When Charles H. Keating IV arrived on campus at Indiana University in 2004, he was a top runner from Arizona. But there was more to him than that. A charismatic student, he’d come from a wealthy family whose complicated legacy included collegiate athletic stars, Olympians and a financial scandal in the late 1980s that led to fraud convictions for his father and grandfather.
Less than three years later, he announced that he would be leaving Indiana early to join the Navy SEALs. The decision didn’t surprise most of his teammates, said John Jefferson, who ran with him at Indiana.
“You could write books about Charlie Keating’s life and the Keating family,” said Jefferson. “But we all felt that he was searching for something greater. He kind of did college, and he was a good athlete. He was learning how to get better and get faster. But I think there was always something bigger that he wanted to obtain.”
Keating, 31, became the third U.S. service member killed in combat in the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq after he was shot in a gunfight Tuesday morning, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. Keating was hit around the village of Teleskof, some 20 miles north of Mosul, after he and other U.S. troops making up a rescue unit joined a battle that began two hours earlier against 125 enemy fighters and eventually led to U.S. military advisers taking enemy fire, Warren added.
Keating’s family is widely known for its place at the center of the Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal, in which tens of thousands of people lost their life savings and the U.S. government covered billions of dollars in securities losses.
The company architect, Charles H. Keating Jr., the SEAL’s grandfather, served about four and a half years in prison for wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud. His son, Charles H. Keating III, also was convicted of fraud, but the charges against him were eventually dismissed in a plea agreement with the elder Keating. Five U.S. senators, including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Glenn (D-Ohio), were accused of improperly intervening on the elder Keating’s behalf before the collapse, prompting them to be labeled the “Keating Five.”
But the Keating family also has a history of service to their country. The Navy SEAL’s great-grandfather served in World War I, and his grandfather was a naval pilot during World War II.
Charles H. Keating III represented the United States in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal as a swimmer, and the SEAL’s cousin, Gary Hall Jr., earned 10 Olympic medals as a swimmer between 1996 and 2004.
“He had a sense of purpose to serve his country, and obviously he gave up a long, incredible life to do this and paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said Liz Keating, a cousin of the SEAL. “Any time I met any of his SEAL buddies, it was all obvious that they all looked up to him. He was kind of the leader of his crew.”
Keating was a special operator first class — a midranking enlisted sailor who had been with the SEALs since 2008, deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan and earning two Bronze Star with V devices for valor in combat, according to records released by the Navy.
This is Charlie H. Keating IV from Phoenix AZ. Charlie was killed in Iraq today. Charlie’s sister texted me the news around 8:30 this morning. I wanted to wait to post his name until the family confirmed with news sources his death. Today has been a rough day. Please keep the Keating family in your thoughts and prayers. God speed fair winds and following seas Charlie. That beer with have to wait till some other day. Rest easy brother. #navySEALs #SEALs #america #respect #honor
He spent virtually his entire SEAL career with units at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, a San Diego-area installation that gave him access to the Pacific Ocean for hobbies that included surfing and spearfishing, family and friends said. He planned to marry a California woman, Brooke Clark, this fall.
Keating’s younger brother went on to follow his sibling into the SEALs, his cousin said. She asked The Washington Post to withhold his name, citing security concerns, but Navy records show he enlisted in 2010, is one rank behind and joined a Coronado-based SEAL team in 2014.
“It’s a very tight-knit family, and Charlie was very much at the center of that,” Liz Keating said. “He was the life of the family and the hero of the family.”
The eventual SEAL rarely talked in public about the scandal that involved his family. Asked about it as a high school senior in 2004, he told a reporter from the Arizona Republic that he was close to his grandfather and didn’t care about the past. Keating’s father and grandfather both attended his graduation from SEAL training, posing for a photograph in which the grandfather is in a coat and tie and grinning broadly while standing next to his grandson.
Warren said Wednesday that Keating’s unit scrambled to help other U.S. troops who had gone to visit local forces in Teleskof and were present when ISIS fighters broke through the front line. The American troops came under fire about 20 minutes later, at 7:50 a.m.
Warren declined to say how Keating and his fellow service members responded but said they traveled alone. That contradicts witnesses who told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the Americans arrived in a convoy along with Kurdish peshmerga forces and that the front vehicle in the convoy was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Keating was evacuated using Black Hawk helicopters northeast of the village at 10:19 a.m., according to a briefing slide released by the Pentagon. The aircraft were hit with small-arms fire, but no other U.S. service member was wounded during the operation, Warren said.
Warren said that advising visits are planned in advance with a quick-reaction force like Keating’s prepared in case it is needed. The Islamic State attack prompted the U.S. military to launch 31 airstrikes on 20 targets by 13 aircraft — including F-15 and F-16 jets, B-52 bombers, A-10 attack jets and two drones. Twenty enemy vehicles, two truck bombs, three mortar systems and one bulldozer were destroyed and 58 enemy fighters killed, U.S. military officials said.
U.S. military officials have often said in recent months that when the Islamic State masses a large force to launch an assault, U.S. surveillance equipment on manned and unmanned aircraft can see it coming and strike. That did not occur on Tuesday, however, Warren acknowledged.
“Clearly they were able to, over time, infiltrate individuals and vehicles, one or two at a time presumably and then be able to dash out of there, you know, under the cover of darkness on Tuesday morning,” Warren said.
Julie Tate and Alice Crites contributed to this report.