COL Nelson L Mellitz, USAF, Ret.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference 2019 took place March 24-26, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The AIPAC Conference is the largest gathering of American’s pro-Israel community. Through keynote speeches by American and Israeli leaders and educational sessions, Policy Conference delegates participate in the full scale of pro-Israel activism (reference AIPAC Dashboard: March 28, 2019).

The Jewish War Veterans was there, as AIPAC implemented a U.S. military veteran’s outreach component with breakout sessions, special sessions, and receptions directed to and for U.S. military veterans. Sessions included: Veterans in Politics, Veterans Outreach Welcome Reception, On the Front Lines: Veterans Fighting for a Strong U.S.-Israel Relationship; Veteran Freshman: From One Front Line to Another, etc. There were over 18,000 participants at AIPAC and at each one of these veterans’ related sessions the room was full to overflowing with 100 plus veterans in attendance.

When I asked the AIPAC veterans outreach coordinator how many conference participants are U.S. military veterans he didn’t know, but the number is estimated to be in the thousands. AIPAC leaders are now developing a method to have the veterans self-identify when they register. At the veteran receptions the majority of attendees are under 40 years old and very few are members of JWV.

I attended all of the veterans’ related sessions and had an opportunity to talk with many veterans that served in Afghanistan and Iraq during the last 18 years of war and counting. There were a couple of reasons why they attend AIPAC including support of Israel from generation to generation (grandparents and parents to veteran) and because AIPAC has sent U.S. veterans (Jewish and non-Jewish) to Israel using AIPAC Foundation funding. These veterans interact with Israel Defense Force that have similar combat experiences and post-war recovery treatments, some said that as a result of increased Anti-Semitism in the U.S. it’s time for Jewish veterans to stand up and talk about our unique reasons for serving and what actions we think should be taken to combat Anti-Semitism. In addition, another important reason veterans attend AIPAC is because it’s an opportunity for them to talk to each other about being Jewish while fighting in a war.

AIPAC had fantastic speakers: The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel; Ambassador David Friedman, United States Ambassador to Israel; The Honorable Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States; Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Majority Leader; and many other Democrats, Republicans, and foreign government leaders.

Whenever possible I spoke to the veterans about the benefits to joining JWV and how we can provide similar opportunities to AIPAC. The response was not always positive because some of the veterans had tried to participate at Post levels and were turned off by the bureaucracy and the stagnant leadership. However, I think that all of the reasons given to attend AIPAC can be met by JWV at all echelons, by our Afghanistan and Iraq Committee, internet Post, and Jewish Warriors Post #4.

The mission of AIPAC is to support Israel and they have a vision of using veterans unique outlook to accomplish this mission. I strongly recommend that the Jewish War Veteran leadership send several members to AIPAC 2020 and throughout the year join AIPAC in their outreach to U.S. military veterans. This JWV-AIPAC effort could be a major source for JWV membership and accomplishing our mission of support to Israel, the U.S. military, and veterans.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019

A protest held July 26, 2017 in Times Square outside the U.S. Army Recruiting Center in response to President Trump tweeting that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. Photo by Jere Keys, New York City, USA.

By Harvey Weiner,
JWV National Judge Advocate

Jews, as a community, have always been willing to fight for this country, even prior to its official beginning. Over 360 years ago, when those first 23 Jews came in 1654 from Recife, Brazil, to settle in New Amsterdam, now known as New York City, they were not welcomed by Governor Peter Stuyvesant, he of the well-known peg leg. Nevertheless, they were allowed to stay and some months later, Asser Levy, one of the initial 23 Jewish immigrants, protested to Stuyvesant that Jews were not allowed to stand guard. According to Stuyvesant, the reason why he did not want a Jew to stand guard was because of the discrimination and unwillingness of local residents to serve as fellow soldiers with the Jewish nation and to be on guard with them in the same guard house.Levy insisted however, that, as a manual laborer, he should be able to stand guard like everyone else. Levy appealed to some of the Jewish shareholders of the Dutch East India Company, which owned New Amsterdam and, within two years, Levy had succeeded in standing watch and ward, like the others.

