Tuesday, June 28, 2011 • Family, friends, well-wishers welcome Afghanistan hero home

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, June 28, 2011, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Chad Bortle, a Lassen High School graduate serving in the U.S. Army, is surprised by the reception he receives at Reno International Airport Tuesday, June 16 as he returns from the hospital after being injured by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

A number of Lassen County residents, including family, friends, members of the Soaring Eagle Blue Star Mothers and the Susanville and Reno Patriot Guard welcomed Susanville’s Chad Bortle home Tuesday, June 16 at Reno International Airport.

Bortle, the son of Terri and Mark Bortle, graduated from Lassen High School in 2009. Curtis Bortle, Chad’s brother, serves in the Army National Guard.

“It’s nice seeing them (the Blue Star Banners) around town and knowing people care about you,” Bortle said. “It’s nice to know the town supports us. Thank you for all your support. It means a lot when you’re deployed and all.”

Terri said her son enlisted in the Army after graduation and initially was stationed in Germany. After he was there a month, his unit deployed to Afghanistan.

Members of the Bortle family — Mark, Chad and Terri — pose for this photo with members of the Susanville and Reno Patriot Guard and the Soaring Eagle Blue Star Mothers Tuesday, June 16 at Reno International Airport.

Bortle said he and his squad of 15 soldiers were returning from a patrol when a suicide bomber hiding in a culvert attacked them. Serving as a combat medic, Bortle was walking at the rear of the unit when they were attacked. He said they walked right by the bomber and didn’t even see him until he blew himself up.

“I looked down and saw I got hit,” Bortle said. “Then I started working on other people who got injured. I got some shrapnel in my right leg and in my right shoulder.”

“Luckily he (the bomber) didn’t go into the middle of the group,” Terri said. “He just ran up behind them and blew himself up.”

Some of the shrapnel hit Bortle in the head, but he was wearing a helmet and only suffered a concussion. Other pieces of shrapnel ripped into his shoulder, his buttocks, his right thigh and calf. Chad said his calf suffered the most damage.

“First thing he thought was, ‘Oh, my gosh, my leg,” Terri said, “and then he thought, ‘Oh, it’s still there, so that’s OK,’ and then he started helping his fellow troops. That was his job.”

Chad said none of the injuries to his squad were major, “mostly shrapnel in various other areas of people’s bodies.”

Eventually other units arrived to offer support and transport the injured troops to the hospital.

Terri said Bortle did not suffer any permanent injury, and he expects to fully recover.

“In light of everything, we thank God that it’s not too bad,” Terri said.

Bortle recently received an Army award with valor and a Purple Heart for his conduct after a suicide bomber detonated himself behind this squad and he responded to their injuries before taking care of his own.

Terri said Bortle will return to his unit, now stationed in Germany, next month.

“We’re really happy he’s home and he’s OK, and we’re praying all the troops come home safe and sound like Chad did,” Terri said.