Utah family defends legacy of soldier after Army blames him for some deaths in battle
PLAIN CITY — A retired Utah Army veteran is trying to stop the military from rewriting the history of a deadly battle in Afghanistan and also trying to save a young soldier's reputation.
The Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan in July 2008 became famous because of the high number of Americans killed and injured. One branch of the military is now placing some of the blame on a young lieutenant killed in the battle. On Monday, some of his family members met with Army officials.
First Lt. Jonathan Brostrom of Hawaii, who followed his father into the military, went to Afghanistan to see action. At 24, he led a unit called "Chosen Company," was took part in the Battle of Wanat on July 13, 2008, in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan. Taliban forces killed nine, including Brostrom, and wounded 27 others.
The American deaths were the most in a single battle since the start of U.S. operations in 2001. This battle and the casualties became the focus of an NBC "Dateline" special report in June 2010.
Brostrom is survived by his girlfriend Lindsey Spargur and his son, Jace, who live in northern Utah. In 2009, when Jace was 6 years old, the Utah National Guard presented him with the Silver Star, honoring his dad.
At the time, he was very proud. "I'm gonna hang it up in my room somewhere," he said.
Several investigations of the battle finally led to the reprimand of senior military leaders, but last year the Army revoked it, concluding that those on the ground made mistakes.
In response, Brostrom's family is defending his legacy.
Dave Spargur, a retired Air Force veteran of 29 years and Lindsey's father, said he was very concerned about where the Army was pointing.
"We just felt there was an inordinate amount of blame at the tactical level — on Jonathan as the platoon leader who was really trying to make the best of a bad situation," he said.
"I just feel that they're not portraying the history," Spargur said, "because the Combat Institute Studies report doesn't point out any failures at the strategic level and what senior commanders should have done, could have done, didn't do; and they focus on the tactics involved in setting up the base and the actual battle."
On Monday, Army representatives showed the Spargur family a Combat Studies Institute DVD report on the battle. They listened to information on what happened before and during the combat. Lindsey and her family believe Jonathan did all he could.
"We think Jonathan looked at the most horrible conditions — weather, food, water, shelter and, I think, made the best situation he could and I just don't feel like that's being recognized enough," Lindsey Spargur said.
From the Army's perspective, the study focuses on the bigger picture of lessons learned. Brig. Gen. Sean MacFarland told Lindsey, "Because we're trying to get those lessons out and the human cost of doing that is now what we're recognizing and for that, I am very sorry."
Col. Robert Whetstone, the Army Public Affairs officer at Fort Levenworth, Kan., said, "When a soldier is gone, it doesn't mean the family is neglected. They are still part of the Army family. Only time will heal the wounds that happened in a combat situation. We just want them to know that those soldiers that gave their lives aren't forgotten."
Military officials told the Spargur family they are sorry for their loss but the conclusions in the second investigation will stand and that will help other Army companies to better understand battle strategy.
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