John G. Coburn graduated from Eastern Michigan University and was commissioned in 1962. During the course of his long career, he served in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Germany as well as a number of stateside assignments. While oversees, he commanded Headquarters and Headquarters Company, III Corps; served as an assistant operations officer in II Field Force, Vietnam; held a series of key assignments in the Taiwan Materiel Agency; advised the Saudi Arabian Army; commanded the 124th Maintenance Battalion and the 2nd Armored Division Support Command; and served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, US Army Europe.
In 1992, he became the Chief of Ordnance and Commanding General of the Ordnance Center and School. Indicative of his most significant accomplishments, he reorganized the school based on a bottom-up review of the efficiency of the organization's operations; moved power-generation equipment training from Fort Belvoir to APG; spearheaded efforts to consolidate proponent Military Occupational Specialties; and prepared for the transfer of signal maintenance military occupational specialties to the Ordnance Corps. He also instituted a Reserve Component Advisory Program, established a centralized computer laboratory for teaching the Standard Army Maintenance System, redesigned the Ordnance Battle Labs Program, and revitalized the Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course.
In 1994, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and assigned as Deputy Commanding General, US Army Materiel Command (AMC). With his guidance, AMC developed the Bosnia Technology Integration Cell to enhance the command's support to forces deployed to Bosnia; established the Industrial Operations Command to manage the Army's arsenals, depots, and war reserve stocks; simplified the contracting process; reduced administrative and production lead times; and supported Force XXI initiatives in the areas of equipment, techniques and systems.
From 1996 to 1999, he served as the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics and assumed responsibility for policy, planning, programming, budgeting, management, staff supervision, evaluation, oversight and information system support for all of the logistics activities of the Department of the Army.
In 1999, he became the fourth Ordnance 4-star General Officer in US Army history and assumed command of AMC. In addition to other command responsibilities he assumed responsibility as the Single Manager for Conventional Ammunition for all of the armed services, a program involving $1.2 billion a year in Army ammunition procurement and an additional $345 million in procurement orders for the other services, as well as the management of a $28 billion conventional ammunition stockpile. Much to his credit, he also actively promoted "A Revolution in Military Logistics" through the Wholesale Logistics Modernization Program, designed to enhance logistics support through the use of the latest practices and technological developments.
General Coburn retired in 2001 after almost 40 years of distinguished service to his country and the Ordnance Corps.