A highly decorated special operations soldier has died from wounds received during military free-fall training, U.S. Army Special Operations Command confirmed Friday.
Sgt. Maj. Christopher Nelms died July 1 while training in Laurinburg, North Carolina, Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, a spokesman for USASOC, said in a statement to Army Times.
Nelms' death, which the Army did not announce, was first reported by Yahoo News.
Nelms, who Yahoo News identified as a member of the Army’s elite and secretive Delta Force, died when his parachute failed to fully open during a June 27 jump, the outlet reported.
Bockholt told Army Times the incident is under investigation. He declined to provide any more information.
Nelms, 46, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, joined the Army in 1990 as an infantryman. He served with 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment at what’s now Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, deploying to the Philippines and twice to Iraq, according to information from USASOC.
Nelms then served in the Army National Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group, according to Yahoo News.
In 2008, Nelms returned to active duty and was assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command, where he served as an assault team member, an assistant team sergeant, a team sergeant, an operations sergeant major and a troop sergeant major, according to USASOC.
He deployed six times to Iraq and Afghanistan and once to Niger.
“He had a great reputation,” a former Delta operator who knew Nelms told Yahoo News. “Everyone who serves at the unit is handpicked, so whether it’s [in training] or in combat, the reality is losing someone at that level is devastating."
Nelms was “irreplaceable,” the former operator said, according to Yahoo News. “It’ll be a decade before someone can fill those kinds of slots, with that experience, with that training.”
Nelms’ awards and decorations include two Silver Stars, the Soldier’s Medal, six Bronze Star medals, one with the V device, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal with V device, two Army Commendation Medals, the Joint Service Achievement Medal with C device, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, the Iraq Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, and the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star.
He also had the Special Forces tab, the Ranger tab, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Military Freefall Jumpmaster Badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Air Assault Badge and the Special Operations Diver Badge.
Nelms was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit.
He was the second special operations soldier to die this year during free-fall training.
Sgt. Maj. Samuel Morris McAllister, 45, died on Jan. 24 in Eloy, Arizona. McAllister, who was posthumously promoted from master sergeant to sergeant major, was an infantry senior sergeant with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.