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Army chaplain awarded Soldier’s Medal for tackling machete-wielding soldier to end hostage situation

Posted at 2:34 PM, Mar 21, 2017
and last updated 2018-08-29 19:26:01-04

Captain (Chaplain) Matthew Christensen, a 1992 graduate of Flathead High School, was awarded the Soldier’s Medal last week for his actions that resulted in saving the lives of two soldiers.

When Christensen went to counsel a soldier who was having a hard time, he didn’t realize it would escalate into a dangerous hostage situation. 

Christensen spent much of the night counseling the soldier. Later, the soldier’s roommate and another chaplain showed up at the barracks.

Things got worse. The soldier called some family members, cursing them for abusive situations in the past.

Christensen said, "And then he just switched gears and he basically said, ‘I have three hostages here and because of what you did to me, you’re not protecting me, I’m going to kill these hostages tonight.’"

No words could soothe the soldier’s anger.

Christensen explained, "His roommate said something that set him off. He pinned his roommate up against the wall with a machete. At that point it was just a matter of adrenaline, fear, and not knowing what to do next and really having no other choice as he drew back to strike the solider. I just jumped up, grabbed him, and pulled him backwards and was able to get him restrained."

That chokehold made the difference so that every person could walk out of the barracks alive that night.

His mother Sue Heppner, who lives in Polson, recalled, "I remember him calling and just kind of visiting for a little bit. Then he kind of said, ‘Well…’ and he started into the story and I’m going, you have got to be kidding me."

Christensen’s brother Todd said, "It was just something you aren’t used to feeling or seeing happen. It was just really cool. I don’t think he was expecting the medal. I don’t think he was thinking much of what was going on. And as soon as he got the medal and he got the opportunity to be in front, and have his moment, he gave it all to God."

"When I received the Soldier’s Medal in the ceremony, the final point I made was a connection to the Soldier’s Medal reminding me of what Christ has done for me. He has stood in the way of violence and not just risked his life, but gave his life. "

It’s a strength the chaplain has been drawing from his entire life.

Christensen noted, "As chaplains in the military, our job is to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that chaplains everyday are in the middle of the battle, in the middle of the war that goes on in people’s life.

He continued, " Really, we are called to meet people where they are at, rock bottom, where they are at their worst and it’s an honor, a privilege to be able to serve soldiers that way. But I also want to lift up the reality that we have chaplains every day doing similar work.""

A press release from Fort Benning, Georgia – where Christensen is now stationed – provides the following information:

Chaplain Christensen put the welfare of others above his own and risked his life by stepping in front of a Soldier swinging a machete. As a result of his bravery, he was awarded with Soldier’s Medal.

On Feb. 28, 2015, Chaplain Christensen prevented the suicide of one Soldier and saved the life of another. While serving as the on-call duty chaplain, he responded to a situation where an intoxicated Soldier was armed with multiple knives and machetes creating a serious threat. Chaplain was taken by the Soldier as one of the hostages. And when the soldier grabbed an unarmed Soldier and put the machete to his neck, Chaplain Christensen rushed the Soldier and put him in a rear naked chokehold, thereby eliminating the threat and saving the victims’ life. 

Christensen was awarded the Soldier’s Medal last week for his actions that night.

The criteria for being awarded the Soldier’s Medal is:  

The Soldier’s Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, including reserve component Soldiers not serving in a duty status, as defined in 10 USC 101(d), at the time of the heroic act, who distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The same degree of heroism is required as that of the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy. 

Christensen is now assigned to the 50th Infantry Regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia.