By Airman 1st Class Kaitlyn Brewer, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 27, 2019
Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. -- SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C.—On a hot and humid Louisiana afternoon, a thin, blonde-haired cadet slung a book bag over his shoulder on the first day of his junior year of college, accidentally bumping into a stranger, knocking books out of her hand.
As Lt. Col. Jim Coughlin, U.S. Air Forces Central Command director of communications, recalls how he met his wife, his cheeks blush with red and a small smile lingers on his face. From his forehead to his chin, the only sign of age is around his eyes; perhaps as a testimony to his life as a father of nine and commander of hundreds.
In 2000, the young 2nd Lt. Jim Coughlin watched his girlfriend cross the stage to receive her degree and fidgeted anxiously with a diamond in his hand, picturing it on her finger. By the end of 2001, Erin and Jim Coughlin were married and welcomed a son into their growing family. They were about to find out what it was like to balance a military career and a family.
“I have to make constant decisions as to whether I am going to miss an event with my kids and my bride, or if I am going to attend one more meeting,” said Jim. “Finding that balance can be a challenge.”
As a junior officer, Jim focused on work and checking his emails, even as he was spending time with his family. As he matured, he said he became better at balancing work and family life. His oldest daughter was born when he was in command of a group. He was home regularly and, often times, not in uniform because of the nature of his work.
“I’ve been blessed the Air Force has given me opportunities to do jobs where sometimes I can spend a little more time with the family, then there are jobs where I am on the road or deployed a lot, where I still have to make sure I am meeting the expectations of the nation I signed up to protect,” said Jim.
Jim was not the only one who volunteered for his country. His bride, Erin Coughlin, graduated Reserve Officers’ Training Course in 2000. From there she became an active-duty communications officer, transferred to be a guardsman, then a stay at home mother.
From 2000, being excited about joining the Air Force and stepping into their roles as new officers to now, 2019 mature and strong, the Coughlins welcomed nine children into this world all while moving 15 times. Jim missed his bride, Erin Coughlin’s, birthday seven consecutive years.
Through all the growing pains and changes, Jim and Erin kept their family together through their faith and resources provided by the military. Health insurance, fellow military families and base housing, have helped them immensely in biennial moves.
“The resources on base can really make a big difference, because not every state has a good system for healthcare, or extracurricular programs for homeschooled children, yet the base often has more we can interact with,” said Erin.
Erin homeschooled her children and noticed they made meaningful and lifelong friendships with other military kids who could related to the unique challenges that came with being in a military family.
Always living on base also helped with cost efficient resources, like a sports program that could engage her various aged children.
While the base resources helped her raise her children from the day-to-day, Erin said her faith and involvement in the base chapel program, kept her bright eyed, curly-haired family grounded all these years.
“While my husband and I may have an argument before church, or not know what to do about something in our future, by the time we walk out of church we end up holding hands again, strong and together,” said Erin.
For Jim, his faith gives him a unique perspective on the role he plays as a father and a husband.
“I call my wife my bride because it goes back to historic roots to the way people refer to Saint Bridgette who sounds like ‘bride,’ said Jim. “A beautiful person who asked to be no longer beautiful so she could focus on her faith and, to me, this is a reaffirmation of our marriage after 19 years.”
Erin and Jim Coughlin now have nine bright-eyed, curly haired children, from their eight-month-old daughter to their 18-year-old son who just started college this August. They will continue to move and meet new military families until it becomes their turn to watch the future Col. Jim Coughlin walk across the stage and receive his retirement pin.