Local hero remembered

U.S. Army personnel carry the casket of Army Sgt. Christopher L. Muniz following a memorial service Wednesday at Cuyama Valley High School. Muniz was killed Dec. 11 in Afghanistan’s Kunar province when an improvised explosive device detonated.

A solemn group gathered inside the Cuyama Valley High School gym Wednesday morning, trying to remember how lucky they were to have known Army Sgt. Christopher L. Muniz.

It was a task made more difficult watching a grieving young wife, parents and siblings in the front row of the memorial service honoring the 24-year-old fallen soldier from New Cuyama in northeastern Santa Barbara County.

But, united in their grief, those in attendance reaffirmed their love for the funny, charming and smiley Chris by reliving his life in photographs and hearing from those who came to know him best. 

Community members, friends and veterans packed into the small gym, with dozens of men and women in uniform following the flag-draped casket carrying the Hawaii-based soldier’s body. He was killed while serving his country in Afghanistan’s Kunar province Dec. 11 when an improvised explosive device detonated.

Chris’ brother, Joseph, stepped up to the podium in his own Army uniform Wednesday, taking deep breaths between sentences that praised the short life of his “little big brother.”  

“Everybody was family for Chris,” Joseph Muniz said, adding that being his brother just meant he got to spend a little more time with him. “He raised the standard and exceeded the standard. He was a force.”

Speakers recalled memories and attributes that paralleled the slideshow presentations accompanied by music.

Chris playing outdoors as a child. Chris hanging out with friends, playing football in high school before graduating in 2006, enrolling at Hancock College and joining the military in November 2008 as a signal intelligence analyst and loving it.  

Chris smiling at or kissing his wife, Lindsay. 

“His love for life was so amazing,” his mother, Barbara Kalp, said in a statement read by a family friend. “Chris was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. 

“Try not to dwell on the fact that Chris is gone ... Now God has taken him home.”

Black Cuyama Valley Bears football uniforms dotted the gym, as  supporters showed love and loyalty to a fallen friend.

Biff Charlton, who coaches the high school football team, didn’t think he’d be able to speak at Wednesday’s memorial service. But Charlton said he remembered that Chris never would have said he couldn’t do something.

“He was a second son to me,” Charlton said. “He was a proud leader, one with great character.”

He turned to the No. 46 Muniz jersey on stage, one that Chris wore along with brothers Joseph, Anthony and Joshua just this past year.

“This jersey is going to hang on a wall,” Charlton said, noting its retirement. “It won’t be worn again in honor of Chris.”   

English teacher David Callaway remembered Chris as an entertainer at heart, a hero before he made the ultimate sacrifice and a man of unbelievable character.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Libbon, who served alongside Chris, read a list of soldier tributes, all citing Chris as a funny, smiley, helpful, caring, confident and optimistic platoon standout who will be greatly missed.

Army representatives offered deepest sympathies to the soldier’s surviving family members, which also include his father, Jose Muniz III, and two sisters Jessica and Michaella.

A memorial fund has been established in the name of Chris 

Muniz at Chevron Valley Credit Union, 1092 W. Kern St., Taft, CA 93268.

Uniformed soldiers conducted a traditional fallen soldier burial after acknowledging the many awards Chris earned in his short time in the military.

Chris’s widow gripped a folded American flag as she followed the bare casket and other brothers in arms out of the gym.

Many family and friends carrying the weight of Chris’ memory followed the procession and casket to the New Cuyama cemetery, trying to see past the grief and into the afternoon sun.