On July 26, 2017, President Trump announced in a series of tweets that transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve in the military, reversing the policy of the Department of Defense. A formal Presidential Memorandum followed on August 25, 2017. JWV National Commander Carl A. Singer issued a statement on behalf of the JWV opposing this new discriminatory policy. Suit was brought by the transgender community in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the Trump Memorandum and its subsequent progeny from being implemented. Doe v. Trump, CA No. 17-1597 (CKK). A preliminary injunction was issued preventing this discriminatory policy from going into effect. This injunction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.

The Trump administration has appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the merits. The JWV was asked by Mary Bonauto, the “Thurgood Marshall” of the LGBTQ movement, if it would be willing to file an Amicus brief in light of Commander Singer’s statement and the JWV agreed. The JWV, along with several other veterans groups, filed a supporting brief on October 29, 2018 with oral argument expected to take place in December, 2018. However, the major veterans groups chose not to join in.

The appeal focuses on the limits of the power of the President as Commander in Chief. Not needing to repeat this legal argument, the JWV brief focused on policy arguments. The proposed ban would make military units weaker, not stronger, because unit cohesion is the product of values and experiences shared by those who serve, and permitting openly transgender personnel to serve does not hinder unit cohesion, but rather enhances it. Furthermore, the proposed ban would arbitrarily exclude capable individuals who are willing to serve their country and would demean all who serve.
“When you are in the military, no one thinks of you as black, or Asian, or gay, or transgender. These are life-and-death situations, and people are just thinking about whether you can do your job and have their backs. Being a service member overshadows any other identity you have.”

A major reason for the transgender ban is undoubtedly similar to the reasons why Asser Levy was initially forbidden to stand guard over 360 years ago, (i.e., others who serve wouldn’t like it). And today, such discrimination based on religious or gender identity is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. Levy would not have had to appeal to the Netherlands had his situation arose today. He would have had the rule of law on his side.
The right to serve in the military is a value kept alive by the JWV.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019

Post 749 sponsoring packages for troops temporarily stationed at Fort Bliss during Hanukkah.

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

SGT April Honig celebrating Hanukkah in Mosul in 2006.

During the monotony of deployment, one thing that troops look forward to is mail. It is a small gesture from someone in a place of homeland comfort that can go a long way both physically and mentally. Receiving a package from a loved one or organization can change a service member’s mood and ultimately raise their morale.

“The taste and smells of home — as well as personal messages of support demonstrates care, honor and respect for our fellow Americans. Connecting in this way to our troops can help meet both their physical and spiritual needs,” wrote Sara Fuerst & Ava Hamburger on

There are many organizations that send packages to Jewish troops such as Aleph, Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute (MSAWI), Kosher troops and JWV to name a few.

MSAWI was established so that the legacy of Major Stuart Adam Wolfer’s leadership, commitment to country and community service will live on. Stuart Wolfer was killed in 2008 while serving in Iraq.

“MSAWI was created so that those of us here at home may give of our most precious resource, our time,” said Beverly Wolfer-Nerenberg, MSAWI president and Stuart’s sister. “We always try to involve schools, community groups and faith-based organizations to be an active part of making the care packages. Our troops deserve to know that we care about them and are supporting them.”

Supporting service members morale is a way for people in America to make a positive difference. A servicemember’s morale affects mental, moral, physical condition and ability to overcome obstacles. Poor morale can even lead to loss of victory.

JWV member Gavin Ellman recalled receiving care packages during his service: “They had a huge impact on how we felt,” said Ellman. “Especially the ones that showed people really were thinking about us. The handwritten notes and pictures were so touching!”

It is special to receive care packages during holidays when the weight of being away from family feels heavier. Organizations often send special packages for holiday festivities.

