Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz was a soldier’s soldier. While serving in Afghanistan, he gave his life to protect an injured comrade and the crew of the MEDEVAC called in to evacuate him. For his actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest distinction.
Enlistment in the Army
Christopher Celiz enlisted in the US Army in September 2006. After completing Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas as a combat engineer and team leader.
Celiz was transferred to Company C, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division as a team leader, followed by an assignment with the 530th Engineer Clearance Company, 92nd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia as a sapper squad leader and platoon sergeant.
From 2008 to 2009, Celiz was deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and two years later was sent to the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Extraordinary bravery in Afghanistan
In 2013, Sfc. Celiz was chosen to serve with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment as a combat engineer, and in March 2017 was assigned to Company D, serving as a mortar platoon sergeant. The battalion was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan, where he went on to serve as the leader of a special purpose unit composed of Company D members and partnered forces.
On July 12, 2018, Celiz was leading an operation in Paktia Province, Afghanistan to clear an area of enemy forces. As they neared its completion, the unit came under fire by an enemy force equipped with machine guns and small-arms weapons. The attack was so effective it prevented them from mounting a counterattack.
Realizing the danger his team was in, Celiz put his life on the line to retrieve and use a heavy weapons system. This allowed his unit to regain control and move to a secure location, where they began medical treatment on a wounded partnered soldier.
The enemy continued its barrage as a MEDEVAC helicopter arrived. Knowing it was crucial to get his injured comrade out, Celiz exposed himself to enemy fire and used his body as a shield as he was moved onto the helicopter. As it lifted off, he was hit by enemy fire. However, instead of having the aircraft remain, he motioned for it to leave. He was treated on the ground and transported to a nearby medical facility, where he died of his injuries.
Following Celiz’s sacrifice, Captain Ben Krzeczowski, the pilot in command of the MEDEVAC mission, said: “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.”
Medal of Honor recipient
Sfc. Celiz was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Joe Biden on December 16, 2021. It was presented to his wife and daughter. During the ceremony, the President called Celiz “courage made flesh,” and thanked his family for his service.
The citation reads:
“His selfless actions saved the life of the evacuated partner force member and almost certainly prevented further casualties among other members of his team and the aircraft. Throughout the entire engagement, Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz 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.
“Sergeant First Class Celiz’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and 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.”
Celiz is the first Jewish recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Global War on Terrorism.