Before Graduation, ROTC Students Learn Lessons from Fallen Comrade

May 10, 2019

Senior year ROTC students, known as MS IV's in the Army, pose with University of Hawaii ROTC instructors in front of the program's memorial sculpture for fallen alumni.
Credit University of Hawaii ROTC / Facebook

Seniors at the University of Hawaii are preparing for graduation this weekend. On Friday, a small group of those students will also be commissioned as officers in the US military. But before they do, Army ROTC cadets at UH had to go through intensive training modeled on a battle in which a former University of Hawaii cadet was killed in action.

In the Summer of 2008, just 12 days before the end of a 15-month deployment, a small group of American soldiers in the remote mountains of Eastern Afghanistan came under attack from a large group of Taliban fighters. 

49 American soldiers assigned to a small combat outpost in the town of Wanat were confronted by a well-organized assault from more than 120 Taliban. 

The attack did not come as a surprise. Retired Army Master Sergeant David Dzwik, the senior enlisted soldier at the American outpost, said a large Taliban force had been observed just a few miles to the north of Wanat.

"They would always know where we were at and could plan on where would be. It was very difficult to counteract that," he said.

First Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom, assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, deployed to Afghanistan for 15 months from 2007-2008. He was killed in Kunar Province.
Credit David Brostrom / NPR

When the Taliban attack began, Lieutenant Brostrom and his soldiers quickly found themselves in a fight for their lives. The attack came from multiple sides and the enemy had the high ground. The small American base was located at the bottom of a steep river valley, nestled next to the village.

Using the terrain to their advantage, the Taliban were able to advance within a hundred yards of the base perimeter, too close to safely use air support and artillerty. 

They were closing in on a lightly-manned observation post just above the base. Lieutenant Brostrom quickly gathered a few reinforcements and led a charge through the approaching enemy forces. He was killed in action shortly after reaching his men. 

That battle is the focus for about 30 Army ROTC cadets at UH Manoa.

The Army has painstakingly recreated the battle, compete with an interactive, 3D digital map of the area. Cadets can see exactly what the Americans on the ground and the Taliban saw.

They are joined by Jonathan Brostrom’s father.

David Brostrom is a retired Army colonel and Vietnam Veteran who lives in Hawaii. After his son died, Colonel Brostrom made it his mission to find out what happened at Wanat - and help future officers at the University of Hawaii learn from it. 

"My instinct says there's a lot to learn here. We don't want to forget the mistakes we made and, if for some small part, Jonathan can become a hero to these young men and women, or an example, then I try to make that a reality," David Brostrom said.

As cadets receive their university diplomas and officer's commissions, they will also assume the responsibility of leading the mean and women who are still in Afghanistan, fighting the nation's longest war.