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Jonathan Keller was born May 15, 1979, in Wading River, New York. One of four children, he was our second child and eldest son. He was particularly close to his two younger brothers, Joshua and Michael, and served as their guardian, coach, and cheerleader throughout grade school and college.
He joined the U.S. Navy after high school, and served on the nuclear carrier USS John Stennis during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Later, he joined the New York State Army Reserve, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Division -- the famous Fighting 69th -- while taking college courses. A proud American, Jonathan would say, "If not me, then who will fight for our country, its values, and its freedoms?"
Jonathan earned a certificate in physical training from Hofstra University and pursued an undergraduate degree in health sciences. He really enjoyed his work as a personal trainer in New York City, and developed a following of dedicated clients.
During his service with the Army Reserve, Jonathan was called up at various times to serve at the New York airports and at Penn Station. It was during these service periods that he met and befriended a fellow soldier named Shen. Inseparable, they soon became family.
In late 2007, the Fighting 69th was called to serve in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Jonathan was shipped to Kabul in early 2008 and was assigned to the 172nd Airborne, Camp Joyce, in the deadly Kunar Provence.
After numerous border ambushes, Jonathan sustained critical gunshot wounds during one engagement. His injury and heroism earned him the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Army Meritorious Medal.
His commendation reads as follows: "SPC Keller was one of the gunners in his convoy that responded to Taliban forces attempting to overrun Afghan Border Patrol (ABP) positions on the Afghan/Pakistan Border at Nawa Pass, Kunar Province, 23 April 2008. SPC Keller's actions were critical in suppressing enemy fires, enabling Afghan and US forces to take defensive positions in the pass. While engaging the enemy at close range, his own vehicle came under heavy enemy fire."
Jonathan died suddenly in January 2009 after enduring 11 painful operations over eight months in an Army hospital, and was posthumously promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
He had a contagious smile and a passionate, generous heart. I am so proud of his selfless acts of courage.
We miss Jonathan so dearly. God rest his soul.
I was leading Jonathan to relieve an Afghan Border Police post, which was under attack by around 100 Taliban, when he was wounded in Afghanistan. In the short time I served with him, I was deeply impressed by his maturity and compassion. He was completely dedicated to the safety of his fellow soldiers, and gave his life trying to save our Afghan allies, five of whom gave their lives in the same battle. To his family, I am very sorry about your loss. I did not know until very recently he had passed away. At the time of the battle my first son, who I had never met, was only a couple of months old. Today he is seven and he has two younger brothers. As a father I can only barely begin to comprehend how difficult Jonathan's loss must have been for you. He was a soldier and man, of whom I'm sure you are incredibly proud. The attached photo was taken a few months before Jonathan was wounded.