Pfc. Andrew Keller leaves legacy of leadership, love after being killed in Afghanistan

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Jeff Keller stands at a memorial for his son, Army Pfc. Andrew Keller, that friends of the 22-year-old soldier created on the Southwest Barrows Road roundabout near his Tigard home. The 2008 Southridge High School graduate was killed in action on Aug. 15 in Afghanistan.  U.S. Army Pfc. Andrew Keller will be remembered as a natural leader.

The 22-year-old Tigard soldier had a gift for rallying others around a cause.

Whether it was standing up for an underdog as a young boy, winning a game as captain of the Southridge High School football team or serving his country on a mountaintop in Afghanistan as the leader of his unit, people were proud to be part of his team.

Even after being killed in action Aug. 15 during an enemy attack in Afghanistan, the 2008 Southridge graduate has inspired the communities of Beaverton and Tigard to mobilize to support the people dearest to him: his parents Jeff and Kim, his 19-year-old brother Derek and the woman he planned to marry and build a life with, Marissa Jones.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Sunset Presbyterian Church, 14986 N.W. Cornell Road.

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“This community helped raise Andrew, and this same community has been wonderful to our family,” said Jeff Keller, Andrew’s father. “We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support. We had no idea the amount of love, respect and admiration people had for our son.”

“The love and support we have received from everyone in the community has been out of this world,” Marissa added. “Hearing all the stories of how he impacted people has gotten me through all of this.

“Andrew was a hero in so many ways and made a difference in people’s lives. They are going to push themselves and start living for a purpose because of him.”

Andrew was killed Aug. 15 during an enemy attack near the town of Charkh in the Lowgar region south of Kabul, where he was serving with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The U.S. Department of Defense said Andrew was killed when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire.

As news of his death spread last week, friends created a patriotic memorial that has continued to grow at the Southwest Barrows Road roundabout just down the street from his Tigard home. Friends, former teachers and coaches and even those who never met Andrew, flooded the Keller and Jones families with flowers, stories, photos and kind words of support.

Others — including a man who stopped to straighten 22 American flags and light candles at the memorial, a Southridge Youth Football player and an 8-year-old girl, who left a homemade card thanking Andrew for his service and telling him she could sleep at night because of him — have spent time with Andrew’s grieving father.

“Andrew just had a way about him and an amazing ability to bring people together,” Jeff said. “People gravitated to him. He had a smile that just lit up a room.”

“Leadership always came naturally to him,” Marissa added. “People were always drawn to him because he was so kind and nice to everyone. He had a humble, caring personality and easily made friends with every type of person.”

Those qualities, along with his athleticism, passion for life and drive, served him well as he enlisted in the U.S. JAIME VALDEZ - Jeff Keller shares memories of his oldest son, Andrew Keller, growing up.

A new purpose

Andrew struggled after high school to figure out what he wanted to do when his football days ended, Jeff Keller said. “He lost the camaraderie and leadership that so inspired and motivated him through athletics,” he added.

It was his decision to serve his country in the military that helped Andrew find a new purpose.

“It was amazing to see his leadership skills, drive and fire rekindled as a soldier,” Jeff said. “He just excelled.”

Within weeks of his assignment last August with the 173rd Airborne Bridgade Combat Team at his duty station in Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, Andrew was named Soldier of the Month. By the time his team was deployed to Afghanistan in July, Andrew had earned the respect of his sergeants and was named team leader of his unit over other soldiers who outranked him.

“To see him succeed how he did in the Army was so amazing to watch,” Marissa said. “He was so happy and full of life.”

“He was on a team again, battling in the trenches,” Jeff added. “It was Friday night at 7:30 p.m. every day — only this time there was no halftime or timeouts and the lives of his brothers were at stake.”

Andrew was proud of his service and proud of the men and women he served with.

His death hit troops hard, as the Keller family and Marissa witnessed on Saturday when they received Andrew’s body on a tarmac at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

“A general was down on his knees talking to us before we received Andrew,” Jeff said. “When the honor guard of big, strong guys like Andrew came out with him, you could see their hands shake and their tears.

“They didn’t know my son, but he was one of them. It was mind-blowing to see that passion for a fellow soldier. That is when the bond Andrew felt with his Army brothers really hit me. This was Andrew’s team and why he felt the way he did about his Army family.”

It was the same feeling of loyalty, protectiveness, friendship and care Andrew had for his beloved younger brother, Derek, 19.

As the Kellers and Marissa reflect on the man Andrew became, they are inspired by the example with which he lived his life.

“I want him to be remembered as the most loving, sincere, courageous and beautiful person I’ve ever met,” Marissa said.

“My wife and Derek and I want Andrew to be remembered for genuinely caring about all people,” Jeff added. “He had a passion for life and for other people’s lives. He was someone who gave everything he had to help other people. And he treated people with honor and respect.

“He was a great, young man who gave his life for his country and who truly loved his family and Marissa. It’s my goal to make sure my son is not forgotten.”

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Sunset Presbyterian Church, 14986 N.W. Cornell Road. Instead of flowers, the Keller family encourages people to donate to either the Wounded Warrier Project or the USO.

“Andrew was very strongly attached to the Wounded Warrior Project, and the USO has been so wonderful to us,” Jeff said. “If we can help some other families going through what we’ve been going through, that’s what Andrew would want us to do.”

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