said. "Engaging outside the gate gives us the opportunity to show the public how capable their Army is.
"Industry and community partnerships will be more important as we transition. We will rely on our communities to provide support to our servicemembers and Families and industry as potential employers of transitioning Soldiers," Coffman said.
Coffman recalled several Army mentors who had influential roles in his career.
"Your very first battalion commander or squadron commander in the Army will determine whether or not you go beyond your initial obligation in the service. I think this has a direct impact on how the rest of your military career is going to go," he said.
"I was fortunate my first battalion commander, now retired Col. Albert Patterson, was the commander of Fourth and 501st in Korea -- my very first aviation battalion. He really set the tone for me in terms of engaged leadership and inspired leadership," said Coffman.
"He was very influential through the officer's professional development process. He spent a lot of time with us in the field, had a constant discussion on leadership methods, and how it applied to our technical skills as aviators and how we fit into the big picture. As we walked through that process, I really saw a person who was mission-focused and concerned about developing us as lieutenants," Coffman said. "He had a firm understanding that one day we would be the battalion commanders, company commanders, brigade commanders."
Although his father was never in the military, Coffman credits Carl Coffman, Sr. as an important influence in his life. The elder Coffman owned and operated a gas station, and as a kid, Coffman had plenty of time to observe his father operate his business. "I watched him engage and deal with customers. Some were extremely satisfied and others were not," he said. "I remember people coming in the service station and fussing about his gas prices being too high -- at 48 cents a gallon.
"Watching him and observing him engaging with customers on a daily basis and his work ethic in the service station -- it was always 'give the customer what the customer wants,' and 'the customer is always right' [as long as the customer was there in front of him. After they left, he could complain about how they talked to him]," he said with a laugh.
"I think parents are a big influence and one of the most important things [mine] taught me -- you treat everyone with respect, no matter who they are, and you always treat your work force with dignity, and they will not let the organization fail," said Coffman.
Coffman's next assignment will be in Afghanistan, where he will either execute the duties of the USFOR-A (U.S. Forces-Afghanistan) Chief of Basing and Facilities or the Theatre Transition Team. "My short-range goals are to make a difference in Afghanistan and have a positive impact on our mission and the transition there," Coffman said.
When he returns, Coffman said he'll have some tough choices to make regarding a future in the Army. "It seems like yesterday that I showed up in Korea as a scout platoon leader. I can remember like it was," he said.
The colonel expressed the Army has not only been his life for the last 25 years, but has been his Family's life as well. "Not only will the Army have a vote [in my future], I'll have a vote, my wife certainly will have a vote -- she's had 25 years of service also," said Coffman. "We sometimes forget our Families' service to the nation."
Whatever the future holds for Coffman, he said making a difference in the lives of others is important to him.
"I'd like to go where I can make a difference in local communities, for the Army, servicemembers and veterans," he said.