“I served in the Air Force for 32 years,” said Retired Colonel Nelson L Mellitz. “Having been deployed many times during Jewish and Christian holidays, I know that receiving a Jewish holiday card creates a connection to home and the Jewish community. Sometimes being one of the few Jewish military members in a unit overseas and receiving a card or care package from Jewish people or a Jewish organization gave reason to being there.”

It is not uncommon for organizations such as MSAWI to receive letters of thanks. Beverly Wolfer recalled a touching thank you letter that said “Being deployed presents so many challenges: safety concerns, 7-days a week demanding work, and loneliness during Jewish holiday times due to separation from family. I’m so pleased to say the Major Stuart A. Wolfer organization contributed immensely in boosting my spirits by providing care package items during my Afghanistan tour. I wish you could see the look of gratitude upon the soldiers faces when I distributed the wonderful care package items. The nuts and socks you sent were especially welcomed! Not only do the provisions add comfort to austere surroundings, but knowing the folks back home appreciate soldiers’ sacrifices gives us strength and courage to preserve through Operation Enduring Freedom. Thank you for your patriotism and commitment to the troops!”

Sending care packages to those of the Jewish faith is not new. During World War II the three sons of the owners of Katz Deli in Manhattan, New York were serving in the armed forces, according the Katz website. The owners were in the habit of sending food to their boys and encouraged other parents to do the same.

The campaign during World War II of sending food to Jews in service became known as “Send a Salami to your Boy in the Army.” The catch phrase was first heard by Rose Tarowsky, mother of Izzy Tarowsky, who served in the South Pacific as a bomber pilot. Today, Katz Deli supports troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan with special shipping for U.S. military and care packages.

To support the effort of sending care packages, visit the websites of Aleph, KosherTroops, MSAWI, JWV SOS program, or Operation Macabee.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Army Cadet Jacob Widman from Texas A&M kindles a Havdalah candle during a Jewish ceremony marking the end of Shabbat in Washington D.C.

By: Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

Jewish Warrior Weekend, an event which brings  together Jewish cadets and midshipmen for a weekend of learning, comradery and celebration of Judaism, took place in Washington, DC, November 8-11.

The event brought together forty-nine officers in training, who had the opportunity to learn about the history of Jewish military service in America.

On Friday, Shabbat services were observed and Saturday evening’s activities included a Havdalah ceremony outdoors in DuPont Circle. Havdalah is a ceremony that marks the end of the Shabbat and is supposed to reawaken the senses, including smell.

In the crisp fall air, cadets and midshipmen placed their arms on each other’s shoulders and swayed in a circle while reciting prayers, watching the glow of a colorful Havdalah candle, sipping from the Kiddush cup and smelling the ceremonial spices. People in the area stopped to watch and photograph the cadets and midshipmen as they joyfully sang and chanted.

Jewish cadets and midshipman celebrate Havdalah in DC.

After the ceremony, Rear Adm. (Ret.) Paul Becker shared inspirational advice to the young future officers on Jewish military life.

“It is good to build a comradery with other Jewish warriors,” said Becker. “As it is, we are few in numbers and there is value and strength in knowing there are others out there like you.”

Often times there are only a few Jewish service members at each a command.

“In some cases, you might be the first Jew they meet and they may have some stereotypes,” said Becker.

Therefore, he stated that Jews in a command have a responsibility to represent a culture. He also stated that it is possible to abuse this representation by overly requesting leave or attempting to fool others about Jewish holidays.

“It is important to prioritize how you put effort as a Jewish lay leader, or toward the Jewish holidays,” said Becker. “For example, High Holidays are at the top but you don’t want to expend any effort trying to convince your chain of command that there needs to be some type of commemoration of minor holidays like Tisha B’av.”

Sunday began with a guest speaker – former Army Officer Phil Carter, a senior researcher who focuses on veterans, military personnel and civil-military relations.

The weekend ended on a somber note, with a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Sunday afternoon. Ben Kane, Programs Assistant at JWV, led interested participants on a tour.

