‘Hero’ is a word that is bandied about too frequently in our modern culture. That’s unfortunate because when we have a legitimate hero in our midst, the word doesn’t seem strong enough to convey their contribution to society or their sacrifice for our country. Charles Humphrey Keating IV, 31, who died May 3, 2106, in battle near Mosul, Iraq defines the appropriate use of the word.
Last week members of the Keating family including his widow Brooke Clark-Keating, his father Charles H. Keating III, step-mother DeAnn Keating and a SEAL Teammate who is a long-time friend of Keating sat for an exclusive interview with the Coronado Eagle & Journal Newspaper. Keating III began the interview by saying, “We are very private people and we haven’t talked to anyone. The community of Coronado has been so wonderful and unbelievably kind. We don’t know how to thank them enough for the turnout, response, prayers, and gratitude that has been shown to our family and for taking care of us through this whole thing.”
Charles H. Keating IV, known as C-4 or Charlie by his legion of friends, was born in Phoenix and is one of six children. His younger brother by two years also serves as a SEAL. In this article, SEALs on active duty won’t be listed by name.
Charlie ran counter to the family tradition of excelling in swimming and opted instead for an athletic career in track at Arcadia High School in Phoenix. His father recalled, “He was the captain of the track team his junior and senior years. The mile was his event along with the 800 meters. He ended up running a 4:02 mile in college.”
After graduating from Arcadia in 2004, Charlie accepted a track scholarship at Indiana University, where he majored in business for two years. Charles Keating recalled, “From a very early age Charlie wanted to be a SEAL. He left Indiana because he didn’t want to wait any longer. He was anxious to get going. Charlie was about 16 years old when 9/11 occurred. He was at an impressionable age. Before that he thought about doing something in the military and just knowing him, he was looking for the hardest route to take. I’m sure 9/11 made an impact on him. We often came to Coronado from Arizona and I can remember the SEALs had a display on the Bay July 4, 2000 and he was really impressed by that.”
Keating III added his insights to the impact his son made on his college teammates. “Charlie was at Indiana for two years. He and a number of his track teammates continued to be close friends. Eighteen members of the track team were here at the ceremonies last weekend and one teammate came from China for the service. To be on a team for two years, it’s not typical that so many of them would remain close friends over time like that. In my view, that represents Charlie. Once you knew him, you loved him. Normally to be around for just two years you would be forgotten or dismissed, but he was always part of the crew and it was that way wherever he went. They all loved him.”
Having two sons who would grow up to become SEALs under the same roof would seem to be a major parental challenge. Keating III described his sons growing up. “There were the normal battles and they were extremely competitive with each other. There was always a competition going on, who could jump the highest on the trampoline or who could do the most dangerous thing. Blowing stuff up or whatever it may be. They would always compete, but they were best friends and they loved each other.”
Charlie enlisted in the Navy in February of 2007 and graduated from BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) Training in 2008, Class 266. Along the way he met Brooke Clark-Keating (CHS ’05) who was a fine water polo player and aquatic athlete. “We met through mutual friends, just in passing and we went our own ways,” Brooke explained. “I was 18 or 19 at the time. Then we ran into each other three years ago over the Fourth of July. Charlie was a big Nado buff, a big adventurer and a waterman. He always wanted to do something new and he surfed, spearfished, swam and always traveled. The first year we were dating, we went to seven different places around the world. Charlie was a fun guy and I could never be sad around him. I didn’t see him unhappy very often. He wanted to have a life in Coronado.”
Charles Keating added, “We knew Brooke was the perfect girl for Charlie and that she was a really good swimmer. The first day we met her, she did a back flip off the top of their boat. We thought, oh boy this is the girl for Charlie.”
The serious side of the job of being a SEAL came in the form of deployments that started in 2008. According to information supplied by Naval Special Warfare Group One, after graduation from BUD/S, Keating was assigned to SEAL Team Three, where he qualified as a Naval Special Warfare lead breacher and Naval Special Warfare sniper. While assigned to SEAL Team Three, he completed two deployments to Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Keating then checked into Naval Special Warfare Training Detachment One in July 2013 as a Sniper/Reconnaissance Cell Leading Petty Officer, where he was responsible for the training and sustainment of all West Coast-based snipers. In February 2015 he was assigned to SEAL Team One as the platoon leading petty officer and was later deployed as the Senior Enlisted Advisor in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq.
May 3, 2016, Keating was assigned to a Quick Reaction Force that was called on to rescue a team of SEAL advisors working with Kurdish Peshmerga forces. An estimated force of 125 ISIS troops was attempting to capture the Iraqi town of Tel Askuf, a village less than five miles from ISIS-held territory. According to a communique released by the Pentagon, ISIS arrived on the field of battle with, “Twenty so-called ‘technicals’ which are commercial vehicles converted into ad hoc troop carriers and crew-served weapons platforms and at least one bulldozer. The battle started at 7:30 a.m. local time and 20 minutes later the advise-and-assist team reported they were in contact with ISIS forces.”
