WASHINGTON, D.C. (WCBD) – President Joe Biden on Thursday presented the nation’s most prestigious service award, the Medal of Honor, to three members of the U.S. Army for “conspicuous gallantry.”
Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe, Summerville native Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee received the awards. Sfc. Cashe and Sfc. Celiz will be awarded posthumously.
Sfc. Celiz grew up in the Lowcountry. He attended Summerville High School, then The Citadel before enlisting in the Army in 2006.
At the time of his death in February 2018, Sfc. Celiz was on his fifth deployment, leading “a special operations unit comprised of partnered forces and members of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.”
The group was clearing an area in Paktia Province, Afghanistan of enemy forces when they were ambushed by Taliban insurgents. Sfc. Celiz jumped into action, securing a heavy weapons system to hold off enemy fire long enough for his team to reposition.
As a medical helicopter attempted to evacuate an injured team member, it came under heavy fire. Sfc. 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… constantly repositioning himself to act as a physical shield to the aircraft and its crew.”
Sfc. Celiz was hit as the helicopter took off, but insisted that the pilots leave and get the rest of the team to safety rather than risk loading him inside.
Captain Ben Krzeczowski, the pilot who commanded that medical evacuation, said the following of Sfc. Celiz:
Sfc. Celiz was retrieved and taken to a nearby medical treatment facility where he died of his injuries.
His inclination towards bravery is unsurprising. Among Sfc. Celiz’s accolades are: the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal (2 bronze oak leaf clusters), the Navy Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medals (4 bronze oak leaf clusters), the Meritorious Unit Citation Medal (2), the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star (3), the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star (2), the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Ranger tab, the Sapper tab, the Combat Action Badge, the Parachutist Badge, and the Purple Heart.
South Carolina lawmakers shared words of support for the recognition. Senator Tim Scott said that Sfc. Celiz “embodied the best of America.” Representative Nancy Mace said that her heart goes out to his wife.
Sfc. Celiz’s personal reputation was just as impressive as his professional. The Army reported that hundreds of teammates, soldiers, and friends attended his funeral in Savannah, Georgia, where he was stationed at the time of his deployment.
Sfc. Celiz is survived by his daughter and his wife, Katie, who accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf.