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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 22, 2009

Brostrom earned respect, more

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

First Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom was just short of his 25th birthday when he was killed in the firefight in Wanat. As a platoon leader in the 173rd Airborne Brigade's Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, he was one of the "Chosen Few."

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Brostrom was seen by his men as a good military tactician. "We all felt lucky to have him," said one of his sergeants.

Photo courtesy of Carter Johnston

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First Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom's fatal charge up a hill in Wanat, Afghanistan, to defend his men in the midst of a shower of enemy fire wasn't something he had to do to win the respect of his platoon.

Brostrom earned that long before the July 13, 2008, battle that cost him his life. He gained their respect and their friendship in the approximately eight months that he commanded Chosen Company's 2nd Platoon.

Brostrom, who graduated from the University of Hawai'i with a human resources degree, wasn't in the mold of the super-serious platoon leaders West Point churned out, and his platoon was glad of it.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which was Brostrom's first and last Army assignment, is considered an elite unit because it is made up of paratroopers with specialized training, and as such, it has its share of West Pointers.

Before Brostrom arrived, Chosen Company's 2nd Platoon was commanded by a West Point officer the soldiers had nicknamed "Captain America" for his by-the-book approach.

"Most all other officers put themselves above the platoon, but he (Brostrom) was just another one of the guys," said Sgt. Tyler Stafford, who survived the attack at Wanat. Stafford remembers Brostrom as "a total surfer dude," but also a very capable leader who had the respect of his men.

"We still listened and respected him as our lieutenant, but he wasn't too high not to have a few practical jokes played on him. Or have (Cpl. Pruitt) Rainey take his money in poker."

Brostrom's easier-going ways might be traced to his family and upbringing in Hawai'i.

Jon Brostrom's family his father, David, a retired Army colonel; his mom, Mary Jo; and younger brother, Blake moved to Hawai'i when Jon was 14. He played golf, surfed with his dad, and was a lifeguard at Pearl Harbor.

He didn't know what he wanted to do as a career, and his parents suggested military service, possibly the Air Force.

"Less chance for him to get killed," David Brostrom recalled thinking.

After graduating from Damien Memorial High School, Jon Brostrom came home one day and said, "I got an Army scholarship at UH," his father said.

It later took him three tries to make it through difficult Ranger School the last with a broken bone in his foot but the Hawai'i man had a competitiveness that was legendary.

"Jon was a very competitive person. Anything you could do, he could do better and with one hand tied behind his back," said his former girlfriend, Lindsey Spargur. "But it was all in good fun, and all in a very motivating fashion."

David Brostrom said he pulled some strings he was then friends with the 173rd Airborne Brigade commander, Col. Charles "Chip" Preysler and got his son assigned to the unit in Italy, where the Brostroms have family. It was his first Army assignment.

Brostrom loved every minute of being an infantryman, his father said.

"He liked the mud and being outside, so that was his thing," David Brostrom said.

The 3,500 soldiers of the 173rd Brigade landed in eastern Afghanistan in May of 2007, and Lt. Brostrom was placed on the battalion staff of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment.

In October he took command of 2nd Platoon in the Waigal Valley.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Benton, a former member of Brostrom's platoon and now an Army instructor in Grafenwoehr, Germany, said that to other soldiers Brostrom "seemed like a goofball who loved to have a good time, but he knew what he was doing."

Brostrom, like a lot of the soldiers, lifted weights a lot in his off-time, and true to being an infantryman, had a caveman grunt laugh he liked to employ.

Benton also recalled many nights talking with the Hawai'i man about life, jokes, friends, children, Brostrom's ex-girlfriend, and his young son, Jase.

Sgt. Chris McKaig, who fought at the observation post called Topside where Brostrom died, said paratroopers are "Type A" personalities, and Brostrom "was one of us."

"We liked that he was motivated and physical, too," McKaig said. "He was a good tactician and we trusted him on missions. He had more common sense than most lieutenants in the Army so we all felt lucky to have him."

More than that, McKaig credits Brostrom with saving his life.

All of the Chosen Company soldiers Brostrom included who made attempts to reinforce the observation post drew fire from those few soldiers who remained alive there on that day, McKaig said.

"If you can imagine such intense combat being slightly diverted for just a few seconds it can make it feel like it's making a world of difference," said the 35-year-old McKaig, who is still with the 173rd Brigade.

He still wears a black "killed in action" memorial bracelet with Brostrom's name on it.

"It motivates me throughout each day," McKaig said. "All I have to do is look at it and I almost feel like nothing can stop me."