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James C Coons


The boy his parents called Jimmy seemed destined for the military. At 5, he was enthralled with helicopters and practiced parachute jumps from backyard trees. As a teenager, he displayed fastidiousness unusual for his years. “He would fold his dirty clothes before putting them in the hamper,” said Carol Coons, 55.

He entered the Army in 1987, right after high school, and spent a short time as a field artilleryman before switching to the specialty that would define his military career, the signal corps. It required attention to detail as well as a way with people. For Coons, working on the computer systems that allowed soldiers to communicate with each other seemed a natural fit.

Coons was 6-foot-2 and handsome. He looked like a recruiting poster for the military.

“Everything was squared away,” said Sgt. Hector Pedroza, 24, who worked under Coons.

He had a no-nonsense attitude with his soldiers, Pedroza said, but he was also approachable. Pedroza sought out Coons when he was unsure whether to marry his military girlfriend because he feared that they would be separated. Coons urged him to make the commitment, and after Pedroza did, his wife got pregnant, which helped get them placed together.

“He was my role model,” Pedroza said. “A lot of things that I did, I thought, ‘What would he do?’ “

Coons and his wife, Robin, 29, a former preschool teacher whom he met when he worked as a military recruiter in Texas, lived on the Pennsylvania base with his daughter from a previous marriage. He and Robin had a second daughter in 2001.

“He called us ‘his girls,’ ” Robin said. “He just always let us know how much he loved us.”

Coons also played the prankster. In family portraits with Robin and the children, he would pose bug-eyed. He once mooned the children at an extended family party. Still, even at home, the military influence ran deep. He had his children stand in line, backs straight, chests out, eyes forward, then would tell them to relax. Laughing, Robin would admonish: “They’re not your soldiers, they’re your daughters.”

He had one blemish on his military career: In 1990, when he was 22, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail and paid a $1,150 fine for a DWI offense while stationed at Fort Hood, Tex. His mother said he had turned down his father’s offer of a lawyer because he wanted to accept the full punishment. “He liked to take care of things properly,” she said.

After three years in Pennsylvania, when the time came for Coons to be deployed again, he had a choice of Korea or Kuwait. He chose Kuwait. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Robin said, “he wanted to be a part of that.”

He arrived at Camp Doha in Kuwait in July. The signals corps there had already supported several missions in Afghanistan. But the country was on the brink of a much bigger war.


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