Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis, JD ’17, was 37 when his life was cut short in Qaim, Iraq, on March 15, in the crash of an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter. He and the six other members of the Air National Guard who died in the crash were on a mission in Anbar province, where members of ISIS have been crossing the border into Syria.
Always “prepared, focused and ready to go,” as one of his Law School classmates puts it, Zanetis, who grew up in Indiana, worked in the Fire Department of the City of New York; served on search-and-rescue missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and on the Northeastern seaboard; and worked as an intelligence consultant for NATO in Brussels. He recently joined the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton as a litigation associate, and he had made such an impression as a law student at Stanford that the flags were flown at half-mast in the week after his passing.
“He had a radiating glow, an aura around him,” says James Barton, ’09, JD ’15, who mentored him through OutLaw, the Law School’s LGBT organization, and on the SLS musical. “He was supremely comfortable with who he was, and he had a talent for bringing people with him.”
Zanetis had many friends among the military veterans on campus and in the LGBT community; he was equally comfortable as a firefighter and as an aspiring lawyer, following in the profession of both his father and his grandfather, a judge. But no single identity defined him.
He had the gift, Barton says, for giving everything to the task of the moment, and for being totally present with every person he talked to. Even by SLS standards, he had a prodigious capacity for work. He organized the first OutLaw conference on LGBTQ Advocacy in the Workplace, wrote for the site Just Security on the Arab-Israeli conflict, spent hours at the gym as a CrossFit trainer, and arranged for the rededication of a plaque on campus to Law School students who fell in World War II. On weekends, he often had to miss social occasions because he was off keeping up his flying hours. Meanwhile, he always found the time to scoot back home to walk his beloved German shepherd.
Zanetis had a mission. “Talk is a lot of hot air, and action is doing something about it,” he once said. As an undergraduate at New York University, living close to the Twin Towers, he volunteered at the fire department on September 11, 2001. He joined the FDNY in 2004 and three years later joined Engine Company 28, Ladder 11, which lost many members on 9/11. In 2013, he was promoted to fire marshal, investigating the causes of arson. In his officer training class of 100 in the Air National Guard, he was singled out as the honor graduate. He earned several commendations for bravery, one from the FDNY and four from the military. In 2012, deployed in Afghanistan with the New York–based 101st Rescue Squadron as part of a 10-year commitment to the Reserve, he helped save almost 100 lives in a few months, and was once himself delivered from an ambush with his men when British forces, including Prince Harry, flew in to strafe the Taliban.
Zanetis is survived by his parents, John and Sarah, and his sisters, Angela and Britt.
Vicky Elliott is a journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.