July 5, 2014 at 11:11 AM ET
When he signed up for Facebook, Rowan Coash, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, didn’t anticipate that total strangers in a small Utah city would end up using the social network to come to his aid in a major way.
But in May, when his 2005 Toyota Corolla broke down in a desert canyon during a 2,000-mile trip from Washington State to Texas, the tow truck that arrived was only part of his support system.
“The power of good people willing to do good things for other people, just because it’s a nice thing to do — and the power of social media to push that forward – is amazing,” Coash told TODAY.com. “I did not think for one second, in that moment when I couldn’t turn the car on, that one post on Facebook would have this kind of impact.”
Coash, 27, had wrapped a visit to his parents in Vancouver, Washington, when he and his Siberian husky, Roxy, headed to San Antonio so that Coash could report for duty. But about 888 miles into the trip, his car, affectionately known as Suzie, broke down on Route 6, about halfway between the Utah cities of Provo and Price.
“The first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘Where am I, and what do I do now?’” he recalled.
Coash called his mother, Patricia Zamboni Coash, who minutes later took to Facebook to write about her son’s predicament. He didn’t think much of it during the 45-minute, 34-mile tow-truck ride to Price, where he learned that fixing the vehicle would cost more than $3,500. Money wasn’t his only concern — repairs would take six to 10 days, and the Air Force could have considered him absent without leave if he didn’t get to San Antonio within two days.
Meanwhile, Vancouver neighbor and close family friend Erica Hodges, who said she’d joined Facebook years earlier “just to see pictures of a friend’s new baby,” saw Coash’s mother's post online. Hodges — whose husband, Aaron, is a veteran of the Marines — realized time was of the essence.
“Everyone knew he had to report to his new base quickly, and with his family and friends being so far away, we could not do much that would have an immediate impact and get him back on schedule,” Hodges told TODAY via email. “So, I did the next best thing I could think of: Reach out on Facebook.”
A marketing coordinator, Hodges used her job skills to make a public pitch on the social-networking site, calling for Facebook users near Price to help out a soldier.
Friends and family members passed the news along to other friends and family members. The post yielded hundreds of responses from concerned Facebook users, including several of Price’s 8,500 residents. Leslie Holmes, a supervisor at J.C. Penney, saw the post once she finished driving to her Price home via Route 6.
“I drove right past him in the canyon, but I wasn’t paying attention,” she told TODAY.com. “I didn’t realize he was stranded.”
By that point, the post had spread pretty far — Holmes said Hodges is her husband’s friend’s cousin’s friend.
Holmes offered Coash her extra garage space to store the car while he figured out the rest of his plan, and kept it on her property for a little less than a week. She says she saw it as a chance to pay forward the kindness of her neighbors, who had made her feel at home when she and her husband moved to the town:“Some people were willing to help us out, and if we can help other people out, we might as well.”
Coash rented a car to finish his trip, but there was still the matter of fixing his own car — and somehow getting it to San Antonio. That’s when another Price resident stepped in to help.
“I posted, in probably about 20 different groups, the same message about wanting to help another soldier out,” says Randy MIsner, an Army veteran who selved in the Gulf War and volunteers in his spare time to help homeless veterans. “Honestly, I got close to 200 responses.”
Coash says he was originally overwhelmed by the lengths everyone went to for him. “When he said to me, ‘You’re like a brother to me,’ I didn’t really understand what he meant until a little bit later on, as everything progressed,” Coash says of Misner. “He is like a big brother. He’s out here looking out for me.”
Misner’s efforts paid off. Tony Basso, who owns a GM dealership in Price, learned of the story when his company’s marketing director, Karly Houskeeper-Douros, alerted him to Misner’s Facebook plea. That’s when he retrieved the car, replaced its engine and decided, through the company’s charitable donations program, to waive not only the cost of repairs, parts and labor, but also the fee to ship it to San Antonio.
“First, we’d talked about doing it at cost,” said Basso. “Then we thought, ‘You know what? Let’s just go ahead and pay for it.’ So, everybody jumped in.”
The car is expected to arrive in San Antonio sometime next week, at no cost to the airman.
When Coash’s mother, Patricia, heard this news, she expressed her thanks to the citizens of Price beneath one of Hodges’ updates. “What an amazing town and amazing people,” Zamboni Coash wrote. “I cannot extend my thanks enough for all that you're doing for my son and our family. Words just cannot say thank you enough.”
In addition to praising the people of Price, Hodges says she was thrilled so many Facebook users cared enough to share the updates: “It would never have happened without them."
With eight years of service in the Air Force, it’s usually Coash who’s serving American citizens. Stationed in Japan for two stretches and Italy for another, he’s reported for duty in the Middle East for three separate tours. But, this time around, others were offering a service of their own.
“The responses that I’ve gotten, the help, the assistance through Facebook and all the other social media, has been absolutely outstanding,” Coash said.
Basso returned the thanks, and said he considers the community gesture a repayment to Coash.
“It’s time to serve and protect those who protect us,” he added.
Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.