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The military blackballed these Marines. Four congressmen are fighting to restore their honor

February 15, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy Fred Galvin)
Editor's note: This story was updated subsequent to publication to include additional comments made Thursday, Feb. 16, during a press conference on Capitol Hill.

It's been a decade since Fred Galvin and his Marines were in a battle for their lives following a coordinated attack not far from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. That every man on the patrol survived remains a testament to good training and, above all, good fortune. Yet the hell they've endured since stands among the war's tragedies, and now there's an effort in Congress to help them find peace.

On Thursday, Galvin, 47, represented his old unit at the U.S. Capitol, hopeful that proposed legislation eventually will compel the Marines' top general, Commandant Robert Neller, to make a public overture declaring that Galvin and his elite commando team, Marine Special Operations Company Foxtrot, did nothing wrong when defending themselves during that attack. Many of the Marines involved say they still suffer psychologically from the backlash they incurred when the military sought to imprison them over bogus claims they killed more than two dozen innocent bystanders.


The effort is led by Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, who came to the Marines' defense 10 years ago and has continued to advocate on their behalf. He has introduced a resolution, H.Res.21, that would require Neller to "issue a public document certifying that members of Fox Company ... were not at fault in the firefight ... [and] deserve to have their names cleared."

Jones, a Republican whose congressional district includes Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune, has bipartisan backing. Among his supporters are Congressman Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, Congressman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, and Congressman Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat. All three are recent combat veterans who served in the Marines.
 
“These Marines will be old one day, as I am,” said Jones, 74. During a 90-minute press conference to announce the resolution, now pending with the House Armed Services Committee, he connected Fox Company's plight to that of two Marine Corps pilots blamed unfairly for the fatal crash in April 2000 of what was then the service's experimental MV-22 Osprey. It took Jones 14 years to convince the Pentagon to clear their names.

"They need to be vindicated today," he said. "Not fourteen years from now. That's what this is all about: honesty and integrity. War is hell. I've never been there, but when you hear stories like this, ... the war fighter needs to be given the benefit of the doubt."


Fox Company — as the unit's commander, Galvin dubbed it Task Force Violent — was the first from Marine Corps Special Operations Command sent into combat. Military Times documented their experience in a five-part investigative series, titled "Task Force Violent: The unforgiven" and published in 2015. 

The complete account is available here: 






As that investigation revealed, Fox Company had been set up to fail from Day One. The Marines were sent into the war zone dangerously under-resourced only to be orphaned once in theater without a clearly defined mission. After the attack on March 4, 2007, they were portrayed as possible war criminals by the media and senior military commanders more immediately concerned with political fallout than determining ground truth. And when a military tribunal definitively cleared Fox Company's Marines of wrongdoing, their exoneration never received the same degree of media coverage as the initial allegations. That was by design, Galvin believes. 


The experience left many of these men shattered. The stigma has followed them ever since, stunting their military careers and making it difficult for many to find meaningful work in the private sector, said Galvin, who is self employed, having retired from the Marines as a major in 2014. Vindication, he added, would mean they can finally move past the shame and sense of betrayal they still feel.

"I'm glad to see all of these men taking a stand," Galvin said of Jones and the other lawmakers supporting his resolution. "And I hope all Americans who see this will contact their representatives and make them aware."

The Marine Corps has remained mostly silent on the matter, pointing to its legal outcome in suggesting the institution considers the case closed. A spokesman for Neller issued the following statement: 

"The Marine Corps stands by the 2008 decision of then-commander of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, who reviewed the findings of a court of inquiry and concluded that, as it relates to the March 4, 2007, attack, the MSOC-F Marines acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement, and the tactics, techniques and procedures in place at the time in response to a complex attack."

Galvin maintains that this characterization — "acted appropriately" — makes it sound as though he and his men got away with murder.

The proceedings were ordered by Jim Mattis, at the time a three-star Marine general overseeing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He's now President Donald Trump's defense secretary. The court case lasted three weeks. Steve Morgan, a retired lieutenant colonel who in 2008 sat on that judicial panel, has become one of the Marines' most vocal champions. Speaking alongside Jones and Galvin on Thursday, he shot back at critics who have alleged Fox Company got a pass.

"The court of inquiry was not whitewashed, as some have said," said Morgan, who also saw intense battle in Afghanistan. "I would not dare give General Mattis a whitewashed product. No one would."

Gallego, who at 37 is serving his second term in the House, fought in Iraq with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. The Ohio-based reserve unit would become one of the war's hardest hit, losing several dozen men between 2005 and 2006. Despite his political differences with Jones, Gallego said, he was drawn to support the Fox Company resolution because it's a Marine's duty to help other Marines in need.

He offered only brief remarks Thursday, but sought to show solidarity with Galvin and his men. What's befallen them, Gallego said, must not be allowed to happen to others.

"I know how scary and confusing war can be. But there's nothing more scary and confusing," he added, "than when your honor is called into question."

Andrew deGrandpre is Military Times' senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief. On Twitter:  @adegrandpre
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