40, a Special Forces
10th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
died June 27 near Stuttgart,
after he collapsed during physical training activities
Keith is survived by his wife Kelley, their two children, Makenzie and Ashton, as well as his parents and brother and sister.
Memorial contributions can be mailed to Wachovia Bank, Attn: Nancy Hammer, 15 South Fayetteville Street, Asheboro NC 27203. Checks should be payable to the
"Makenzie & Ashton Keith Family Fund".
Master Sgt. Christopher J. Keith, 40, a Special Forces operations sergeant assigned to 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Panzer Kaserne, Germany, was pronounced dead due to heart complications at a nearby hospital in Boeblingen shortly after arrival.
A native of Lyman, S.C., Keith began active military service in September 1984 as an infantryman. After serving in a number of infantry assignments, he volunteered and was selected for Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1991.
Upon completion of the Special Forces Qualification Course as a Special Forces communications sergeant, Keith was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Devens, Mass. When the group moved to Fort Carson in 1994, Keith came with it, serving here until 1996, when he was reassigned for his first tour with the group's 1st Battalion in Germany.
In 2000, Keith was brought back to the United States to serve as a Special Forces instructor at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg. After five years and a variety of instructor positions at the schoolhouse, Keith returned to Germany and 1-10th SFG for a second tour in January 2005.
Keith's military education includes the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course, the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance and Target Exploitation Course, the Joint Firepower Control Course, the Jungle Warfare Course, the Defense Packaging of Hazardous Materials for Transportation Course, the Winter Operations Instructor Course, The Jumpmaster Course and the Air Assault Course.
His awards and decorations include the Soldier's Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Army Superior Unit Award, the Air Assault Badge, the Senior Parachutist Badge and the Special Forces Tab.
Keith received the
Vanguard Award for Heroism, 1 October 2003
By Sgt. Kyle J. Cosner
U.S. Army Special Operations Command
FORT BRAGG, N.C. The last thing on SFC Christopher Keith’s mind that June day was where he would be in a year.
In fact, the only thing he could think of was keeping his head above water — literally.
The story of how he ended up there is one of courage, selfless service and valor, and it’s also the reason the Special Forces sergeant was chosen from an Armywide pool of noncommissioned officers to receive a prestigious civilian heroism award here Sept. 25 from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley.
Keith, an instructor at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School’s NCO Academy here, was awarded the 2003 Military Vanguard Award for heroism because of his efforts in rescuing a drowning man on June 29, 2002, while on vacation with his family at an oceanside recreation area.
Sponsored annually by the Noncommissioned Officers Association, the award recognizes an NCO from each of the uniformed services who has performed a heroic act, on or off duty, which resulted in the saving of life or prevention of serious injury.
On the last day of the his family’s trip last summer to the Atlantic beaches of Fort Fisher, N.C., Keith said that they were touring a historic site not far from the coast when a woman came running up with a desperate plea for help. Strong currents had pulled her son, Robert Smith, more than a hundred yards off shore, and no one knew how long he could continue to struggle against the waves.
“I heard a lady screaming that somebody was drowning, (and) I knew he was caught in the rip current, because … when I got to the shore, he was pretty far out — far enough out that I stopped and thought twice about it,” Keith said.
“As a former lifeguard, I know you don’t go into the water one-on-one, because even a small kid can drown you. I decided that I was going in anyway.”
Equipped only with a boogie board for flotation, Keith braved the currents and swam approximately 150 yards to Smith’s location.
He got to him just in time.
“He was pretty close to going down,” Keith said. “I tried to calm him down, because if he’d gone under I would’ve had more work on my hands.”
Once there, Keith said he stabilized a nearly exhausted Smith on the board.
“I told him that the flotation was for both of us, but when he came up out of the water onto the board, he didn’t want to share,” he said. “I can understand why.”
Keith said he then began working his way back to the beach when he noticed a second man — Smith’s cousin — floating facedown nearby.
With Smith securely on the boogie board and lifeguards swimming out to assist him, Keith said he swam another 50 yards to retrieve another flotation device he had noticed moments before and then secured the other man with it. With Smith now safe, Keith devoted his remaining energy to pulling the motionless second man back to shore against the still-dangerous currents.
With additional help en route and exhaustion quickly taking over, Keith said he decided he’d become a liability and swam back to shore, where he collapsed.
Amazingly, and despite his brush with death, Smith was treated at a local hospital and released. However, Keith was hospitalized overnight for respiratory problems stemming from the inhalation of seawater.
For his actions that day, Keith also received a Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for non-combat valor.
“There’s something special that makes you become a soldier,” Tilley said at the ceremony. “It’s about doing the right kinds of things, and here’s a person that knows the right things to do not only in war, but in peacetime. He is a true hero, and he is an outstanding noncommissioned officer.”
Tilley added that he is proud of Keith and feels that he embodies the storied history “not just of the Special Forces, but the entire Noncommissioned Officer Corps.”
At the ceremony, Smith had a chance to reunite with Keith and reflect on how the experience has made him appreciate the second chance he was given that day at the beach.
“My family, my fiancée and I thank God for what he did, and for the Army guy he is at heart,” Smith said. “He didn’t sit there and analyze — he recognized what he had to do and did it.”
Smith said that after having gotten to know Keith since the rescue, he has come to appreciate more than ever before the willingness of soldiers to sacrifice for the good of others.
“I take (the military) very seriously now, because there’s a lot riding on your shoulders while you’re serving your country,” Smith said. “What I mean by that is that you’re looking out for me, and I’m a civilian, but you’re also looking out for yourself and your family at the same time. It’s more than a job.”
Reflecting on the increased operational tempo of special operations forces during the past two years, Tilley noted that of this year’s five Vanguard Awards, three were presented to special operations soldiers.
“That says that special operations are working hard (during the Global War on Terror),” he said.
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