The U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed May 3 during a gunfight with ISIS secretly eloped with his fiancee before deploying to Iraq.
Charles Keating IV, 31, and Brooke Clark had sent invitations to friends and family for their wedding in November but secretly married before he left for Iraq, People Magazine reports. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Beth Teach confirmed the marriage.
"He wanted to protect her in case anything happened to him," a fellow SEAL, who was friends with Keating, told People Magazine.
Teach said it is not uncommon for service members to get married before deployment.
"There are certain benefits to being married, and a lot of couples put that in place as a protective measure," she said.
"Charlie may have had a feeling about this mission," the SEAL friend said. "Maybe he was just being prudent. This is a terrible loss to Brooke and to all of us."
Their marriage was a "well-guarded secret," according to Robert Whitley, a friend of the couple.
"This is a comfort no one wants to rely on," the SEAL friend added. "But he did right by Brooke. God bless him."
Keating was killed in a firefight between U.S. special forces, Kurdish commandos and ISIS fighters on May 3. Video footage of the incident was obtained by The Guardian after Keating's death.
The footage does not clearly show Keating being shot by ISIS fighters, but it does show the helicopter that presumably transported Keating to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter described Keating’s death as "a combat death, of course," The Guardian notes.
“Our men and women on the ground in Iraq do not have a combat mission, but they do have a dangerous mission to operate in a dangerous country,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, after also saying Keating's death occurred during combat.
U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria are stationed there as an advisory force not as a combat force.
When 250 more special-operations forces were sent to Syria on April 25, President Barack Obama said, "They’re not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces that continue to drive [ISIS] back."
Keating is an "American hero," Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, said.
Keating is the third American service member to die in direct combat since the U.S. began fighting ISIS.