“I enjoyed the Holocaust Museum in the sense that I am glad that there is a museum dedicated to such a tragic event,” said Cadet Jacob Widman. “It was meaningful because I learned more about the US involvement in the refusal of refugees, and other topics not covered at Yad Vashem.”

Jewish Warrior Weekend is an annual Shabbaton program. This year was sponsored by the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, National Museum of American Jewish Military History, USAA, Jteen Philanthropy, Joseph Goldstein, Rabbi Steven Rein, Dallas Jewish Federation, Temple Sinai, Temple Micah and Stratton-Petit Foundation.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Hanukkah service held in Iraq.

By Ben Kane, Programs Assistant

A well-known fact among the international Jewish community is that sometimes observing Jewish traditions and a Jewish lifestyle can be difficult. For Jewish American military service members overseas, this difficulty stems from a variety of sources. It can come from anti-Semitic fellow service members, from being in a country that is hostile to observers of the Jewish faith, or to simply not having the right items needed for Jewish holidays and customs. One place where being a Jew in the military would likely have its fair share of difficulties is Iraq. Yet, as this story demonstrates, Jewish U.S. military personnel often find a way to express their Jewish faith and traditions even in potentially unfriendly environments.

In October 2005, an idea amongst several Jewish American service members took shape- to plan and hold a successful Hanukkah party or two in Iraq. It had been several years since the last Hanukkah party, and they believed it was due time to celebrate the festival of lights. Calls were made to various organizations that would likely help with the efforts to carry out the party, with Colonel Nelson Mellitz contacting the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. His association with the JWV would continue for years and into the present, with Col. Mellitz eventually becoming the Department Commander for the state of New Jersey, as well as the National Quartermaster.

Calls were made through the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, through the chaplain’s services, through the JWV, and as the word spread, the trickle of Hanukkah memorabilia sent their way turned into a flood. Col. Mellitz soon found his desk and surrounding space in the Baghdad embassy had enough Hanukkah memorabilia for parties far into the future. The effort to celebrate Hanukkah in Iraq was not without a few hiccups. Hesitation amongst some of the captains and lieutenants involved in carrying out the plans for the parties provided some difficulties. The hesitation was rumored to be anti-Semitic in nature, but any issues were resolved by the generals, as well as on an ambassadorial level, allowing the plans for the festivities to proceed.

Army SPC and fallen service member Daniel Agami (far left) stands with the giant Menorah in Iraq in 2006.

As if the Hanukkah celebrations being held in Iraq were not unique enough, the specific location of the parties is noteworthy. The celebrations of the festival of lights for this year and for several after were held in the former palace of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. His opulent palaces, once the seat of power of a tyrant, was now being repurposed for good- for beautiful Hanukkah celebrations. Hanukkah parties at the palace featured music, dancing, and no small number of latkes and chocolates. Included in the agenda were more serious notes like speeches from dignitaries, including Zalmay Khalilzad, at that time the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Initial questions of whether he would be able to attend or not were eventually answered when embassy security staff began posting troops around the area and combing the area with their dogs.

A focal point of these celebrations was the colossal menorah that was designed by LT. Laurie and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the military contractor KBR. Humorously, the Army Corps of Engineers Captain who was tasked with overseeing construction efforts had no idea what a menorah was until then. The menorah soon became synonymous with the Hanukkah parties at Saddam’s Republican palace and was on display whenever a Hanukkah party took place there.

Many, but not all, of the attendees were Jewish, Col. Mellitz said, creating a heightened sense of camaraderie between service members of different faiths that hopefully has lasted long after the celebration and deployment ended. The Hanukkah parties at the palace and at nearby Camp Liberty, represented by the towering menorah in the palace and at Camp Liberty, served as symbols not just of the overthrowing of tyranny, but of the resilience of the Jewish people and their ability to honor Jewish traditions and customs anywhere in the world.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) at sea.

