Army Captains Critique Iraq War

Correction Nov. 28, 2007

Versions of this story heard on air incorrectly characterized Luis Montalvan's parents. Both were born in the United States. The archived audio has been edited to remove the error.

A dozen former U.S. Army captains wrote a column for The Washington Post last month entitled "The Real Iraq We Knew" in which they set out to describe the war they had experienced, instead of the one generals and politicians had described.

The officers' words have stirred controversy, with some critics calling them traitors. But that hasn't stopped them from speaking out.

In the op-ed piece, published on the fifth anniversary of the authorization of military force in Iraq, the 12 captains wrote that they had "seen the corruption and the sectarian division."

"We understand what it's like to be stretched too thin. And we know when it's time to get out," they said.

"Captain is a unique position in the Army because you are really a cog at the center of it all," said Jason Blindauer, a veteran of five years in the Army, including three deployments to Iraq. "As we used to say, you can see the asses of the generals and the faces of the privates."

But a $35,000 retention bonus could not keep these captains in, even though at the outset they had been deeply committed to the military.

"There is no job that I ever wanted to do other than being a military officer," Blindauer said. "As far as the prospect of going to war with Iraq, I was excited about it. I was a young infantry officer with the opportunity to go to war."

Jeff Bouldin served in the Army for four years and in Iraq for 14 months. Like most of the 12 captains, he initially supported the invasion, but gradually became disillusioned with the leaders in charge of the war.

"The tactics we used and the overall goals in every province I served in had no semblance to any military logic that I had ever known," he said.

Then there was the prospect of repeated deployments without much time in between for family.

"I had a young family," Bouldin said. "I had a son who was 24 months old and I had seen him for four months of his entire life."

Blindauer and Bouldin are talking in Elizabeth Bostwick's Dallas apartment. Bostwick spent four years in the Army.

"I believed in my mission and beyond that I tried not to think about it," Bostwick said.

She said she tried not to think beyond her own security mission with the Military Police. Even though she comes from a military family, she wasn't gung-ho about the war.

"Knowing that the preponderance of your peer group is home shopping, having stable relationships not interrupted by deployments ... it's disheartening," Bostwick said. "You're saying enough of this bumper-sticker patriotism. Do something about it or stop wasting my time."

To the group of 12, doing something about it means signing up to serve, and they suggest that a draft may be necessary. Jason Blindauer quotes German military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz, saying a country has to have both the strength of means and the strength of will to win a war.

"We don't have a military large enough to conduct the long-duration, low-intensity wars, and we haven't harnessed the collective will of the American people. So what good is it?" Blindauer said.

Luis Montalvan, who currently resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., joined the Army when he was 17 and stayed in for 17 years. He did two tours in Iraq. Montalvan angrily disagrees with the many bloggers who say the 12 captains ignore the apparent success of the recent troop surge.

"What has the government of Iraq done? It has done nothing, so it doesn't matter how many tactical successes you have if you're not having any strategic successes."

Montalvan says the 12 have no political agenda; most are independents. The captains believe that current American strategy is simply arming and training Sunni and Shite militias for a future civil war. Montalvan, who worked closely with Iraqis on both his deployments, said he is disgusted with the level of corruption he witnessed. Even worse, he said, is American inaction in the face of it.

"There is still no Iraqi-American anticorruption action plan. This corruption is feeding, sustaining the sectarian divide."

On his first tour in Iraq in 2003, Montalvan worked on the Iraq-Syrian border with only 40 soldiers trying to watch over a major foreign entry point where corruption ruled. At one point things got nasty.

"Some men tried to assassinate me in December of '03 and they nearly succeeded," he said. "They were wielding knives and hand grenades, and I was injured. One of them was killed and the other was severely wounded but he staggered off."

Montalvan said he is "not altogether comfortable talking about it." He says it's something he's dealing with and will "probably deal with for sometime."

Some bloggers have called the 12 cowards and traitors.

"For those people who would rather thump their chests and say that these people don't know anything or that these people are cowards or anything along those lines, they can go to hell," he said.

When the interview was over, Montalvan went into his bathroom and got sick. He apologized, saying it may have been side effects of medications he was taking. But his friends said it was more likely the result of reliving painful events in Iraq.

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