The citation for Keating’s Silver Star Medal said of the battle, “When the enemy attempted to flank his position with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, Petty Officer Keating led a team to intercept and neutralize the threat with precise sniper and rocket fire. His personal bravery inspired his comrades to vigorously defend their position and repel the enemy assault. He continued to train partner forces until mortally wounded by enemy fire. By his bold initiative, undaunted courage, and complete dedication to duty, Petty Officer Keating reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Keating executed his final assignment by safely evacuating the entire advise-and-assist team he was sent to rescue. As they departed the battle, which at that point had lasted for approximately two hours, both medical evacuation helicopters were damaged by small-arms fire.
Perhaps it was due to his heroic actions, that he was a resident of Coronado or because he was a SEAL who gave his life to his country, the affection for posthumously promoted Chief Petty Officer Charles H. Keating IV was heart-felt, genuine and international in scope. Charles Keating III said when asked to describe his thoughts replied, “People have been so kind and gracious. DeAnn and I are floored by it. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York held a mass for Charlie with Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaking. The outpouring of love and concern from people all over the country and all over the world has been phenomenal. The job the Navy, the SEAL Teams and Admiral Brian Losey did was outstanding. Charlie’s long-time friend and SEAL teammate was the front man for the whole thing. The work and effort these people put in to honor our son was unbelievable. The people of Coronado have been beautiful.”
Brooke spoke of the procession that wound its way through Coronado, “We were driving behind Charlie and when we were next to Coronado High School and Coronado Middle School, I was smiling and laughing, which is not what my reaction should be. It was so positive and so happy and it was such a Charlie-like thing. It was moving in a really positive way and it brought the community together. I didn’t know Charlie knew so many people. We had a paddle-out Saturday and that was the one thing that was a happy thing to show up to. It was pretty much just Coronado, his friends and the celebration of life that was very him, out on the water surfing. He would get everybody in the water or on surfboards.”
Charles III noted another expression of support from the community. “The wives of Charlie’s teammates in Teams One and Three brought us these unbelievable meals. They brought us so much food; three times a day every single day. They had us completely spoiled for the 10 days we were in Coronado. We joked that our son Charlie assigned his friend (the SEAL teammate who participated in the interview) the coordination duty because he didn’t like him. He was the real hero in all of this. I have a huge family and with Brooke’s family there are all these moving parts. It’s way more complicated than it seems. The Navy Seal Foundation and the Teams made it easy for us.”
Brooke Clark-Keating made reference to the presence of the Patriot Guard, which provided a motorcycle escort whenever Charlie made movement in San Diego. “Most of them are Veterans. At one point when we were on the Bridge with Charlie, one entire side of the bridge was just Charlie, his friends and the Patriot Guard. The train of bikes was so long it covered the Bridge. It was special.”
When asked for their fondest memories of C-4, his father replied, “It was just being with him. It was a pure pleasure every time I was with him. He was always fun to be around and entertaining. Charles was everything you could ever dream of in a son.” Brooke added, “I would say just sitting on the boat at night, with a glass of wine in the marina. That was very him.” C-4’s SEAL teammate said, “One thing that Brooke said hit home. You notice going back and looking at pictures of Charlie that he was always in the center of the group, in the middle of good people. I was in plenty of rough, hairy situations with him and he still had that big grin on his face. He always found the best in things, no matter what the circumstance.”
A SEAL officer spoke at the Memorial service held at Tidelands Park and said of his close friend, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing and that’s how Chuck lived. He loved his family deeply and embodied a tough frogman persona. Brooke, I’ve never seen his square jaw smile as big as when he was with you. As tough as Chuck was, I knew that your genuine kindness was going to melt him, from when you two started dating. Keatings, you’ve always treated me as family. Know you have another son in me.
“When you live at an all-out pace like Chuck, you’re destined to do great things. He truly believed that moderation is for cowards, and applied this to all aspects of his life.
“He was a passionate mentor for his platoon mates, and overseas he was their protector. He was a dedicated son and loyal husband. He showed an over-the-top attitude towards the right principles that deserve to be emulated. This is what a real hero looks like in society; turn to Chuck for someone to emulate. He provided a pure example of absolute love for those around him, self-sacrifice for the greater good of his tribe, and unflinching action against the evil of this world. These are true attributes worth over-doing.”
At the same ceremony, Charles Keating III said of Charlie and his approach to life. “My son was one of those men. He revolted at the idea of not being there for the people who needed his bravery and courage. There are the Mother Theresa’s who with love and kindness show us how to act when we are incapable of fighting, but there are men like Charlie who with love and violence must act in order to help those who are under the most difficult of circumstances on this earth and to defend our nation.
“Yes, in my opinion, as ridiculous as it may seem, these tough, swearing, hard-drinking men are much like Mother Theresa in their own way, helping where no one else can or is willing. They defend the nation on this earth, who understands and is willing to help. They risk their lives everyday while doing it and yet go back and back again. Charlie understood the mission and relished it. Without these good men, the world would never hold up against the sick evil that is prevalent in much of this earth. These men are the force of good in the world. Our nation is the force of good in the world. We cannot buckle, we must stand back up, we must take this fight straight back at them.”
Encapsulated in a little more than 2,000 words is why Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Charles H. Keating IV is a hero in the truest sense.