On Tuesday, somber news broke that a Navy SEAL was killed in action. The victim is Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charlie Keating IV, a 31-year-old Navy SEAL who was shot dead by ISIS in Iraq.
Keating died fighting for his country while engaging in combat in the Iraqi town of Tel Askuf, about 20 miles north of the ISIS-controlled town of Mosul. He was a member of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) sent in to rescue fewer than a dozen U.S. troops who were in the village “advising and assisting” the Kurdish Peshmerga. There were approximately 125 ISIS fighters in the area, but they had no idea that U.S. troops were in that village.
The U.S. troops who were in the village didn’t have the luxury to wait until the QRF troops arrived. “This was a gunfight… There were bullets everywhere,” U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters. “They fought back… They fought out.” Warren said that Islamic State fighters broke through the Peshmerga defense using truck bombs, bulldozers and small arms fire.
U.S. forces responded to the attack with “F15s and drones which dropped more than 20 bombs.” Nearly 60 ISIL fighters were killed and three Peshmerga soldiers were also killed.
U.S. military sources say that Keating was “killed by direct fire about two or three miles behind the front line.” His death has been confirmed as a “combat death” by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
“Like so many brave Americans who came before him, Charlie sacrificed his life in honorable service to our nation for a cause greater than self-interest, which we can never truly repay,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement.
Let’s not dwell on Charlie’s death, let’s celebrate his life. Keating was a high school standout distance runner at Arcadia High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Keating was city and region champion in the 1,600-meter run as a sophomore, junior and senior. It made perfect sense since Charlie had athleticism running through his veins. His cousin was the former swimming champion Gary Hall Jr., who won a total of ten medals in three Olympics. His father was a three-time All-American swimmer and finished fifth in the breaststroke at the 1976 Olympics.
He graduated in 2004 and he ran cross-country and track at Indiana University. Charlie was a member of the 2004-05 Hoosiers team that was Big Ten Conference runner-up in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. He competed in the mile run.
Charlie then set his sights on serving the country and attended the Naval Academy.
“He had a calling, a sense of duty, to serve his country,” his cousin Liz Keating said. “He just had this sense of purpose for what he was doing. He loved what he was doing. He was a real-life superhero.”
Charlie finished his grueling Navy SEAL training in a year and a half in 2008, less than 25 percent who undertake the taxing challenge ever complete the training.
“When Charlie left IU to enlist and try to become a SEAL, I don’t think it really surprised any of us,” said Robert Chapman, professor of kinesiology at IU Bloomington, who served as Indiana men’s cross-country coach from 1998-2007. “You could tell he was a guy who wanted to be the best and find out what he was made of, and serving as special operations forces for his country embodied that.”
Keating was planning to marry his fiancée in November.
“His death is a tragic reminder of the daily sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform — fighting evil and extremism on the front lines to protect freedom and democracy at home and throughout the world,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who ordered all state flags be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday in honor of Keating.
Keating was the third American serviceman to die in combat in Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition launched their campaign against ISIS in the summer of 2014. This is a tragic reminder that we might be in an actual war, but there are still those who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure your freedoms at home and abroad.