Christopher Andrew Celiz was born in Summerville, South Carolina, on January 12, 1986. Celiz loved riding his Harley motorcycle and playing guitar. At Summerville High School, Celiz participated in JROTC. It was also where he met his future wife, Katherine,
He attended The Citadel from 2004-2006 before joining the Army in 2007. He deployed to Iraq in 2008-2009 for Operation Iraqi Freedom and to Afghanistan in 2011-2012 for Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2013, Celiz served as a combat engineer in the 75th Ranger Regiment and, in 2017, earned the rank of Sergeant First Class and led a mortar platoon. Known for his selflessness and determination, he earned respect and affection from his comrades. His wife said that he always pushed his soldiers and wanted them to push him. “He couldn’t be a better person if they didn’t challenge him.”
On July 12, 2018, during his fifth combat deployment, Celiz led an operation to clear an area of enemy forces in the Paktia province of Afghanistan when his team came under fire. His extraordinary acts of heroism during the ensuing battle saved the life of one soldier and prevented additional casualties. He was killed shielding his team and ensuring a medical helicopter could land and evacuate the wounded.
Celiz was survived by his wife Katherine and their daughter Shannon.
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.
Sources “Jewish Army Ranger posthumously awarded Medal of Honor by Biden,” Jerusalem Post, (December 16, 2021).
“Christopher Celiz,” Wikipedia.
National Medal of Honor Museum.
“Remarks by President Biden at Presentation of the Medal of Honor,” The White House, (December 16, 2021).
Photo: Davidc1220, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.