In Bristol’s Bastards, an account of his experiences in Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard, Nick Maurstad makes some bold, critical statements about his leadership. The reader would do well to remember that these are Maurstad’s opinions—not necessarily facts.
Bristol’s Bastards—co-written with Darwin Holmstrom and advertised as “the book that the Minnesota National Guard doesn’t want you to read”—could be an example of a young soldier simply trying to tell the story of what happened to him and his buddies as they did their duty in Iraq. Unfortunately, it could also be an example of the complaints of a negative young punk who was deployed with his National Guard unit and realized that when he got home he could capitalize on his story by writing a sensationalized version of the negative side of everything that happened on his deployment and portray every outlandish rumor he heard as fact…after he was out of the military.
I was deployed with the Minnesota National Guard for the same 22 months as Maurstad, though I served in a different area—about 120 miles to the northwest. Over 3,200 soldiers went to Iraq as part of that Minnesota National Guard deployment. Most of them suffered similar frustrations with training or with their impressions of their leaders’ decision-making. Maurstad wrote a controversial story that will no doubt generate interest and sales. Did he do it because he thought the public needed to know, or because he saw an opportunity to make some extra money? I hope it’s the former. Some may say that at least he had the courage to say what others were thinking but wouldn’t come out and say it—but it doesn’t take courage to sell a book that tears down the military on your way out the door.
|bristol’s bastards by nick maurstad and darwin holmstrom. published by zenith press (2008). $26.00.|
For example, in chapter two, Maurstad discusses the experience of his unit finding out that they would be deployed to Iraq. He calls one officer a “squinty-eyed pussbag who would prove himself so afraid of combat that he would earn the nickname ‘Spineless-Six.'” Where’s the evidence? Maurstad did not serve on the specified officer’s personal security detachment. He did not work on that officer’s staff, and he did not sit in on meetings where that officer was forced to make life-changing decisions for approximately 600 men and women, weighing information that Maurstad was not privy to. Maurstad’s information source is the most lethal weapon against any unit in the United States military: rumors.
In that same chapter Maurstad refers to the fact that the men being notified of their deployment were “fresh off” a deployment to Bosnia. Granted, these men had worked hard and served honorably in Bosnia. What Maurstad does not specify is his definition of “fresh off.” These men had returned from Bosnia in or around April of 2004. They would not deploy to Iraq until October of 2005. 18 months is not a long time to be home between deployments, especially for a part-time National Guard unit, but Maurstad leads the reader to believe that these men had not yet unpacked their bags.
Later, Maurstad discusses how he exited the plane when it touched down at Volk Field in Wisconsin and worked his way through the “rash of insincere handshakes from the rear-echelon motherfuckers.” He mentions the line of “officers who hadn’t been on the deployment but were eager to greet us anyway.” I was not with Maurstad when he exited that plane, but I can safely assume that many of the men who shook his hand were the same men who shook mine. Among them were several officers who were too high-ranking to have served on the deployment. Two of them were Two Star Generals who had served on a similar deployment in the past, except theirs were to Vietnam. It was gracious and appropriate for these officers to appear to show their gratitude, but Maurstad paints them as self-serving. Once again, he chooses the facts he presents so as to emphasize the negative rather than the positive—in the process undercutting his own credibility.
Maurstad and Bravo Company endured horrible living conditions in several scenarios, and Maurstad suffered the indescribable pain of losing a friend in combat. If he had focused his story on what he and his friends and comrades endured, the book would have been much more effective. The chapters that Maurstad spends describing his combat experience, including the deaths of his friends, do a great job of taking the reader inside the mind of a soldier.
Unfortunately, much of Maurstad’s account simply doesn’t ring true. Most of the soldiers who went to Iraq as a part of this deployment served honorably—but if you believe Maurstad’s account, most of the soldiers outside Bravo Company were drugged-out, incompetent monsters. Maurstad doesn’t even believe that all the members of Bravo Company are worthy of praise for their service. If he likes them, they’re infallible heroes. If he doesn’t, they’re savaged in a public forum where they have no opportunity to respond to Maurstad’s allegations.
If Maurstad intended to share his story and honor the service of his friends, I believe he could have done so in a more honorable fashion. Instead, he has mixed true stories that everyone needs to hear with rumors and unfounded criticism. In doing so, he has discredited himself and discredited the service of hundreds of heroes.
Maybe Maurstad didn’t get a lot of money for this book. Maybe, and I really hope it’s the case, Maurstad donated some or all of the proceeds to charities working to serve veterans. Just in case, if you are dying to know Maurstad’s impressions of what went on, check this book out at the library or borrow it from a friend.
Chris Donlin is a third-year student at William Mitchell College of Law. He remains a member of the Minnesota National Guard.