Jon Kelton, MBA Class of 2014

As fall sets in, MBA students return to campus anxious to resume their normal routine of studying, recruiting, attending beer blast, watching football, and planning Halloween parties, etc. At times like this it is easy for us to become self-consumed.  In fact, with our busy schedules and our tendency towards tunnel vision, we often fail to think about anything that does not impact our daily lives.  However, since 2011, this time of year reminds me of the ultimate sacrifice of my good friend and colleague Kris Domeij.  For me, October has become a month of reflection and gratitude.  Why?  Because it was on October 22nd, 2011 that Kris was killed in action while serving his country as leader in 2nd Ranger Battalion, U.S. Army.  That deployment was Kris’ 14th consecutive deployment in support of the Global War on Terror.  His story is both heroic and tragic, and should be known by all who enjoy and appreciate the freedoms of this country.

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In 2001, Kris Domeij enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from high school in the San Diego area of California.  Over his next ten years of service, Kris would set himself apart and become widely recognized as one of the most proficient and talented soldiers within the U.S. Army. Kris spent his tenure as a soldier within one of the U.S. military’s most elite special operations units, the 75th Ranger Regiment, where he built a reputation for being the epitome of a professional soldier and a peak performer.  Kris progressed to the rank of Sergeant First Class within 7 years, a feat which generally takes soldiers at least 12 years.   Kris developed his reputation in both training and for his continued and persistent superior performance on the battlefield.

Kris was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), controlling all aircraft that support the ground effort, and employing those aircraft in a variety of functions, including but not limited to lethal engagements, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  This position carries immense responsibility, which is only entrusted to a select few who have the capacity to understand the dynamics of airspace de-confliction coupled with the employment of aerial platforms that carry the most lethal munitions on the battlefield.  On a typical Ranger mission, Kris was singlehandedly responsible for upwards of six helicopters, six fighter jets, and two surveillance aircraft.  For these reasons, following his death, the Commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment stated:  “Sgt. 1st Class Domeij was the prototypical special operations NCO.  His ability to employ fire support platforms made him a game changer on the battlefield-an operator who in real terms had the value of an entire strike force on the battlefield.”

Over the course of Kris’ career, he would take part in some of the most historic missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, including the rescue of Jessica Lynch.  Kris was also a member of the strike force that captured some of the most high profile targets sought by the U.S. Government.  These accolades were functions of his talent and skill.  What remains truly amazing about Kris was his unwavering commitment and dedication to his country.

Following each 2nd Ranger Battalion rotation to and from combat, Kris returned home to Fort Lewis, Washington, committed to beginning the next training cycle in order to prepare for the upcoming deployment; often turning down opportunities to move to a training post to teach young soldiers. Over his ten-year career, Kris deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan with 2nd Ranger Battalion 14 consecutive times.  No other soldier killed in either war has deployed repeatedly this many times. In aggregate, Kris spent more than five years deployed.  During these deployments, Kris served on hundreds of the most dangerous special operations combat missions, launching each night on helicopters in pursuit of our nation’s “high value targets.”  Over the course of Kris’ ten-year career, he was awarded three bronze stars, along with many other awards and decorations, and earned the love and reverence of those with whom he served.

Kris was killed on one of these very missions.  On his 14th consecutive deployment, Kris was working a desk job in an operations center in Kandahar.  After one of the strike force JTACs was injured, Kris volunteered to take his place and return “to the line.”  On October 22nd, 2011, Kris’ strike force launched to execute a night raid on a compound that was believed to be the home of a senior Taliban operative.  During this mission, Kris, along with two others, was killed in action.  Kris was 29 years old.

Kris’ death garnered national media attention as stories of his venerable life and tragic death appeared in People Magazine, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and countless other national and local media outlets.  Kris was truly special as he was not only a valiant warrior, but also a dedicated husband and father.  Kris left behind his wife Sarah, and his two young daughters Mikajsa and Aaliyah, whom he loved deeply.  Kris was also a compassionate and magnanimous friend. He was the man many of us aspire to be.  In the words of our Battalion Commander, Colonel David Hodne (who spoke at Stern last May), “Sgt. 1st Class Kris Domeij will be dearly missed by the men of 2nd Ranger Bn. He was one of those men who was known by all as much for his humor, enthusiasm, and loyal friendship, as he was for his unparalleled skill and bravery under fire.  This was a Ranger you wanted at your side when the chips were down.  He and his family are very much part of the fabric that defines 2nd Ranger Bn.  He is irreplaceable…in our formation…and in our hearts.”

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I share this story with you as a reminder to be thankful for those that have paid great sacrifices so that we, as young and ambitious business school students may pursue our life aspirations without living in constant fear.  Further, Kris’ story demonstrates a selflessness of the highest order, and his actions should undoubtedly serve as a learning point for each of us as we pursue what often times feel like selfish endeavors.  So this October, remember Kris Domeij, my personal friend, and a hero to all who enjoy the fruits of freedom in this country.

Sergeant First Class Kris Domeij, of 2nd Ranger Battalion – U.S. Army Special Operations, was killed in action in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on October 22nd, 2011.

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