Twentynine Palms -- “Brotherhood means I will always come for you, no matter the cost.”
April 14, 2017, began as another breezy desert day, but gradually, family, friends and service members old and new began to gather on the road in front of the military working dog kennels. The weather calmed, almost as if Mother Nature recognized the occasion and chose to pay her respect. The crowd had gathered to bear witness to the official renaming of a road aboard the Combat Center in honor of Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, a Marine, father, brother and friend, who made the ultimate sacrifice to help a brother in arms.
“The first time he was able to deploy, he called me to brag that he was getting ready to go to Iraq,” said then Sgt. Diaz’s older brother Ray Diaz, a Marine Corps veteran. “I knew he was a Marine but all I saw was my baby brother. The last deployment he went on, I talked to him and told him to take care and be safe. When we got word that he gave his life to take care of another Marine’s, I knew he’d made a sacrifice that no one could ever repay.”
The Ultimate Sacrifice
On Sept. 28, 2011 Sgt. Diaz was serving as a military working dog handler with 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion. He was conducting a combat patrol in the Upper Gereshk Valley of the Helmand Province in Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom when he was tasked with clearing a reported improvised explosive device from inside a checkpoint. After the team’s explosive ordnance disposal technician was severely injured by an explosion, Sgt. Diaz immediately reacted without regard for his own safety and moved to treat his injured team member. Fully aware of the enemies’ tendency to emplace secondary improvised explosive devices in the immediate vicinity of the primary charge, Sgt. Diaz and other first responders attempted to evacuate their injured Marine and there was a second explosion, immediately killing him and two others.
For his selfless actions, Sgt. Diaz was posthumously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star medal with Combat “V”.
“I read a good bit about [Staff Sgt. Diaz], and one of the key things that was said was, he never thought about himself first and that final act of his; you can’t get much more selfless than that,” said Combat Center Commanding General, Brig. Gen. William F. Mullen III. “The most important part to me is how we remember people. As long as we can remember them, especially if we honor them, they never really go away. They’ll always be with us.”
Making of a Warrior
Staff Sgt. Diaz, born Sept. 4, 1984, was raised alongside two brothers by loving parents. Upon graduation from La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Staff Sgt. Diaz followed in his older brother’s footsteps and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2003.
“When I graduated from Marine Corps boot camp and saw my brothers’ faces when I walked out on the parade deck it gave me pride because I knew I’d set a higher standard for them,” Ray said.
According to Ray, after his brother joined the Corps it became somewhat of a friendly competition between the two of them.
“I remember going to Okinawa and bringing home a small bottle of sake for my dad. Chris went to Okinawa and brought him back a 64 ounce bottle of sake,” Ray said with a smile. “He was just always trying to outdo me.”
The Diaz boys hail from a long line of military tradition, which includes their great-grandfather, their grandfather, and their father having all served in the armed forces. Despite being fully aware of the risks that could come with his career, Staff Sgt. Diaz enlisted and honorably served the nation and the comrades to the left and right of him.
A Hero Remembered
During the ceremony, the Combat Center Color Guard presented the National and Marine Corps colors as the National Anthem played. Afterward, Mullen and Ray gave their remarks. Following their address, Mullen and Staff Sgt. Diaz’s father, Salvador Diaz, officially unveiled the street sign to a thunderous round of applause.
“This is a fantastic honor for me to be able to designate this street in the name of [Staff Sgt. Diaz],” Mullen said.
Following the ceremony, family, friends and guests headed toward the military working dog kennels to enjoy barbeque and celebrate Staff Sgt. Diaz’s memory.
“This is something that I didn’t expect. Christopher touched a lot of people with his demeanor and his smile and I think the love that he spread is what brought a lot of these guys out here today,” said Sandra Diaz, Christopher’s mother. “Knowing that Christopher stepped these grounds before he died means so much. It’s an honor knowing that his memory will live on here.”