The president’s pardon of Maj. Matt Golsteyn may not ultimately reinstate his Special Forces tab and Silver Star, both of which were stripped from him in 2015 by a U.S. Army Special Operations Command administrative board.
Several Green Berets who spoke with Army Times said that they doubt the tab will be restored, though Golsteyn’s case has the president’s ear, which is rare.
President Donald Trump issued a full pardon last week to Golsteyn, who was set to stand trial this winter for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bomb-maker. But that pardon doesn’t necessarily mean his military record will be made whole, as the administrative processes that revoked his tab and medal were separate from the judicial process for which he was about to face trial.
“The Army is conducting a review to determine the administrative actions required to fully implement the presidential orders,” said Lt. Col. Emanuel L. Ortiz, an Army Headquarters spokesman, who declined to go into further detail.
Golsteyn’s civilian attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, told Army Times on Sunday that his legal team intends to fight for Golsteyn’s awards and decorations.
“We are asking for reinstatement of everything that was taken from him because that was the president’s intent: to put him back in the position he was prior to the allegations,” Stackhouse said.
Pre-trial pardons are rare and all parties are in somewhat uncharted waters.
Despite being stripped of his Special Forces tab, Golsteyn was photographed wearing his green beret while in uniform as he departed a Fort Bragg courtroom in June. That’s not against policy, though, service officials said.
Golsteyn still holds the job identifier of 18-series, meaning Special Forces, and is authorized to wear the corresponding beret. The awarding of a Special Forces tab is “separate and distinct from the MOS,” said Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a Army special operations spokesman.
Although he retains the designation of Green Beret, some within the community remain staunchly against his 2010 actions.
Mike Nelson, an Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel, said over social media that regardless of the pardon, Special Forces command made the decision “long ago” that Golsteyn “wasn’t one of us.”
“Bottom line, SOF need to have a way to maintain standards and expectations of judgment within the force beyond what is merely legal, and especially just ‘barely this side of what can be proven in a court of law,’ ” Nelson told Army Times, noting that he was speaking his own opinion and not that of Army Special Operations Command. “A tab or a trident is not a lifetime guarantee of being in good standing if you fail to maintain the expectations of the force.”
Another Green Beret disagreed, telling Army Times that the move to ostrasize Golsteyn was premature and the command should have waited to see whether a trial would actually convict him.
“While I’ve never seen them revoke a medal, I’ve certainly seen revoked tabs without waiting to see what the outcome is," said Clay Martin, a retired Army Special Forces sergeant first class.
“I honestly think he would have won at court martial as well," Martin added. "I think it just shows SF command’s willingness to jump up and do anything to avoid a potential political nightmare — just cast a guy out.”
The latest case against Golsteyn was the second time the Army investigated the 2010 incident in Helmand province. An initial probe found insufficient evidence to charge the officer.
However, in 2015, Army documents surfaced, showing that Golsteyn told CIA interviewers during a polygraph test that he had killed an Afghan bomb-maker who allegedly built an IED that killed two Marines out of fear that releasing the prisoner would lead to the death of the Afghan tribal leader who identified him.
After shooting the Afghan man, Golsteyn and two other soldiers later returned to burn the corpse, he told the CIA.
An attorney for Golsteyn called the alleged murder a “fantasy,” though the Army opened a second investigation in 2016 and ultimately charged him with murder in December 2018.
Regardless of the charges levied against Golsteyn, and the narrative of events he told the CIA, Martin still stands by the man’s character. While Martin didn’t deploy with Golsteyn, he did help teach close quarters combat to his Special Forces ODA at one point.
“His boys absolutely loved him, and also, I didn’t know if that was an E-6 or an O-4 in the first few weeks of the course," Martin said. "Coming from a Special Forces NCO, that is a high compliment. That tells me everything I need to know about him as a commander.”
Martin was one of the Green Berets who said that reinstating the tab was unlikely.
“That’s one of the things I’m worried about because the tab revocation is an administrative process," Martin said, adding that he has seen Green Berets who beat the charges against them but were still not given back their tabs.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.