Jefferson E. Keel
Jefferson E. Keel was born July 4, 1947, in Fillmore, Oklahoma. Keel attended Tishomingo High School and at 16 years old joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard. Soon after, he enlisted in the Army serving a total of 22 years, eventually obtaining the rank of captain.
He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, from 1966 to 1968, and again in 1970. Keel’s enlisted service spanned the infantry with the 1st Cavalry Division, 101st Airborne Division and the elite Army Rangers. He would also serve as an instructor at the U.S. Army Ranger’s School in Fort Benning, Georgia.
After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1974, he attended Murray State College. He later attended East Central University (ECU) earning a bachelor’s degree in 1978 and received the Gen. George C. Marshall Award for leadership excellence and academic achievement as ECU’s top military student. While in college at ECU, Keel joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in field artillery when he graduated.
After college, Keel returned to active duty, which took him to several locations including Germany as a nuclear targeting officer and Fort Rucker, Alabama, as fire support and combined arms instructor. While stationed there, he attended Troy State University and earned a Master of Science degree. In 1989, Keel retired from the Army. Among his many military awards, Keel earned two Bronze Stars with Valor, two Purple Hearts, two Meritorious Service Medals and an Air Medal.
He then returned to Oklahoma to serve the Chickasaw people, working in roles that included mental health therapy, community services, social services and policy administration. He would eventually be elected as Lieutenant Governor of the Chickasaw Nation in 1999, serving in this position for 20 years.
During this time, he also served as President of the National Congress of American Indians for six years and made great strides in advancing the needs of the Chickasaw people and of Native and Indigenous peoples around the world. He testified before Congress on several occasions and worked behind the scenes on issues including health care, law enforcement, education, labor, sovereignty and more.
Keel served as chair and has been a member of numerous organizations and committees. He is an East Central University Distinguished Alumnus and has been inducted into the Military Museum Hall of Honor in Ardmore, Oklahoma, for his exemplary military and civilian achievements. Keel is a previous co-chairman of the advisory committee to the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. He is also a member of the Chickasaw Warrior Society.
Keel and his wife Carol have been married for over 45 years and have three children together. They now reside in Durant, where they continue their work with their church, community charity work and travel.