Local soldier earns Medal of Valor

 

Asked why he chose to enlist in the U.S. Army right out of high school, Private First Class Brendon Bartz’s answer was simple.

“I wanted to jump out of planes,” he said. And in his short time in the service, he’s done that and then some.

A 2012 graduate of Custer County District High School, Bartz knew by his junior year that he wanted to join the military. Initially intending to be a Marine, he decided on the Army after discussing his options with his mom, Tami Christiaens of Miles City. Christiaens said her son was the kind of kid who was always helping others, so she wasn’t surprised by his decision to serve his country. That said, watching him go wasn’t easy, as any parent of a soldier can attest.

“Two weeks after graduation I took him up to Butte to enlist and I bawled all the way home,” she said. “I was excited, anxious, nervous, scared to death, especially when he was sent to Afghanistan.”

This past July 4, her worst fears were nearly realized. On a day when most Americans were celebrating Independence Day with cook-outs and fireworks, Bartz and the rest of the 307th Engineer Battalion, Task Force SAW were operating in Farah province, Afghanistan. Working their way through an insurgent stronghold with members of the Afghan National Army, the soldiers suddenly came under fire.

“We went to clear a village with the Afghan Army,” Bartz said. “It started off relatively normal, a few pop shots. But then we got pinned downed and started taking heavy fire.”

Taking cover in a ditch with several Afghan soldiers, Bartz was reloading his weapon when a fellow soldier preparing to fire a Rocket-Propelled Grenade took a round in the chest. Bartz put himself in harm’s way to lay down suppressing fire, enabling casualties to be moved to safety. As he continued to move through the compound, he again exposed himself to enemy fire as he came to the aid of another wounded soldier.

“You’re just trying to make sure everyone gets home OK,” Bartz said.

For his selfless actions during that engagement, Bartz was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for Valor and the Combat Action Badge earlier this fall. 

When Christiaens finally learned the extent of her son’s involvement in that July 4 engagement, her emotions were understandably mixed.

“Brendon and another boy put themselves in harm’s way by choice,” she said. “They took matters into their own hands to do this and save others. I’m very, very proud of him. But the mother in me is thinking ‘Get out of there, come home, I’m breaking your legs so you can’t go back.’ That’s exactly what I told him when I finally got to talk to him, and he said ‘Mom, I was just looking out for my brothers and doing what I had to do.’ And he’s right.”

Bartz is now back in the States, scheduled to begin Ranger School in February at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

“I have to say, that makes me nervous,” Christiaens said about the next step in her son’s military career. “It means more responsibility, more time in the front lines than he had before. But I know it’s something he wants to do, so I’m excited for him, but nervous for him at the same time. But I know he can do it.”

Bartz’s grandparents, Sharon and Robert Alderman, also live in Miles City. His father, Doug Bartz, and sister Whytlee live in Melstone.