Mother of fallen Marine takes son’s memory to Mt. Kilimanjaro

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HOLLAND, Mich. — He died in a helicopter crash along the Gulf Coast of Florida last March, was a graduate of West Ottawa High School and named Marine of the Year in 2013.

Andrew Seif was a beloved friend, brother and son.

Andrew Seif

Andrew Seif

His love of adventure is something that inspired his mother, Charlotte Nelis, who took the memory of her fallen son, to new heights, step by step until she and the memory of her son reached the clouds.

This Memorial Day, she wants to remind everyone of the ultimate sacrifice her son made and remind others that freedom isn't always free.

"Anytime the phone calls come you always wonder if it's that time," Nelis said. "You know something bad has happened, so you just wait. The waiting is even worse."

March 10, 2015, U.S Marine Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif's time was cut short.

It's a moment Nelis can't define.

"It's a feeling that you can't describe, you can't," she said.

Seif was one of seven marines killed in a chopper crash along the Florida panhandle, on a training mission, doing what he loved, alongside the men he cared so deeply for.

Andrew Seif in combat

Andrew Seif in combat

He was just 26 years old.

"It doesn’t make any difference whether or not it was overseas, nationally, or by accident, it’s all the same," Nelis said. "They all put their life on the line every single day."

His mother describes Seif as a team-player, a lover of adventure, and someone who took risks.

She says he was friendly to everyone, but most importantly, he loved being a Marine.

Now, nearly a year after his death, Nelis is living everyday like it's her last, living by a quote that inspires her each day.

"You're living the life you never thought you would so why not do something you never thought you could," Nelis said.

Just 11 months after her son's passing, Nelis decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania and the highest mountain in Africa.

Charlotte Nelis, left, on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

After six days and what seemed like a world away, Nelis reached the top, climbing more than 19,000 feet.

She carried her son's memory with her, every step of the way.

"I sat down and cried, that's what I did first," she said.

Shortly after, Nelis took a picture on top of the mountain's peak.

As the wind and chilly climate whipped across Nelis' face, her hands clenched a custom-made flag with her sons name and picture in front along with the names of his fallen teammates on back.

Nelis says she was looking for a different avenue after the loss of her son and really wanted to connect with others who experienced the same thing.

She tells FOX 17 prior to the trip she was nervous. She's had two hip replacement surgeries and didn't know if she would be able to handle the climb.

"Physically I was exhausted, but they say you go to the top of the mountain to talk to God and I felt like I was there," Nelis said, adding she felt a little closer to her son.

Nelis (far right)

Nelis (far right)

"I kept thinking about all of the things he has gone through because he was a special operator with the Marines, the training he went through was totally astronomical," she said.

It was a trip that helped reclaim her life, after losing the son she so truly loved.

Nelis said the trip wouldn't have been possible without the organization T.A.P.S, a tragedy assistance program for survivors, holding trips for anyone whose lost someone who served.

Andrew graveSeif is buried in section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery alongside all of the other brave men and women who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Remember the guys this weekend was created for, pay them some respect."

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1 Comment

  • Dan Auwerda

    Nice article about SSGT. Seif. It’s missing something–that he was a husband and father. SSGT Seif’s widow, Dawn, had their baby just a few short months after Andrews tragic accident. I’d like to see Fox 17 interview Dawn about all she’s done in the last 11 months to keep Andrews memory alive!!!