Jewish war hero received Medal of Honor, but not enough press

Sgt.+1st+Class+Christopher+A.+Celiz%C2%A0was+killed+in+action+July+12+in+Paktiya+province%2C+Afghanistan.+%28U.S.+Department+of+Defense%29

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz was killed in action July 12 in Paktiya province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Department of Defense)

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

I’ve never been called a hero. But, I know what a hero looks like when I see one.

I saw one today, as I was researching Jewish members of our military who have earned the Medal Of Honor. His name is Sergeant 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz.

On Dec. 16, 2021, Sgt. 1st Class Celiz was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for going above and beyond the call of duty during his service in the U.S. Army during the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan. But, I could find little mention of this anywhere.  A quick search showed, the Jewish Light and many other media entities did carry his obituary in 2018, but little to nothing outside his hometown was there a mention of his receiving the Medal of Honor.

A Jewish war hero was awarded the highest honor in our military and not enough people know about it.

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Allow me to share his story with you today.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz, a native of Summerville, South Carolina, enlisted in the United States Army in September 2006. He completed Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training as a combat engineer (12B) at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Celiz’s first assignment was with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. Following this assignment, Celiz was transferred to Company C, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, also at Fort Hood, as a team leader.

Celiz was then assigned to the 530th Engineer Clearance Company, 92nd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia, where he served as a sapper squad leader and platoon sergeant.

In 2013, Celiz was selected to serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, where he served as the battalion master breacher and engineer. In March 2017, he was assigned to Company D, where he served as the mortar platoon sergeant.

The battle

Celiz’s fifth deployment was to Paktia Province, Afghanistan, in 2018. His team was sent on a mission to clear an enemy force. After they completed their initial objective, a large enemy force attacked, placing effective gunfire on the team. Celiz emerged from his place of cover and exposed himself to machine gunfire and small arms gunfire to employ a heavy weapons system, giving his allies the ability to counterattack and administer aid.

A medical helicopter arrived but was met with gunfire. While his team loaded the wounded partner, Celiz consistently put himself between the enemy and the aircraft to ensure that the casualty was loaded and the pilot was covered. While shielding the cockpit, Celiz was hit by enemy fire. Fully understanding how critically he was hit, and the peril of the aircraft, he commanded the aircraft to take off without him. He died as a result of his injuries. His selfless act saved the lives of multiple team members and aircrew.

The Medal of Honor

After his death, Celiz’s commanding officers said, “Chris was a national treasure who led his Rangers with passion, competence, and an infectiously positive attitude no matter the situation. . . . Celiz was a great Ranger leader, and . . . he had an incredibly positive attitude that inspired Rangers throughout the formation. Sgt. 1st Class Celiz led from the front and always put himself at the decisive point on the battlefield. He was a loving husband and father.”

Captain Ben Krzeczowski, the pilot in command of the MEDEVAC mission, testified, “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.”

Celiz was posthumously awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and the Purple Heart. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Joe Biden on December 16, 2021, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” The president said:

Christopher Celiz was courage made flesh.
Today, we add his name to the elite vanguard of American warriors who, generation after generation, have strengthened and inspired our nation with their unwavering bravery and service.
His legacy lives on in the lives he saved, the teammates he mentored, and the memories he made with his beloved wife, Katie, and especially – and their precious daughter, Shannon. Thank you for sharing your dad with our country, Shannon. We’ll never forget the debt that we owe you and your whole family.

Celiz is the 18th American Jew to win the medal for courage under fire.

His citation reads:

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while engaging with the enemy in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, on July 12, 2018.

As the leader of a special operations unit comprised of partnered forces and members of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Celiz led an operation to clear an area of enemy forces and thereby disrupt future attacks against the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Shortly after his team reached their initial objective, a large enemy force attacked. The enemy placed effective fire on him and his team, preventing them from maneuvering to a counterattack. Realizing the danger to his team and the operation, Celiz voluntarily exposed himself to intense enemy machine-gun and small-arms fire.

Under fire, he retrieved and employed a heavy weapon system, thereby allowing U.S. and partnered forces to regain the initiative, maneuver to a secure location, and begin treating a critically wounded partnered force member.

As the medical evacuation helicopter arrived, it was immediately engaged by accurate and sustained enemy fire. Knowing how critical it was to quickly load the wounded partner, Celiz willingly exposed himself again to heavy enemy fire so he could take charge to direct and lead the evacuation.

As the casualty was moved from a position of cover, Celiz made a conscious effort to ensure his body acted as a physical shield to protect his team, the injured partner and the crew of the aircraft from enemy fire. After the wounded partner was loaded, Celiz’s team returned to cover, but he remained with 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, Celiz placed himself directly between the cockpit and the enemy, ensuring the aircraft was able to depart. Upon the helicopter’s liftoff, Celiz was hit by enemy fire. Fully aware of his injury, but understanding the peril to the aircraft, Celiz motioned to the pilots to depart rather than remain to load him. His selfless actions saved the life of the evacuated partnered force member and almost certainly prevented further casualties among other members of his team and the aircrew.

Celiz died as a result of his injuries. His extraordinary heroism and selflessness beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Throughout the entire engagement, Celiz significantly changed the course of the battle by repeatedly placing himself in extreme danger to protect his team and defeat the enemy.

Thank you to Sergeant 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz for his service.