A North Carolina congressman says the Marine Corps is "publicly exonerating" several military veterans it wrongly accused of committing war crimes more than a decade ago in Afghanistan, but those blackballed by the ordeal remain skeptical of the Pentagon's sincerity.
The Marine Corps does not intend to re-examine the case, according to a letter from the Pentagon released Wednesday by Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., although top leaders have signaled their intent to provide counseling and other assistance to the 30 men who say they've suffered personally and professionally as a result of the military's effort to prosecute and imprison them.
"We are concerned to hear of the challenges many members of Fox Company are facing - which are, unfortunately, all too common among our combat veterans," says the letter to Jones from Maj. Gen. Frederick M. Padilla, who serves as staff director for the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Robert B. Neller.
Jones announced the development in a news release. A spokesman for Neller declined to provide further comment, saying Padilla's letter "articulates the service's position."
Fox Company, in 2007, was the first unit deployed into combat from what was then the Marine Corps' new special operations force, MARSOC. After a turbulent first month in Afghanistan, including a hellish battle near the Pakistan border, all 120 elite Marines were expelled from the war zone by U.S. commanders. The 30-man platoon that came under attack was accused of slaughtering civilians, allegations fueled by erroneous media coverage immediately following the shootout and by senior American officials' denunciations - one commander referred to the incident as a "stain" on the military's honor - before all of the facts had been determined.
"Too often, the Marine Corps and the other services don't give the benefit of the doubt to the warfighter," Jones told The Washington Post, reflecting on his successful 14-year effort to clear the names of two deceased pilots falsely held responsible for a crash that left 19 service members dead. "This, to me, has always been an issue of fairness. Soldiers support soldiers. Marines support Marines. . . . After so many years, I am grateful the commandant wrote me this letter vindicating what Fox Company did during that firefight."
The Marines were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in 2008 after a military court examined the case. At the time, a three-star general concluded the troops had "acted appropriately" on the battlefield.
But that phrase has been misinterpreted inside and outside the military to mean "we got away with murder," says Fred Galvin, 48, Fox Company's commander during the deployment. The general's determination was announced on the eve of a long holiday weekend, he notes, calling the timing a deliberate move to bury the story. As a consequence, those assigned to the unit still feel ostracized.
Galvin, a combat decorated officer who retired from the military in 2014, was relieved of command before Fox Company was sent home from Afghanistan. He has condemned the institution for refusing to make a public overture formally absolving the unit, saying it's his obligation as their commanding officer to speak up on behalf of his men.
As Jones explained in a December letter to Neller imploring him to look into the matter, Fox Company's Marines "have not been able to hold jobs, sustain marriages and healthy relationships, and have struggled to maintain a level of mental and emotional health that has caused some to contemplate, or even attempt, to take his own life." Their hardships were documented in a five-part investigative series published in 2015 by Military Times.
Padilla's letter, dated Jan. 19, indicates he directed a subordinate officer in charge of the service's Wounded Warrior Regiment to make contact with Galvin and his men "to ensure they are receiving appropriate and all necessary care and support." As of Wednesday, no one from the Marine Corps had followed up with them, Galvin said.
Separately, Jones is trying to secure another gesture of good faith from the military: uniform badges designating Fox Company's eligible members Marine Raiders, as the service's commandos are known. Much like the coveted trident worn by Navy SEALs, the Raider insignia is a gold-colored device that represents the arduous training one must complete to earn the elite status.
The Raiders' motto, Spiritus Invictus, is emblazoned on the badge. Translated from Latin, it means unconquerable spirit. Marine Raiders began wearing the device in 2016, long after most members of Fox Company had moved on.
"These Marines: They've earned that," Galvin said. "It'll be a sign to others that we've been brought back into the fold, that we're in good standing. It'll make all the difference in the world, and the commandant doesn't have to say a word."
A Pentagon official said the Marine Corps has not ruled out allowing them to apply for the device.
Washington Post News Service (DC)