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

During the gentle sway of the ship, three of us huddled in the library aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and lit a

(Dec. 15, 2012) Religious Program Specialist 3rd Class Samantha Haag lights a menorah on the seventh night of Hanukkah aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released)

menorah.  It was a moment of normalcy during a deployment that felt long and stressful.  We were three different ranks and had three very different duties, and yet, we slowly recited the Hanukkah blessing in unison.  It was a moment that brought three of us together to practice an ancient tradition. It also connected us with our families back home.

Hanukkah is an eight-day, winter holiday also known as the “Festival of Lights”.  Hanukkah means “dedication.” It is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Holy Temple.

To me, while deployed in foreign seas, dedication was a significant word.  As a sailor on my first deployment, Hanukkah was a Jewish reminder of being part of something bigger than myself.  The ship had a dedicated mission.  Also, our small Jewish gathering was dedicated to celebrating Hanukkah at sea despite our busy schedules and the small, yet significant number of us.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Rabbi Morton H. Singer receiving a reward.

By Anna Selman

On the Jewish plaque at Chaplain’s Hill, there reads a name: Rabbi Morton H. Singer, USA 17 December 1968.  Weeks later, an article appeared in the Jewish Telegraph Agency titled, “NY Chaplain Killed in Vietnam, Buried in Israel”.  Those eight words encapsulated the death of Rabbi Morton Singer.  However, the story of his service and his life are much more remarkable.

Rabbi Morton Singer was born in New York City in 1936.  Little is known about his childhood growing up in Manhattan, but we do know that he was an avid weight lifter in his youth – he was recognized as the Eastern Intercollegiate Weight Lifting Champion of 1959.  He also was very active in Judo, and he would later serve on the Armed Forces Judo Team.

He went to City College of New York for his undergrad, and he later attended Yeshiva University.  After obtaining his rabbinical degree, Rabbi Singer taught at a Jewish Day School for 3 years.  However, according to his nephew, Jeffrey Singer, “Rabbi Singer felt a strong obligation to serve.  He believed that if there were Jews someplace, he was going to help.

So, during the outbreak of the 6 Day War in Israel, it was only natural that Rabbi Singer signed right up.  During the war, he served as a volunteer in the Bikkur Holim general hospital in Jerusalem.  He would often volunteer to drive the ambulance to evacuate soldiers from the front lines in the West Bank.  It was there that Rabbi Singer found a deep love for Israel, and he promised himself that he would move himself and his family there one day.

After coming back to the states, Rabbi Singer signed up for the US Army, and he went to Chaplains School at Fort Hamilton and basic training at Fort Benning. From there, he went to Fort Sill shortly before deploying the Vietnam in November of 1968.

After arriving in Vietnam, Rabbi Singer was busy conducting Shabbat Services, meeting Jewish soldiers and preparing for Hanukkah.  It was there that Alan Potkin met Rabbi Singer again, “I had seen him only a few days earlier when he tracked me down at the 95th Evac Hospital in Da Nang, where I had been MEDEVACed in with a severed jugular vein from a frag wound.”

On December 17th, Rabbi Singer geared up to conduct Hanukkah services for Marines stations at Chu Lai Air Base in the Quang Nam Province.  The flight there was quick and easy.  Rabbi Singer sang songs, ate latkes and played dreidels with a few Jewish marines.  He packed up his gear, and he went to board his C123 Fairchild to go home.  Seconds after takeoff, there was an explosion in the plane that left 14 dead caused by the crew placing the wrong type of fuel in the aircraft.

Marine Corps veterans Tracy Diffin was one of the first responders to the scene, “I was on Fire & Rescue Crash Crew, and was the first one there. A chopper flew overhead to keep the flames down. It was allegedly bad gas in the craft that took it down. Almost everyone died.  I tried like hell to save everyone I could.”

