In May of this year, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) Charlie Keating IV was killed in northern Iraq when his quick reaction force confronted over a hundred ISIS fighters who were threatening to overwhelm a small American advise-and-assist team and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces it was supporting. A US Naval Institute article from May 4, 2016 describes the scene: “The U.S. advise-and-assist team – composed of fewer than a dozen U.S. troops — was in the town of Tel Askuf when the force of more than 120 ISIS fighters pushed into the area. The ISIS force was made up of a 20 so-called “technicals” – commercial vehicles converted into ad hoc troop carriers and crew-served weapons platforms — and at least one bulldozer…”
When the QRF arrived, it immediately came under fire and Charlie yelled to his team to run toward the fighting. Nine hours later 60 ISIS fighters were dead and coalition forces were in control of Tel Askuf.
One American was killed. He died while making sure the others did not.
I often wonder what happens in the aftermath of such a tragedy. The nation hears of a fallen hero and its citizens express their gratitude for a life sacrificed in defense of the common good. But then they all move on.
The family does not.
Charlie came from a family that believed in service. Charlie the first fought in WWI. Charlie the second fought in World War II. Charlie 3 (or CIII) was an Olympic swimmer. And CIV was a SEAL.
The Keating family paid for and built an Olympic sized swimming pool fifty years ago in honor of the family patriarch at St Xavier’s High School near Cincinnati, and not long ago the school’s water polo team played there for the state championship. They wore CIV on their chests and dedicated the game to Charlie IV.
And they won.
The seniors on that water polo team were barely toddlers when the towers fell on 9/11. The nation has been at war almost their entire lives, but most likely none of them have felt the pain of loss, or dealt with the fear a family feels lurking beneath the surface every second their loved one is in a war zone. At that water polo game, they learned about Charlie IV and got a small glimpse of what sacrifice really means.
What they almost certainly don’t realize is that the normalcy of their lives is no accident, nor is it a birthright. It is not even normal. In the course of human existence, their peaceful, full, safe lives are an anomaly. What Petty Officer Keating – now Chief Petty Officer Keating (awarded posthumously) – confronted in May of this year was the norm. It is because of him and others like him who run toward the fight that those water polo players – God willing – will never have to confront the normal world face-to-face.