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Families battle Army ruling

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The families of nine soldiers killed in the deadly Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan hope to secure support from influential members of Congress as they fight an Army decision exonerating the battlefield commanders.

Those families, including David and Mary Jo Brostrom of Aiea, who lost their 24-year-old son, Jonathan, in the July 13, 2008, firefight, plan to appeal to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to overrule the Army decision exonerating three officers who were faulted for poor planning.

The families expressed outrage last Wednesday after the Army decided not to discipline the three.

"We haven’t given up," David Brostrom said yesterday. "This is not done yet."

In addition to the nine soldiers killed at Wanat, an additional 27 were wounded in one of the worst U.S. combat losses of the nine-year war.

An overwhelming force of about 200 enemy fighters attacked 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom’s platoon as the Americans worked to set up a new combat outpost on vulnerable low ground and while low on water and heavy equipment in 100-degree heat.

David Brostrom said he met late last week with U.S. Sens. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Jim Webb, D-Va., as well as a senior staffer in the office of Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Other family members have met with or are trying to arrange meetings with U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia; Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat; and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, Brostrom said.

Brostrom said he and other family members want the Pentagon to reinstate disciplinary action against three officers faulted in the Wanat battle and to restore the independent Marine Corps investigation that was partly overturned by an Army four-star general.

The general with U.S. Forces Command was assigned to review the new investigation.

Families of the soldiers killed were briefed last week at Fort McPherson, Ga., on the results of the second investigation ordered by U.S. Central Command and conducted by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski.

Following Natonski’s briefing and a question-and-answer session—both of which lasted several hours—Army Gen. Charles Campbell took the floor and dropped a bombshell, telling the families he was reversing the decision to punish three officers who had received letters of reprimand.

A dejected Brostrom said after the meeting that "there wasn’t one family member" of those present who was not very upset. "Nobody understood," he said.

Officers singled out by family members as receiving disciplinary action as a result of the Marine Corps investigation were Capt. Matthew Myer, the company commander who, following the Wanat battle, received a Silver Star; Lt. Col. William Ostlund, the battalion commander; and Col. Charles Preysler, who was commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

Natonski, the Marine Corps investigating officer, said in his findings that Ostlund and Myer "were through neglect, derelict in the performance of their duties to properly supervise the planning and execution" of the setup of the Wanat outpost in remote Kunar Province.

Preysler, the brigade commander, "was derelict, in that through culpable inefficiency he failed to establish and maintain sufficient knowledge of the planning, resourcing and execution" of the base setup, Natonski said. The names were redacted in the released version of the Marine Corps investigation.

On Jan. 21, Gen. David Petraeus, then the head of U.S. Central Command and now the commander-designate of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, approved the re-investigation results.

Akaka, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, yesterday questioned Petraeus at his confirmation hearing about the re-investigation and the Army’s decision to withdraw the letters of reprimand.

"I respect his (Campbell’s) view in this particular case. I support the process, but I did not change the finding that I affirmed after the investigating officers provided it to me," Petraeus said in response.

David Brostrom fought for and obtained the second investigation after he and other families said the Army gave short shrift to an initial investigation, conducted by the Army at the brigade level, into the attack by 200 militants on his son’s platoon.

Jonathan Brostrom, who attended Damien Memorial School and the University of Hawaii, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his bravery.

David Brostrom, who spent 30 years in the Army and retired as a colonel, said Campbell’s decision to overturn the Marine Corps findings "was all about protecting the Army’s image and commanders making decisions in the field, (and had) nothing to do with the nine soldiers killed and 27 wounded."

Campbell said in his review that "to criminalize command decisions in a theater of complex combat operations is a grave step indeed. It is also unnecessary, particularly in this case."

He found that there was "extensive planning" for the outpost at Wanat, and that officers’ decisions were "reasonable and proper" under the circumstances.

Brostrom said he and other family members plan to send letters within a couple weeks to Obama and Gates seeking a review.

 

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