An Alabama National Guard soldier assigned to Joint Task Force-North at the nation’s southern border in Texas died Saturday approximately two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, Army Times has learned.
Sgt. Kellice Armstrong of the 2025th Transportation Company was 49 years old, according to a press release from the Alabama National Guard. He was from Montgomery, Alabama and joined the Guard in 2006.
Armstrong’s awards included three Army Achievement Medals, in addition to ribbons indicating he had completed two overseas deployments in support of the Global War on Terror.
Armstrong had tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 2 and had to visit an emergency room in McAllen, Texas for treatment, according to a source with knowledge of the incident. The source spoke with Army Times on condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss an ongoing death investigation.
A NORTHCOM spokesperson reached by Army Times acknowledged Armstrong had died, but declined to confirm or deny his positive COVID test. The Alabama Guard release did not mention COVID-19.
“The circumstances of the service member’s death are currently under investigation,” said NORTHCOM spokesperson Air Force Maj. Meg Harper in response to questions from Army Times.
Armstrong was under COVID isolation in his hotel room after having been discharged from the hospital on Aug. 7, the source explained. The unit medic, who was checking on him daily to monitor his vital signs and recovery, found him dead in his room Saturday during a routine check.
Armstrong is believed to be at least the 30th U.S. servicemember to die of COVID-19. An Army lieutenant colonel who died at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas earlier this month was the most recent publicly acknowledged death.
“U.S. Northern Command is aware of the recent death of a National Guard Soldier serving in an active-duty status that occurred in McAllen, Texas, Aug. 14, 2021,” said Harper. “The Soldier was deployed to Texas in support of the Department of Defense’s Southwest Border support mission under the command of U.S. Northern Command and Joint Task Force North.”
NORTHCOM oversees JTF-North’s operations at the border, which include “detection and monitoring, logistics, and transportation support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” according to Harper.
Less than a third of the troops in Armstrong’s company are vaccinated, according to the source.
The Defense Department plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for servicemembers in September. The move is partially in response to the threat posed by the Delta variant of the virus, which is beginning to overwhelm hospitals in portions of the country that sport low community vaccination rates.
Another Guard soldier assigned to JTF-North from the Louisiana National Guard also died at the border last month.
Spc. Bernard Creque died after “multiple vehicles” struck him while he was crossing a McAllen street in the early morning hours of July 10.
Editor’s note: After initial publication of this article, the Alabama National Guard issued a press release identifying the soldier who died.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.