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When Tom Coffin’s wife, Tisha, called his mobile to tell him that their 15-year-old son, Micah, had brain cancer, the Gulf War combat veteran, who was driving his truck to a work site, nearly veered off the interstate.
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“It seemed like the whole world imploded on us at first,” he recalled, his voice breaking. “I didn't deal with it very well.” But then his military training and experience kicked in.
After that shocking day last December, Micah witnessed in Tom a determination to do whatever it took to get his son through this nightmare — the Army side of him making sure things got done. In addition, he saw a new emotional dimension to his father that mattered just as much.
“My dad is very forthright,” Micah told AARP Veteran Report. The teenageer is now on the road to recovery after multiple surgeries and grueling chemotherapy and radiation to treat germinoma tumors. “He speaks his mind and he pushes for what’s best for me, but he is very caring too.
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“I saw a different side of him.” He paused, fighting back tears, before adding: “There was one time when I was just done getting a shower and dad was helping me out. And he told me he loved me.”
Tom Coffin, 51, became his son’s hero. Truth be told, though, there was plenty of bravery in all three members of the family, who live in Manquin, Virginia.
“There were firefights,” he said. “We had to clear bunkers. We were 25 or 30 kilometers in front of any support from the 24th Infantry Division. We were mechanized artillery and our mission was to move deep and fast.”
After retiring from active duty, Coffin, now a heating, ventilation and air conditioning engineer, went on to serve in the 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, of the Virginia National Guard — a total of eight years in uniform. He believes that it was not just combat but also regular military life that helped prepare him to deal with Micah’s illness.
“The routine part of the military has always been deeply set into my life,” he said. “Part of it is work ethic. You have a structure and you just make a plan and get things done.”
Teamwork and drawing strength from each other is also a major part of military life, and Coffin is the first to highlight the role played by Tisha, a librarian, who kept a journal on Caring Bridge detailing Micah’s treatment. “She absolutely is the field general of this whole operation,” he said.
“My wife’s a little more diplomatic than me. But she's able to make a mountain move. It’s her strength and her gift to us. She will walk to the end of the earth to make sure that this child gets everything he needs to get to be healthy and live a long life. It became our joint mission.”