Fallen guardsman was a hometown hero and role model

Photograph Courtesy of Sandra StrebChief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, back row center, appears with a group of students at York Central School as part of a past Veterans Day program at the school.

Working in a small K-12 school district allows us the privilege of watching our students grow up and go out into the world.

As an elementary teacher, I have been blessed to have had so many wonderful students touch my life and have a special place in my heart. Christian Koch was one of them.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Christian as a second grader during my first year of teaching at York Central School. He would stay after school for math club with me. His curiosity and love for numbers at that age was astounding. It was so nice to be able to watch him grow from an elementary student, to a high school young adult and later on come back again as an amazing young man in the National Guard.

As a guardsman, we reconnected when he arrived to help with military honors at my father‘s funeral. Christian carefully folded the flag and wanted to make sure none of the red was showing. He would not present it to our family until it was done correctly and then finally presented it with his eloquent delivery speech. That moment, along with his sincere words of sympathy and caring hug made me so proud of the young man he had become.

Since 2010, I have had the privilege of getting to know Christian as an adult and work with him and Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Schirmer on our annual York Central School Veterans Day celebration. Through the years, he was always willing to take time out of his busy schedule to connect with me to see if there was anything I needed for our celebration.

Although I had asked him on several occasions to be our main speaker at the assembly, Christian always quietly declined. He felt that there were so many other people that were more worthy to speak than him.

When he wasn’t deployed, he was always present and involved in some way behind the scenes. Whether it was being in the honor guard for the flag ceremony, doing a night vision demonstration, being a guest reader in classrooms, or giving tours of the helicopter, Christian was proud to share his knowledge with our students.

I remember the time that he was running late and would not be there for the opening of the assembly, but assured me he would make it. Standing in the back of the gym, I will never forget feeling the tap on my shoulder and turning to see his smiling face followed by a huge hug. “I told you I would make it,” were his words to Mrs. Crane and I.

I will never forget the first time in 2010 when he landed the Blackhawk on YCS grounds with several YCS alumni on board or the last time he did so in 2019. The sight of the helicopter approaching our school and landing with one of our own as the pilot still sends chills through me. I will always remember being greeted by him with a hug and a smile and telling me that next year we have to do it bigger and better.

Our YCS community, faculty, staff, and students are so proud of his accomplishments and dedication to his alma mater.

I am heartbroken for this tremendous loss and send my deepest sympathy and prayers to his family.

I am blessed to have known him and he will always have a special place in my heart. He was our hometown hero, a role model to my sons and the students of York Central School. He will be greatly missed.

Sandra J. Streb of York is an elementary teacher at York Central School and the district’s Veteran’s Day coordinator. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, a 1999 graduate of York, was one of three National Guard soldiers killed in a Jan. 20 helicopter crash in Mendon.

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