An Army officer from Wisconsin who was among five American soldiers killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan was remembered Thursday as a man who had been an average student high school, but found his niche in the military.
Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, 43, of Waterloo had been assigned to the headquarters of the 10th Mountain Division, Light Infantry, based at Fort Drum, N.Y., Army officials said. He arrived at the northern New York post in June.
“When they say these wars have taken the very best and brightest of our country, Paul’s a great example of that,” Richard Jones, his former history teacher at Waterloo High School, told the Watertown Daily Times. “A lot of kids in school just haven’t found their niche, and he was an example of that. … I am so impressed with what he accomplished in his life.”
The five U.S. soldiers were among 18 people killed Tuesday when a suicide bomber struck the convoy in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Besides Bartz, the U.S. casualties included a full colonel and another lieutenant colonel, along with a Canadian colonel.
Casualties among senior officers are uncommon.
The deaths are a “heartbreaking loss” for the division and the Fort Drum community, said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey L. Bannister, the division’s deputy commanding general for operations.
Bartz is survived by his wife and son, his parents, a brother, two sisters and several nieces and nephews.
Calls to Bartz’s parents and wife were not immediately returned Thursday. Bartz’s wife asked that the family not speak to the media, said Lt. Col. Loren Klemp of the U.S. Army Reserve.
Bartz grew up in Waterloo. A 1985 graduate of Waterloo High School, he played on the Pirate football team for four years. He was a member of the homecoming court his sophomore year and was elected prom king as a junior.
In 2006, he returned to speak to Jones’ class.
Jones said Bartz told his students that his initial goals after high school were to buy a car, get a job and drink. He said those plans quickly changed after his father talked him into going to college. He graduated in 1989 from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where he was in Army ROTC, and began a successful military career.
“He easily could have been in the Pentagon on 9/11. He said he just happened to be out of the office that day and knew a lot of people that had been killed there,” Jones said. “When he was telling the story, he had to pause and fight back tears.”
Jones said Bartz also told them that he sat in on a meeting that included him, President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and one other person before the official decision was made to start the war in Iraq. He relayed the story as an example of what an average person from a small town could become.
Former high school English teacher John Culbertson had Bartz as a student his junior and senior year.
“The kid was very active,” Culbertson said. “He was a very quiet kid, very studious, did his work – no problem. Super kid; I mean, you couldn’t have asked for a better student.”
The former educator remarked Bartz was well liked by his fellow classmates.
“It’s a shame, very much a shame,” Culbertson said about the Waterloo native’s death.
“When one lives through the Vietnam War, the Wars in Iraq, Persian Gulf Wars, etc., and you see on TV or newspapers other community people talk about how sad it was that a member of their community died in battle, it is very sad,” he remarked.
“When it hits home, it really is a tragedy. When you look back at the yearbooks and see that person again and you remember him sitting in your class, it becomes a very personal tragedy, not just another person from another community who died,” he continued. “He is not just a name in the newspaper; he is a personal human being that you remembered and had fond memories of. And his death is a tragedy – a very personal tragedy.”
During the Thursday evening Waterloo City Council meeting, Mayor Robert Thompson ordered that a moment of silence be held before the meeting began in honor of Bartz’s death.
Meanwhile, Bartz was home last December, when he gave a presentation at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
“He shared his extensive military career, perspective on the war and places he had served. He attended St. John’s Lutheran grade school when he was growing up,” the Rev. Tom Wilsmann told the Daily Times. “He was a very interesting person.”
Elaine Baumann, a close friend of the Bartz family, told the newspaper he was planning to retire in two years, but was determined to advance in rank before retiring.
Lt. Col. Paul Bartz was a highly decorated soldier, receiving the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal and Army Achievement Medal.
Paul Bartz had three goals upon graduating from Waterloo High School in 1985 – work in a factory, buy a car, drink beer. His viewpoint changed dramatically after his father talked him into trying college for a year and he joined Army ROTC at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
He found a home in the military, quickly moved up the ranks, worked with NATO troops, sat in on meetings with the president and was assigned to the Pentagon.
Yet he never forgot his small-town roots, a message he imparted to the students in Dick Jones’ history class at Waterloo High School. Jones had been Bartz’s history teacher and football coach.
During the 2006 visit to his old high school, Bartz told the rapt students about how by chance he was not at the Pentagon the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, when a jetliner was flown into the massive building. He had lost close colleagues that day in 2001.
“He had to pause because he had tears in his eyes. It told you the kind of person he was,” said Jones.
In a speech at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Waterloo right before Christmas, Bartz talked about his work in Afghanistan as well as his perspective on war. He had taken the time to learn about Afghanistan and its people.
Jones heard from a friend of Bartz’s family about his death by a suicide bomber who targeted a NATO convoy.
“He was one of the good guys,” Jones said. “He appreciated the culture and history (of Afghanistan). If this thing is to ever be worked out he was the guy to do it. That’s why it was such a shame.”