STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
We're about to focus on some of the men and women who make the U.S. Army. They're captains, officers with several years of service. They're experienced enough to be leading small military units in Afghanistan and Iraq. And they're young enough to be seen as the Army's future. The Army is straining to keep its captains as we'll hear in a moment.
We begin with the dozen former captains who critiqued their war in the pages of the Washington Post. The article, "The Real Iraq We Knew," led some critics to call the captains traitors.
NPR's John McChesney reports they're still speaking out.
JOHN McCHESNEY: The captains' op-ed piece published on the fifth anniversary of the war said we've 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.
I spoke with four of the captains about their take on the war and their role in it.
Captain JASON BLINDAUER (U.S. Army): Captain is a unique position in the Army because you're really a cog at the center of it all.
McCHESNEY: Meet Jason Blindauer - five years in the Army. Three stands in Iraq. We talked in Dallas.
Capt. BLINDAUER: As we used to say, you can see the asses of the generals and the faces of the privates.
McCHESNEY: But a $35,000 reenlistment bonus couldn't keep these captains in, even though at the outset they've been deeply committed to the military.
Capt. BLINDAUER: There's no job that I ever wanted to do other than being a military officer. As far as the prospects of going to war with Iraq, I was excited about it. I was a young infantry officer with the opportunity to go to war.
Captain JEFFREY BOULDIN (U.S. Army): For me, I had originally planned on serving a full career as a Army officer.
McCHESNEY: Jeff Bouldin served in the Army for four years and in Iraq for 14 months. Like most of the 12 captains, he supported the invasion at first, but gradually became disillusioned with the leaders in charge of the war.
Capt. BOULDIN: The tactics we used and the overall goal at every province I served in had no semblance to any sort of military logic that I had ever known.
McCHESNEY: Then there was the prospect of repeated deployments without much time in between for family.
Capt. BOULDIN: I had a young family, you know? I had a son. He was 24 months old. I'd seen him for four months of his entire life.
McCHESNEY: Blindauer and Bouldin are talking to me in Elizabeth Bostwick's Dallas apartment. Bostwick spent four years in the Army.
Captain ELIZABETH BOSTWICK (U.S. Army): I believed in my mission. And beyond that, I tried not to think about it.
McCHESNEY: She says she tried not to think beyond her military police security mission. Even though she comes from the military family, she wasn't gung ho about the war.
Capt. BOSTWICK: And knowing the preponderance of your peer group is at home shopping, having children, having stable relationships not interrupted by deployments. And it's disheartening. You're saying, you know, enough of this bumper sticker patriotism. Do something about it or stop wasting my time.
McCHESNEY: 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 a strength of means and a strength of will to win a war.
Capt. BLINDAUER: We don't have a military large enough to conduct these long duration, low intensity wars. And we haven't harnessed the collective resolve of the American people. So what good is it?
McCHESNEY: I interviewed Luis Montalvan at his apartment in Brooklyn. Son of conservative Cuban immigrants, Montalvan joined the Army when he was 17. And he stayed in for 17 years. He did two tours in Iraq. He angrily disagrees with the many bloggers who say the 12 captains ignore the apparent success of the recent troop surge.
Captain LUIS MONTALVAN (U.S. Army): 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.
McCHESNEY: 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 Shia militias for a future civil war. Montalvan, who worked closely with Iraqis on both his deployments, says he's disgusted with the level of corruption he witnessed. Even worse, he says, is American in action in the face of it.
Capt. MONTALVAN: There's still no national Iraqi-American anti-corruption action plan. This corruption is feeding, sustaining, the sectarian divide.
McCHESNEY: 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.
Capt. MONTALVAN: Some men tried to assassinate me in December of '03 and they nearly succeeded. They were wielding knives and hand grenades. And I was injured. One of them was killed and the other was very wounded, but he staggered off. I'm not altogether comfortable talking about it. So… It's something I'm dealing with, you know, right now and I'll probably deal with for sometime.
McCHESNEY: Some bloggers have called the 12 cowards and traitors.
Capt. MONTALVAN: To 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.
McCHESNEY: When the interview was over, Montalvan went into his bathroom and was violently ill. He apologized, saying it may have been the side effects of medications he was taking. But his friends said it was more likely the result of reliving painful events in Iraq during our interview.
John McChesney, NPR News.