“Growing up, I was always bothered hearing that my Uncle was killed going to do a mitzvah (conducting Hanukkah ceremonies), because when a person is going to do a mitzvah, they have extra protection from G-d.  I received some form of comfort upon learning that it was only after completing the lighting on take-off from Chu Lai that this tragic event occurred,” said Jeffrey Singer, Rabbi Morton Singer’s nephew.

On January 2, 1968, Rabbi Morton Singer was buried on a hillside near Jerusalem today in accordance with his last wish. His body was laid to rest at Har Hamenuchot, a cemetery for the fallen of the Six-Day War. Funeral services were attended by the chief chaplain of the Israel Army’s Jerusalem area command, the military attache of the U.S. Embassy and relatives who live in Cholon, near Tel Aviv.

Volume 72. Number 4. Winter 2018

Department of Rhode Island

By Barry Lischinsky, National Membership Chairman

How to Run A Veterans Day Ceremony at Your Local Jewish Community Center, Synagogue or School

What is the purpose of JWV Posts running Veterans Day ceremonies?

Veterans Day is an excellent opportunity for JWV Posts to interact with their local Jewish communities – to remind them that Jewish veterans exist and live among them.  We must capitalize on this opportunity by reaching out to our local JCCs, synagogues and schools in order to remind the Jewish community of their proud and historic service to the United States.

What is Veterans Day?

Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.

What is the importance of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of WWI?

JWV Members setting up Veterans Day exhibit in the Merage JCC.

This Veterans Day is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice (the peace agreement) of World War 1 (WW1).  WW1 remains America’s forgotten war, even though more Americans gave their lives in that war than the wars of Korea and Vietnam combined.  More than four million American families sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during World War 1, and 225,000 American Jews served in that war – many of them new immigrants.  It was also the first time women were formally introduced into the Army, and we are proud to say that the first female doctor in the US Army, Kate Karpeles, was a proud Jewish woman and the daughter in law to a Jewish Medal of Honor Recipient.  By learning and teaching our community about our service, we are not only teaching the next generation, but we are also making a promise to this generation of soldiers and sailors that their service will not be forgotten 100 years from now.

How do I run a Veterans Day Ceremony?

The ceremony itself consists of 8 parts: (1) Posting of the Colors, (2) Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem, (3) Introductory Remarks, (4) Introduction of Special Guests, (5) Principal Speaker, (6) Special Reading, (7) TAPS and (8) Closing Benediction.

  • Prelude and Posting of Colors —A procession and posting of the Nation’s colors (the American Flag) is always a moving event. Local veterans service organizations or JROTC programs often participate with their impressive array of military banners and American flags.
  • Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem — The program chairperson should invite the audience to stand and join in the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the National Anthem.
  • Introductory Remarks — Brief introductory remarks can set the tone for the program. This year, it would be appropriate to give a brief history of WW1 and the impact that it has had through our nation. A guide on WWI can be found at the WW1 Centennial Commission website, and information about Jewish soldiers during WW1 can be found at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History
  • Introduction of Guests — Dignitaries selected as special guests may include local government officials, distinguished military personnel and veterans from your community should be introduced at the event.
  • Principal Speaker — Your principal speaker should be invited far enough in advance to allow adequate preparation for your program. JWV is able to provide speakers through our Project Maggid program.  Please contact JWV’s Programs Department if you are interested in getting a speaker.
  • Selected Reading —A reading of a well-known patriotic address by a famous military hero by a talented student can be effective. Selected readings are available from the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.
  • Moment of Silence, Taps — While Veterans Day is primarily a tribute to America’s living veterans, and should be observed more as a celebration than as a somber remembrance, it is always appropriate to include a moment of respect for those who gave their lives for their country. This year, the Jewish community lost two American heroes in the line of fire – Captain Samuel Schultz and SFC Christopher Celiz. It is important to remind the Jewish community of their stories and the stories of the other 15,000 current Jewish service members.
  • Closing Benediction — Inviting a local Rabbi or a lay leader can be a meaningful way to end the ceremony. The Prayer for America’s Military Personnel is appropriate. A link to the lyrics and musical accompaniment can be found at the JWB Jewish Chaplain’s Council

SFC Christopher Celiz. Photo Credit: US Army.

