U.S. Army Captain Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel, 28, while serving his country in Afghanistan, was remembered Wednesday as a patriotic and charismatic student athlete in high school who later went on to become a highly awarded hero in the military.
He was a native of Madison, where his parents live, and went to high school at Avon Old Farms School, where he was known as P-K.
Avon Old Farms School community mourned the death of one of its own Wednesday and flew its American flag at half-staff over the Diogenese dormitory where Pedersen-Keel used to live at the private all-boys school.
"Full of energy and life and that's just who P-K was"
He was remembered by those at the school as a humanitarian, athlete, positive, brother, charismatic, honorable, patriotic and much more.
Avon Old Farms Headmaster Kenneth H. LaRocque was notified Tuesday night about the 2002 graduate's death overseas. “Obviously, my heart sank. It’s just so different when you know someone," LaRocque said. "His eyes were just full of energy and life and that’s just who P-K was."
The all-boys private school was out on break when the news broke Tuesday and school officials were in the process of notifying the school community Wednesday afternoon. Pedersen-Keel came to Avon Old Farms from a middle school in Wallingford and boarded there all four years. According to the 2002 yearbook, he lived in Coral Gables, Florida his senior year.
Dean's list, editor of the school newspaper, dorm monitor, true leader on campus
He was a dean's list student, taking some advanced placement courses. He was also editor of school newspaper The Avon Record and was involved in the school's Model United Nations and Habitat for Humanity. As a dorm monitor for two years, he watched out for other students and was a role model for underclassmen and peers.
"He was a true leader on campus," Larocque said. "His dream was always to go to West Point." And he did, graduating in 2006.
A tri-sport athlete at Avon Old Farms School, Pedersen-Keel played football and lacrosse and was also a wrestler.
"The alpha dog"
Dean Kevin Driscoll, who coached him in football and was dean of students at the time, called P-K "the alpha dog" despite being one of the smaller players at 5 feet 10 inches tall and 180 pounds. People listened to him and "he was the man," Driscoll said. He described him as a hard worker who taught others loyalty and had a high moral standard. P-K was never someone who'd just sit around, Driscoll said.
Driscoll's nephew graduated from Avon Old Farms in 2005 was there for part of the time Pedersen-Keel was in high school. Driscoll thinks of him while remembering P-K because his nephew is overseas in Afghanistan now with the U.S. Navy. "He gave back more than any of us ever will," Driscoll said. "He was a brother."
Pedersen-Keel's mother, Helen, lived in Canton while he attended the Avon all-boys private school.
"I love you, son"
"I love you, son," his mother wrote in an ad she placed in his senior yearbook. "I am so proud of you, and so thankful to the years that have given me so much to be thankful for. You are my adored son, and also my friend. Love, Mom."
The two were really close and his mother was very supportive of him and Avon Old Farms, school officials said. “She let Avon do what we had to do to help her son," Driscoll said.
LaRocque's oldest son, Nick, who graduated the year before Pedersen-Keel and played sports with him, wrote in an email to his dad upon hearing the news that P-K was "kind of the quintessential Avon kid." He remembered Pedersen-Keel as a "positive" and "friendly" person and someone who would play with faculty members' kids after dinner. LaRocque shared some of the email with Patch.
"It's tough to get past how sad it is"
"That was some really shocking news yesterday. I've been processing it sort of slowly and it's tough to get past how sad it is," Nick LaRocque wrote to his father. "In thinking about how much potential someone like that had (between his intelligence and his charisma and his work ethic) - it's tough to think that he really could have been anything and now he's dead. Certainly I don't mean to devalue what he was in saying that. It's really just the outcome of it that is really hard to swallow."
He told his father that he supported establishing a memorial on campus for Pedersen-Keel. No plans have been established at this time as the school community processes the news, school officials said. During Alumni Weekend in May, it is tradition to hold an informal memorial service for alumni that have passed away in the past year for people to stand up and say some words in their memory. LaRocque anticipates that Pedersen-Keel will be mentioned at the May 18 service.
