Air National Guardsman awarded Bronze Star

Major Gen. Robert Knauff, chief of staff of the New York Air National Guard, pins the Bronze Star Medal onto Col. John Bartholf, Northeast Air Defense Sector Title 32 commander, while Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, Air National Guard director, and Lynette Bartholf, Colonel Bartholf's wife, watch April 21.

Major Gen. Robert Knauff, chief of staff of the New York Air National Guard, pins the Bronze Star Medal onto Col. John Bartholf, Northeast Air Defense Sector Title 32 commander, while Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, Air National Guard director, and Lynette Bartholf, Colonel Bartholf's wife, watch April 21.

ROME, N.Y. -- All it took for him was hearing the roar of a low-flying F-4's engines over where he was bivouacking in the N.M. desert as an Army ROTC cadet to decide that he wanted to fly jets.

Twenty six years later and now an F-16C+ pilot, the New York Air National Guardsman was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement during a four month deployment to Iraq April 21.

Colonel John Bartholf, Northeast Air Defense Sector Title 32 commander, served as the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group deputy commander from May to Sept. 2006 at Balad Air Base, Iraq. During his deployment, Colonel Bartholf directed seven combat squadrons, keeping F-16s, HH-60s, RQ-1s, C-130s and the airfield operational around-the-clock while being constantly under fire by insurgents.

In his role as an F-16C+ combat pilot, Colonel Bartholf was able to use the jet's targeting pod to aid ground troops in identifying possible insurgents and improvised explosive devices, according to his Bronze Star Medal citation. In one situation while he was deployed, he was able to track suspected terrorists through the streets of Bagdad to a point where forces could capture them.

Providing troops on the ground top cover through non-traditional use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, was the focus of many missions for Colonel Bartholf. During one mission, he recounted tracking a vehicle of suspected terrorists through Ramadi, Iraq and out on the highway where it was interdicted by multinational forces. Additionally, he provided key ISR support to joint forces in different areas of Ramadi to ensure they were not vectored into any planned ambushes by insurgents.

Using a precision-guided munition, Colonel Bartholf is credited with taking out two high-level al-Qaida members.

Through his leadership, he led 700 Airmen to produce over 3,000 combat sorties that provided more than 12,000 hours of close air support to the Multinational Corps who were fighting terrorist forces. Colonel Bartholf was charged with ensuring that the Department of Defense's busiest single runway was operational despite potentially catastrophic concrete deterioration - combat and cargo operations continued unabated during more than 600 hours of emergency runway repairs, according to the citation.

When Colonel Bartholf first arrived at Balad, he helped get a C-130 hub at the base operational and as he reflected on this experience he noted that, "every C-130 sortie that could provide airlift support was one less truck on the roads at risk of being exposed to IEDs."

As a guardsman with 15 years of active duty experience and native of Colorado Springs, Colo., Colonel Bartholf said, "The Air National Guard is trying to make opportunities so that we bring people up in a joint environment to give them that experience and essentially prepare them to succeed in situations they encounter in today's joint military."

"We're wearing the same uniform as everyone else, and as guardsmen, a deployment is one of those times when people are being evaluated based on their performances," he added.

The NEADS joint/interagency homeland defense mission as well as being an experienced air liaison officer with the Army helped prepare him to work in a joint environment while deployed.

"Homeland defense is one of the military's top priorities - it is also a real-world, critical mission," he said.

"It is an absolute necessity to win the Global War on Terror - it is the cold war of this generation," he continued. "Information about how precarious and volatile the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is and the ramifications to our country is not well communicated to the American public. Information getting back to our country fails to convey the fact that these terrorists want to end our way of life here."

Major Gen. Robert Knauff, commander, NYANG, and Lt. Gen. Craig R.
McKinley, Air National Guard director, were both present at the ceremony.
General Knauff presented the medal to Colonel Bartholf in a room full of members from units across the NYANG.

After being awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Colonel Bartholf thanked his family and his leadership for letting him volunteer to go to Balad. To his NYANG leadership he said, "By allowing me to volunteer for this deployment, you allowed one more guardsman to fulfill the role of being a warfighter for our country."

"As long as I've been in the military, I've been a volunteer," he said. "If the nation needed me to go back to Iraq, I'd go in a heartbeat."