By Anna Selman, Programs and Public Relations Coordinator

WASHINGTON – Over the summer, we lost another one of our brothers in arms.  Sergeant First Class (SFC) Christopher Celiz, a member of the 1st Battalion of 75th Ranger Regiment, died July 12 of wounds suffered as a result of enemy small-arms fire in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktiya province.  He was 32.

“While conducting combat operations in Paktiya province, Celiz was wounded by enemy small arms fire,” stated a U.S. Army Special Operations Command press release. “He was treated immediately and medically evacuated to the nearest medical treatment facility where he died of his wounds.”  He was part of a team of Army Rangers supporting the CIA in an intensifying effort to kill or capture top militant targets.

“The 75th Ranger Regiment suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of SFC Chris Celiz,” Col. Brandon Tegtmeier, the 75th Ranger Regiment’s commander, said in the release. “Chris was a national treasure who led his Rangers with passion, competence, and an infectiously positive attitude no matter the situation. He will be greatly missed.”

Celiz deployed from 2008 to 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and from 2011 to 2012 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). He was on his fifth deployment with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment when he was killed. He deployed to war zones a total of seven times with the U.S. Army.

Celiz was born in 1986 in South Carolina, and he was a native of Summerville, SC.  He attended Summerville High School, where he participated in JROTC.  According to one of his JROTC battle buddies, they would spend weekends together competing at drill meets and hanging out at one another’s homes.  It was at Summerville High School where he also met the love of his life, with whom he shared an 8 year old daughter.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 2007 after completing two years at the Citadel. In 2013, Celiz was selected to serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment as a combat engineer. He served with 1st Battalion as the Battalion Master Breacher and engineer and then later as a mortar platoon sergeant with Company D.  At the time of his death, Celiz was serving as the battalion mortar platoon sergeant.

Temple Mikve Israel. Photo Credit: Temple Mikve Israel.

“SFC Chris Celiz was a great Ranger leader, and he will be sorely missed by 1st Ranger Battalion. He had an incredibly positive attitude that inspired Rangers throughout the formation,” his battalion commander, LTC Sean McGee, said in the release. “SFC Class Celiz led from the front and always put himself at the decisive point on the battlefield. He was a loving husband and father, and he and his family have been an important part of the fabric that represents 1st Ranger Battalion and the Savannah community.”

His funeral took place Wednesday afternoon at Congregation Mickve Israel in historic Savannah. Flags were lowered at half-staff throughout the state in his honor.  Hundreds of mourners filled a Savannah, Georgia, synagogue to remember a Jewish soldier killed in action in Afghanistan on July 12.

“When Rob got on the plane to come home for R&R, SFC Chris Celiz shook his hand and told him to have fun and be safe. Rob said, “See you in a few weeks.” Unfortunately, Rob would not see him again. Operation Enduring Freedom began 17 years ago and it seems many have forgotten we are still in Afghanistan, or have become desensitized to that fact. Young men and women are still risking their lives every day, and this young man, a husband and father, lost his life. We cannot forget their sacrifices, or the family they leave behind,” said Kelley, a spouse of a Ranger in the 75th Regiment.

The Governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, ordered flags at half-staff on July 18th.  “As you look at the flag today and see it at half-staff, please take a moment to remember Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country in Afghanistan, and pray for his family and friends as they, and our entire state, mourn his loss,” McMaster wrote on Facebook.

The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. (JWV) mourns the death of SFC Christopher Celiz, and we promise to remind the Jewish community about his service and to remind the world that Jews have and will continue to proudly serve the United States – some, like Celiz, have given their lives.  This Veterans’ Day, we will be reminding Jewish communities around the country that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are continuing to this day, and we have soldiers, like Celiz, who are still dying to protect our freedom.  It is our duty to remember them and to tell the next generation of their sacrifice.

