May 31, 2024

Profiles of Valor: SFC Christopher Celiz (USA)

“He was selflessly body blocking that litter team and that helicopter crew as they were loading the casualty on the bird under a tremendous amount of fire.”

Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz was a native of Summerville, South Carolina. He was Junior ROTC at Summerville High School, where his leadership skills became apparent. While his future wife Katie was also a Summerville High student, they met while working in a local grocery store.

After graduation, Chris entered the Military College of South Carolina (The Citadel). Determined to serve our nation sooner rather than later, he enlisted in 2007 before graduation. He and Katie were married a year later, and they became parents to a daughter, Shannon, in 2010.

SFC Celiz was first assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, where he would then become team leader of Company C, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. He was tapped for the 75th Ranger Regiment in 2013, and he served as the battalion master breacher and engineer until 2017 when he became the Company D mortar platoon sergeant.

He deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and then twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was on his fifth deployment, July 12, 2018, that he distinguished himself in battle near Paktia, Afghanistan, earning a Medal of Honor for placing himself between enemy forces fire and a MEDEVAC helicopter under fire as it loaded his wounded men.

Of SFC Celiz’s actions, his Medal of Honor citation notes in part:

“As the leader of a special purpose unit comprised of partnered forces and members of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment [SFC Celiz] led an operation to clear an area of enemy forces and thereby disrupt future attacks against the government of Afghanistan and allied forces. Shortly after his team reached their final objectives, a large enemy force attacked, placed effective fire on him and his team, preventing them from maneuvering to counterattack. Realizing the danger the attack posed to his team and the operation, Sergeant First Class Celiz voluntarily exposed himself to intense enemy machine-gun and small-arms fire to retrieve and employ a heavy weapon system, thereby allowing U.S. and partnered forces to regain the initiative, maneuver to a secure location, and begin treatment of a critically wounded partnered force member.”

“As a medical evacuation helicopter arrived, it was immediately engaged by accurate and sustained enemy fire. Knowing how critical it was to quickly load the casualty, [SFC Celiz] willingly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to direct and lead the evacuation. As the casualty moved from a position of cover and out into intense enemy fire, [he] made a conscious effort to ensure his body acted as a physical shield to his team carrying the casualty and the crew of the aircraft. As the casualty was loaded and Sergeant First Class Celiz’s team returned to cover, he alone remained at the aircraft, returning a high volume of fire and constantly repositioning himself to act as a physical shield to the aircraft and its crew.”

“With his final reposition, [SFC Celiz] placed himself directly between the cockpit and the enemy, ensuring the aircraft was able to depart. As the helicopter lifted off, [he] was hit by enemy fire. Fully aware of his own injury but understanding the peril to the aircraft from the intense enemy machine gun fire, [he] motioned to the aircraft to depart rather than remain behind to load him. … Throughout the entire engagement, [he] significantly changed the course of battle by repeatedly placing himself in extreme danger to protect his team, defeat the enemy, and it ultimately cost him his life.”

CPT Ben Krzeczowski, pilot in command of the MEDEVAC mission that day, observed, “Courage, to me, is putting your life on the line to save the life of another, as demonstrated by SFC Chris Celiz, who died protecting my crew.”

Another member of the mission that day, 2LT Garrett White, noted: “He was selflessly body blocking that litter team and that helicopter crew as they were loading the casualty on the bird under a tremendous amount of fire. He put himself last and everybody else first.”

SFC Celiz was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on December 16, 2021, along with SFC Alwyn Cashe (Iraq, posthumous) and MSG Earl Plumlee (Afghanistan).

In 2022, Chris Celiz was awarded the second posthumous degree ever presented by The Citadel. Then-Citadel President Gen. Glenn Walters (USMC, Ret.) noted: “Chris was the guy who made everyone part of the team. His classmates wondered if he slept. All Citadel alumni knew ‘go-to’ guys in their company they could always count on. Chris was one of these in spades. He was, by all accounts, everything you wanted in a comrade and classmate.”

SFC Christopher Andrew Celiz: Your example of valor — a humble American Patriot defending Liberty for all above and beyond the call of duty, and in disregard for the peril to your own life — is eternal. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

(Read more Profiles of Valor here.)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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