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Army Sgt. 1st Class David J. Hartman, 27, Merced; among 3 killed in blast

Sgt. 1st Class David Hartman knew the tough, dangerous realities of war. As a soldier in the U.S. Army, he had seen combat in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.

After those tours, the California native was committed to remaining in the military, but decided it was time to try something new. He completed the Army’s civil affairs training program and left in November for Pakistan, where he focused on coordinating the construction of schools and other humanitarian projects.

“He had done the shooting,” said his mother, Trea Bacon. “He wanted to become a more giving person; he wanted to help people. He wanted to keep serving his country, but he wanted to do it in a different way.”

So it was with cruel irony that Hartman, 27, was killed Feb. 3. An improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in the Lower Dir district of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, according to the Army. At the time of the attack, which claimed the lives of two other servicemen, Hartman was on his way to attend the opening ceremony of a girls’ school that he had helped to build.

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Hartman was assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (A) at Ft. Bragg, N.C. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, one of the military’s highest honors.

Born in Merced, Calif., Hartman lived with his father in Lathrop, in the Modesto area, until he was 12. As a teenager, he went to live with his mother and stepfather, who also served in the Army and was stationed in Japan. It was there that the boy, who deeply admired his stepfather, cemented his decision to join the military, his mother and father said.

Hartman enlisted immediately after graduating from the high school he attended on a U.S. Air Force base in Okinawa. Because he was still only 17 at the time, Bacon had to give permission for her underage son.

Hartman threw himself into the civil affairs assignment, Bacon said. “He loved building a rapport with the people. He wanted to show them that we weren’t bad.”

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In 2007, Hartman married a high school friend after the two reconnected and quickly fell in love, his mother said. Shortly before he deployed to Pakistan, Hartman’s wife, Cherise, became pregnant with their second child. The pair had a deal: if it was a girl, then Hartman would get to name her, Bacon recalled. They learned later it will, in fact, be a girl. Her name will be Catherine Isis. She is due to be born in the coming weeks.

Cherise Hartman and the couple’s toddler son live in North Carolina, where Hartman’s unit was based.

“He’d tell me, ‘You don’t have to worry anymore, Mom. I’m not kicking in doors and doing the dangerous stuff anymore.’ That’s why it was such a shock when we heard,” Bacon said. “As a mother, I just want everyone to know what a special person he was and be as proud of him as I am.”

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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