Nathan Krissoff with the rescued hostage, Photo Credit: Krissoff Family

By Anna Selman, Programs and Public Relations Coordinator

The story of Nathan and Bill Krissoff is an amazing story, but it is not the typical generational military story that you are likely to hear.   Nowadays, Jewish service members, like the rest of the United States, tend to serve in “generational military families” – that is people who serve tend to have a parent or both parents that serve.  However, the story of the Krissoffs is a bit different.

Nathan Krissoff, a Jewish native of Nevada, joined the Marines after being told that he was too young to work at the CIA – he wanted to be on the “front line” of the Global War on Terror.  Nathan was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in August of 2004.

In August 2006, First Lieutenant (1LT) Nathan Krissoff and his unit deployed to Iraq.  Shortly after arriving in Iraq, 1LT Krissoff wrote home: “Almost five years to the day after September 11, 2001, I have the chance to put my money where my mouth is in terms of service…. I’m constantly reminded of that famous quote from Tom Hanks’ character at the end of Saving Private Ryan: “Earn this.” Earning it will mean sacrifice, determination, doing my job to the best of my ability. I chose this, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

During his deployment, 1LT Krissoff led a Human Intelligence Exploitation Team sub-team on 8 different battalion operations and participated in 30 combat patrols.  During one mission, his intelligence skills were key to freeing an Iraqi national that was held hostage by terrorists.  On December 9, 2006, 1LT Krissoff volunteered to participate on an intelligence mission in the Al Amiriyah and Al Faris area of Fallujah, Iraq.  As his unit was returning to base, 1LT Krissoff’s vehicle was hit by an IED when the Humvee drove over explosives that had been buried in a dry riverbed. Nathan, who was sitting in the right rear seat, took the brunt of the blast.  He was only 4 months into his 9 month deployment.

His funeral was held in his hometown of Reno, NV.   His brother, Austin, had just graduated for Marine Officer Candidate School when Nathan deployed.  Austin, his parents, grandparents and hundreds of Reno natives were in attendance at Nathan’s funeral.

Lt Cmdr Bill Krissoff official swearing in ceremony, Photo Credit: Task and Purpose

After the funeral, there was a message on Dr. Bill Krissoff’s orthopedic office.  It told patients that Dr. Krissoff was no longer seeing patients because he had joined the U.S. Navy in order to finish his son’s mission to take care of Marines.  This came about after President Bush went to Reno to give a speech months after Nathan had passed away, and he met the Krissoffs afterwards.  President Bush asked the family if there was anything that he could do for him, and Nathan’s father, Bill told him that he wanted to enlist to finish his son’s deployment.

Leaving his profitable practice, Dr. Bill Krissoff was sworn in as a Lieutenant Commander (Lt. Cmdr) in the U.S. Navy in 2007.  After completing his training with the U.S. Navy, Lt. Cmdr Krissoff arrived in Iraq to finish his son’s 7 month deployment.  According to Krissoff, it was a culture shock to be there – the C-130s spiraling in to avoid getting shot, the blast walls surrounding the hospital “like something out of Mad Max.”  Most of the surgeries Krissoff saw weren’t that different from what he was handling back in Truckee – knees and shoulders injured in training.

After weeks from getting back from his deployment to Iraq, Lt. Cmdr Krissoff signed up for another deployment, but this time to Afghanistan.  Krissoff arrived at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan as the battle for Marjah was kicking off in February 2010.  In his time in Afghanistan, Krissoff served as the primary or assistant surgeon on 225 serious casualties, including countless amputations.  Marines coming into Bastion with a heartbeat had a 97 percent chance of making it to the next facility alive.

Lt. Cmdr Krissoff continued to serve for six years, and he feels that he did finish what Nathan started.  “In most families, dad inspires sons. In our family, sons inspire dad,” Krissoff said.  One thing is definitely known for sure, Lt. Cmdr Krissoff definitely did “Earn It”.

Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018