As the final days of the spring 2019 semester drew to a close, a group of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa seniors wasn’t taking a final exam. Instead, on this day in early May in Kuykendall Auditorium, they displayed their knowledge of subject matter in a very personal way.
About 30 Army ROTC students, dressed in their crisp white military uniforms, gathered to watch a “virtual staff ride” PowerPoint supplemented with video footage. Led by a trainer from the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute, the presentation explained a day-by-day breakdown of the historic July 2008 Battle of Wanat that had taken the life of one of their own: 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, a graduate of the UH ROTC Class of 2006.
“When the guns finally went silent at Wanat, nine U.S. soldiers had been killed, 27 were wounded, and at least dozens of Taliban fighters lay dead,” said a 2018 article in the Army Times. “The fight and the preceding deployment resulted in the battalion being the most decorated to date in the Global War on Terror.”
Studying a historic battle
The Battle of Wanat is the most requested virtual staff ride by U.S. Army units across the nation, and has been part of the core curriculum for UH cadets since 2015. As the trainer utilized the Socratic method of teaching, the seniors answered questions about the historic battle, and had some questions of their own.
They learned that, after graduation 13 years ago, Brostrom went on to be stationed in Afghanistan, where he and eight of his fellow soldiers from Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade came under attack near the end of a brutal and demanding deployment in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces.
The solemn thought that a UH graduate like them was killed shortly after commencement was not lost on the ROTC students.
Said Cadet Isaiah Thompson, a senior and communications major, “Just capturing a glimpse of the underlying heart and courage that 1st Lt. Brostrom displayed with his platoon was a reminder of the type of leaders that have come through this program, paving the way for the rest of us to carry on the mana (power) and passion of the Warrior legacy.”
Cadet Sabrina Olaes, a senior major in nursing, echoed those thoughts. “The soldiers from the Battle of Wanat exemplified resilience, courage and service to others,” she said. “And, as we are about to commission, this exercise has made it evident of the weight and responsibility we must carry with us for the rest of our careers as Army officers.”
A proud father helps teach the class
In attendance at the UH “virtual ride” training was a special guest: Retired U.S. Army Col. David Brostrom, father of Jonathan, who has come to campus every year since 2015 to share his thoughts and insights with ROTC seniors.
Colonel Brostrom remembers getting a long-distance phone call in the middle of the night from his deployed son. Jonathan told his dad that the platoon sergeant had been killed in the battle that would later claim his life as well, and he asked his father what to do. “I told him, ‘Do your grieving, but step up. Lead them and make sure your soldiers are taken care of,’” Brostrom told the riveted cadets.
Said Lt. Col. Daniel Gregory, UH professor of military science and UH Army ROTC commanding officer, “We are indebted to Colonel Brostrom for sharing Jon’s story on such a personal level. Every cadet will remember Jon’s sacrifice, and his dedication to leading his soldiers. We are all better leaders for this experience.”