Living with battlefield disabilities, Coffey humbled by Liberty Hill support
By SEAN SHAPIRO
By the time his new home is move-in ready, Clifton “Ray” Coffey may have enough photos to make a flipbook of the builders’ progress.
At each phase of the house, Coffey and his wife, Melanie, have made the trip to Santa Rita Ranch to check on the progress, take photos, and most importantly, take time to thank each of the workers for volunteering their time.
“It’s pretty cool to see it move up from the beginning to what it’ll become,” Coffey said. “I like being over there. I like taking the time to talk to the people working on the home, they don’t have to be there.”
Coffey and his family are receiving their home through Operation Finally Home, which has been working to provide homes for severely wounded and disabled service members since 2005.
While Coffey is going out of his way to thank the workers, his service in the U.S. Marine Corps is more than deserving of the gift.
In February 2004, Coffey was leading his unit in Iraq when an improvised explosive device exploded behind his Humvee.
Coffey was blown forward, where his face slammed against the vehicle’s bulletproof windshield.
“We were in the middle of a firefight then, luckily the Humvee was still operational we ended up staying there and suppressing the enemy so the rest of the convoy could get out of there,” Coffey said. “Which is what we’d do anyway… I had guys that were shot and had more pressing things.”
Coffey suffered numerous injuries during the firefight, but didn’t take stock of his own injuries during the battle.
Instead, he continued to lead his unit and created a diversion that allowed other wounded Marines to escape safely.
“I was bleeding from a lot of places,” Coffey said. “Later on down the road, it starts hurting and you start doing an assessment, and you say, ‘Wait, I can’t feel my nose or my ear.’”
Coffey’s face required two years of reconstructive surgery. He lost eye function in his right eye, his sense of smell and has “hardly any” taste.
“I got a whole new face, pretty much,” Coffey said.
Coffey’s lower body was also badly injured. He injured his back and cut the nerves to his feet. He has no feeling in his feet and Coffey uses crutches to walk and sometimes uses a wheelchair. His wife is now his full-time caregiver.
For Coffey, the most difficult thing was laying in a hospital bed for almost 18 months after returning from Iraq.
“Just not having a job in the morning,” Coffey said. “Being a leader in the US Marine Corps to bedridden, it’s kind of humbling. You go from indestructible to you’ve lost your job.”
Born to a military family, his father was in the Army, Coffey entered the Marine Corp after his wife finished her duty in the Army.
“My father was in the Army, her dad was a Marine. So we switched, that’s pretty cool,” Coffey said. “I always wanted to be a Marine, they’re the first in and last out. It’s the only force that can be sent in by the president without the approval of Congress … it seemed more fitting for me. I loved it. It was the best job I ever had.”
Coffey worked his way up through the Marines, he was a mortarman for two years and then became a forward observer.
In 2001, he was among the first troops on the ground in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
After his tour of duty in Afghanistan, Coffey was among the first platoons in Iraq and then went back as a Staff Sergeant leading convoys. He lead 139 convoys across the country.
“It’s miraculous that all of my guys have their limbs,” Coffey said. “I did leave with two-thirds of my platoon having Purple Hearts, and they all stayed.”
Coffey’s service and his story made him a logical choice for Operation Finally Home, which awarded the family the house at the Round Rock Express game on August 15.
Liberty Hill’s school district was the family’s draw to the area as the Coffeys have three children. But for Coffey, he’s most excited about living near the many area lakes.
“That was the biggest reason, fishing,” Coffey said. “All the lakes around here, there’s much more than Cypress. You really can’t complain about this area.”
Coffey didn’t start seriously fishing until after his injuries. He fished a little as a child and on a doctor’s advice took it up as a relaxing hobby in 2003, but didn’t really dive into the sport until after the injuries.
“It keeps me stable,” Coffey said. “I can’t run, I can’t cycle. So I’ve got to break something somewhere.”
He’s also pretty good.
Coffey competes in Bassmaster Opens, with the goal of becoming the first Wounded Warrior to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“There’s only 106 guys in the entire United States in the elite series,” Coffey said. “So it’s very hard to get in to.”
His 2014 season was cut short due to back surgery – he has had three in the past month – but Coffey said he is looking forward to moving up the standings during the 2015 season.
Coffey is also getting involved with fishing on a local level. He plans to drive his boat at a high school fishing tournament next weekend. He is also interested in possibly starting a fishing team at Liberty Hill High School.
“It’s a good sport to get the kids into,” Coffey said. “If we don’t get the kids into it now we’re not going to have a sport (in the future) … I think I’ll look into a high school program and what needs to be done.”
For Coffey, he wouldn’t be close enough to get involved with youth fishing or visit his new home’s progress without the help of Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long. Mrs. Long represents Liberty Hill and Precinct 2.
Since the new home will not be ready until January 2015, the Coffeys were planning on moving in the middle of the school year from Cypress.
“She (Commissioner Long) was at the groundbreaking and she said, ‘If you move in January, you’ll be moving in the middle of the school year,’” Coffey said. “She said, ‘You need to move here and start the year here,’ so she helped set us up with the house.”
The family moved into the rental home on Sept. 1 after a week in a hotel. The county owns the home and the property is scheduled to be turned into a pond in later construction projects.
“It’s great, it’s smaller than our home in Cypress or the new home, but to be able to get the kids here and this yard, it’s really made life easier,” Coffey said.