"I love all of you so much"
Already, he is memorialized in his senior yearbook from 2002. He thanked the following people on his page.
"I would like to start by thanking my mom, without you nothing was possible. Dad, thank you for this gift, it was definitely worth it," Pedersen-Keel wrote. "Bob, thanks for putting up with me, I love all of you very much. Mary, you are half my soul and my best teacher, I love you! Will, you are a true friend, thanks for your perspective and support. Seth AKA Killa, you are the best kid. Nate AKA Skills I don't know what I'll do without you. To all my cronies, thanks for the good times. Thanks to the Murphy's, Mr. Cooper, Mr. McGinn, Mr. Driscoll, Mr. Beneski, Mr. Ogden, The Narsipurs, and everyone else."
His senior quote?
"Just surrender to the cycle of things, give yourself to the waves of the Great Change, and when it is time to go, then simply go without any unneccessary fuss," he chose in the words of T'ao Chien.
Long list of awards for heroic and meritorious service
Flags in Connecticut were ordered to half-staff on Wednesday in honor of Pedersen-Keel.
A biography prepared and released by the U.S. Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, NC, provided a long list of awards bestowed upon Pedersen-Keel, including two Bronze Stars. Bronze Stars are awarded to members of the military who distinguish themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.
Pedersen-Keel also was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, The Army Service Ribbon and more.
"The ultimate sacrifice in defense of our state and nation"
“Captain Pedersen-Keel made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our state and our nation," said Governor Dannel Malloy Wednesday, in a prepared statement. "Our thoughts are with his family, his friends, and his unit during this very difficult time. We pray for a safe homecoming for our troops who are stationed around the world, and thank them for their bravery and service.”
“This is a tragic and sad reminder that even as the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down there are still hundreds of Connecticut soldiers in harm’s way,” said Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman. “Captain Pedersen-Keel and every one of the other 63 brave men and women from our state lost in Afghanistan and Iraq died defending us and our freedom, and that sacrifice must never be forgotten.”
Pedersen-Keel was a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Killed while conducting a patrol
He was killed by a member of the Afghan National Police while conducting a patrol brief in the Jalrez District. Flags will remain at half-staff until burial or memorial, information for which is forthcoming, Gov. Malloy's office said.
Pedersen-Keel is survived by his parents and a sister.
Here is the full biography prepared and released by his fellow officers at the U.S. Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, NC.
U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES COMMAND (AIRBORNE) BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
CAPTAIN ANDREW MICHAEL PEDERSEN-KEEL Killed in action on Mar. 11, 2013
Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan
He was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C., and was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In June 2008, Pedersen-Keel deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months with the 3rd BCT where he served as a company executive officer and platoon leader. Upon completion of the deployment, he volunteered for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course. After completing the Special Forces Qualification Course and language training, he was assigned to the 1st Bn., 3rd SFG (A) as a detachment commander in August 2012. He deployed with the unit to Afghanistan later that year.
Pedersen-Keel's awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal (2), the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Air Assault Badge, the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Parachutist Badge, the Pathfinder Badge, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Ranger Tab, and the Special Forces Tab.
Captain Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel, 28, of Madison, Conn., died Mar. 11, of wounds received from small-arms fire in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Pedersen-Keel was commissioned as an Infantry Officer after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 2006. After graduation he attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course and the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. Following his training, he was assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Hood, Texas.
His military education includes U.S. Army Airborne School, U.S. Army Ranger School, Combat Lifesaver Course, Combatives Level I Course, Sniper Employment Leaders Course, Pathfinder Course, Maneuver Captain's Career Course, the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Course, and the Special Forces Detachment Officer Qualification Course.
He is survived by his parents and sister.
- DE OPPRESSO LIBER – [the motto of the U.S. Army Special Forces which is Latin for "to free the oppressed."]