A senior lawmaker is hailing the Marine Corps for reviewing a decade-old case in which members of a MARSOC company were accused of murdering civilians in Afghanistan, and publicly affirming a full exoneration of the unit. But the commanding officer of the unit in question believes the service should go further to show its support.
Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee, announced Wednesday he had received a letter from the service confirming the innocence of the Marines assigned to an element they called Task Force Violent.
The letter also promised to follow up with the troops through the Corps' Wounded Warrior Regiment, tasked with caring for the service's wounded, ill and injured service members.
The incident in question took place on March 4, 2007, during the first deployment to Afghanistan for Marine Special Operations Company Foxtrot.
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A 30-man element from the unit was ambushed while on a mounted patrol in Bati Kot, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Initial reports painted the setup as the precursor of a war crime, in which Marines killed as many as 19 civilians and wounded dozens more.
The company's commander, Maj. Fred Galvin, was relieved, and the unit sent home early from Afghanistan.
Ultimately, a 2008 Marine Corps internal inquiry would find the Marines had acted appropriately, but members of the unit would continue to feel the stigma of the damning earlier accounts of their actions.
A five-piece Military Times series in 2015 documented the efforts of Galvin and the other Marines of Task Force Violent to publicly clear their names, even years after the scandal.
Last February, Jones held a Capitol Hill press conference urging the Corps to release a document publicly certifying that the Marines of Fox Company, and particularly a group closest to the events, known as the MARSOC 7, were not at fault in the fight at Bati Kot.
"When you hear this story and this truth, you see our Marines were never given the benefit of the doubt," Jones said at the event. "Our brave Marines put their lives on the line, just to have their names dragged through the mud. It is time these men be vindicated fully."
The letter from the Marine Corps, dated Jan. 19, is in large part a simple reference back to the service's formal exoneration of Fox Company in 2008.
"Unless there is new and relevant information that was not known at the time, I fear there is nothing to be gained by revisiting the events of March 4, 2007, in order to re-state the conclusions of the Court of Inquiry a decade later," Maj. Gen. Frederick Padilla, staff director for the Marine Corps, wrote in the service's official response.
However, the letter did note that the Corps had reviewed the matter. And Padilla expressed empathy, on behalf of the service, for what the Marines had been through.
"We are concerned to hear of the challenges many members of Fox Company are facing -- which are, unfortunately, far too common among our combat veterans," Padilla wrote. "I have asked the commanding officer of our Wounded Warrior Regiment to follow up with these Marines to ensure they are receiving appropriate and all necessary care and support."
Padilla also reiterated the findings of the court of inquiry, stating in the letter that the Marines' actions had been within the rules of engagement and "reflected sound military judgment."
For Jones, the gesture was sufficient.
"These men have been to hell and back," he said in a statement. "They were bravely serving their country, only to have their personal and professional lives ruined by misinformation and poor timing. I very much appreciate [Marine Corps Commandant] General [Robert] Neller and his staff for taking a look at this case and reiterating that these men did nothing wrong on March 4, 2007."
Reached for comment, Galvin had mixed feelings. The letter sent to Jones was the first time, he said, that the Corps had publicly used the phrase "sound military judgment" with regard to the Marines.
However, he said, none of the Marines within the MARSOC 7 have yet been contacted by the commanding officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
"For 11 years, our Marines in the MARSOC 7 suffered massive financial costs from the trial," Galvin said in an email to Military.com. "One of the 7 suffered cancer, another diabetes, 3/4 divorce, several faced depression and suicidal ideations … when the commandant's office directs, action happens and it doesn't take weeks."
Galvin also called for Neller to offer an additional gesture of support: to publicly award the new Marine raider uniform insignia, adopted by MARSOC in 2015, to the men of the MARSOC 7.
"This sign from the commandant will clear up any issues internal to the Marine Corps which still exist and have slowed and ended promotions for many of the Marines in our first MARSOC unit," he said.