1LT Phillip Isaac Neel died 8 April 2007 from wounds suffered during a fire-fight with enemy forces near Balad in the Diyala Province north of Baghdad. The 27-year-old U.S. Army infantry officer had served in Iraq since October 2006 with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division out of Ft. Hood.          Son of Fredericksburg residents Col. Leroy (Lee) and Kathy Neel, Phillip graduated from Fredericksburg High School, Class of 1998. Neel’s family learned from his battalion commander in Iraq that the young platoon leader had sustained a serious leg wound but continued to give orders for his men to return fire from where he’d fallen. Despite being airlifted from the scene, he died a short time later around 2 a.m. A prepared statement issued by the family said, “Phillip was an inspiration and leader to his five siblings. He led by example and consistently challenged them to do the right thing in all circumstances, no matter what pressures were involved. He was a blessing to his parents and honored them by his compassion, his commitment to serving the Lord, his bravery and his selflessness,” the statement continued. “He cared deeply for his soldiers and died as he lived in putting others’ needs before his own. Phillip loved his family and his soldiers, and he felt it an honor to serve his country.” The family statement concluded by noting, “He prayed for his enemies; he loved his God. We will miss him terribly, but he has left us with many wonderful memories and an unforgettable example of excellence.” After graduating from FHS in May 1998, Neel had joined the Army as an enlisted man. He was an Airborne unit paratrooper during his two-years with the Army, and was deployed to Kosovo. Then Specialist Neel applied to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to become a commissioned officer. After studying for a year at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  He was on the school’s parachute team and participated in national competitions, performing group aerial designs and formations during free-fall events. He graduated as a second lieutenant in May 2005. His military honors include two Bronze Stars (one with Valor), the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal, the Good Conduct Ribbon, the National Defense Medal, the Kosovo Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, the Iraq Campaign Ribbon, the Global War on Terror Service Ribbon, the Over Seas Ribbon, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Expert Infantry Badge, the Parachute Badge and the Ranger Tab. At a memorial service in Iraq, Phillip’s Chaplain Kevin Wainwright compared the young platoon leader to King Arthur’s best knight, Sir Galahad, known for his worthiness, purity and gallantry. In praising Phillip’s character and personality, the good Chaplain Wainwright was both close and at the same time, far, far off. Phillip may be compared to a noble fictional knight of a fictional King, but in reality he served a true and Holy King. In fact, not long after his death, the family found his senior yearbook from the United States Military Academy, where Phillip had reflected on his experience at West Point. He had written, “I came to learn to serve. By God’s plan I was pressured, but not crushed; struck down but not destroyed. In His time, He will use me. Therefore, I have nothing to worry about because I know I am take care of. I am grateful to have had this opportunity and a chance to use it for the future.” Then, Now, and Forever, he serves the King of Kings. As Abraham Cheare said so well, “God hath a will to be done not in earth only, but also in heaven; they are not dismissed from the King’s business who are called from the camp to the Court, from being common soldiers to be Privy Councillors.” Phillip serves on, the best of soldiers for the best of Kings. His body is interred in the U.S. Military Academy Cemetery at West Point, NY.
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Army 1 Lt Phillip Neel
Fallen Hill Country Heroes
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Army SSG Jeffrey Lee Hartley On April 8, 2008, Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey L. Hartley, 25, of Hempstead, TX,  died of wounds sustained when an improvised bomb exploded near his vehicle in Kharguliah, Iraq. SSgt Hartley was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, GA. He was on his fifth tour of duty. Jeffrey graduated from Hempstead High School in 2001, and immediately joined the Army and trained to become an Army Ranger. During his career he deployed five times, four times to Iraq, and once to Afghanistan. He earned eight Army Accommodation Medals, one with valor, and two Bronze Stars, one with valor. "He truly loved being in the military," said Hempstead police Detective Jason Martinez, a family friend. "He was very passionate about it." Martinez said Jeffrey’s father, [the current Chief of Police, David Hartley] often speaks about his two sons with admiration and respect. "He's always talking about how proud he is of both of them," Martinez said. Jeffrey Hartley graduated from Hempstead High School in 2001. He played on the football team and was a member of the power-lifting squad, said Gail Schroeder, his 12th-grade English teacher. She added he was a good student who made A's and B's and was popular and respectful. "He was one of those kids who was at home with the athletes and scholars," she said. He worked in the local businesses, and was a friend to most of the community. He was known for his smile, sense of humor, and generosity. He was the first local soldier to fall in combat in Iraq and was remembered above all for his warmth and concern toward fellow soldiers. “He was a no-nonsense professional when the mission was on. You could always count on him,” said Brig. Gen. Francis Mahon.  “Everyone he befriended came to feel like a member of Jeff’s family,” said Mahon. “Jeff was a caring young man who always took the time to ensure that others were OK.” He is survived by his father and stepmother, David and Ann Hartley, sisters Lisa and Kaylie, and his brother, David, who also served in Iraq and recently left the military.
Fallen Hill Country Heroes
We couldn’t have a website for the Hill Country’s Veterans without first honoring those who’ve served and paid the ultimate sacrifice, and remembering them with their families whose lives will never be the same. We know there are many more Heroes from the Hill Country area. Please let us know their names, and the contact information (if possible) of someone who might give us permission to present their story. We would be extremely honored to hear about their lives, and truly privileged to present it to their fellow warriors and grateful citizens who enjoy the lifestyle they perished to protect.  
So long to our friends and heroes...can anyone tell me more about what’s happening here? (besides the obvious)
Army SSG Christopher Staats SSG Christopher Staats was killed October 16th, 2009, when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Wardak Province, Afghanistan.  Staats, a 32-year- old staff sergeant, was assigned to the 143rd Infantry Detachment in Austin.  He and another soldier travelling in the vehicle were the 11th and 12th Texas National Guardsmen to die in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. Staats lived in Boerne and worked at Halff Associates, a San Antonio engineering firm. He married in 2005, eight days before leaving for a year-long peacekeeping mission to Kosovo. Following that tour of duty he was one of 12 people chosen to help farmers in Afghanistan with the Texas Agribusiness Development Team. “Chris' entire goal was to help the Afghan people become self-sufficient,” his wife said. “I'm so proud of Chris for his hard work, his dedication, his service and belief in helping others.” Staats' widow draws strength from the words of her husband's comrades. “They were saying he really was the glue that held them together, and was pushing for a lot of things to help the people in Afghanistan.” Bobby Staats, Chris’s father, said Chris was anxious about working in Afghanistan, but he would say, “’It is what it is.' That's what his job was.”  Staats' mother, Lorna Eckhardt, speaking for herself and her husband, Gary, said, “We're proud of him, and he'll be missed.” 
The following words are from the memorial by the playground built at the softball fields in Fredericksburg as John Stauffer’s Eagle Scout Project:  “Christopher Neil Staats was a native son of Fredericksburg, beloved as a student, sportsman, son, grandson, brother, friend, and loving husband. Following his 1996 graduation from Fredericksburg High School, Chris joined the Texas Army National Guard. He went on to study the land that he loved and received his Bachelor of Science degree in renewable natural resources from Texas A & M in 2002. In 2009 SSG Chris Staats was specially selected to serve on the Texas Agribusiness Development Team 2  in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Chris gave his life for his country on October 16, 2009. He leaves behind a legacy of loyalty, determination, and influential love for life.”
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