Army Denies Major's Appeal to Get Valor Award Back After Trump Pardon

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Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a former Army Special Forces soldier, arrives at the Fort Bragg courtroom facility for an arraignment hearing on Thursday, June 27, 2019. Golsteyn entered a plea of not guilty in the killing of an unarmed Afghan national in 2010. (Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)
Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a former Army Special Forces soldier, arrives at the Fort Bragg courtroom facility for an arraignment hearing on Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)

An Army board has denied a retired Green Beret's request to have a heroism award and Special Forces tab restored after President Donald Trump pardoned him ahead of a federal trial for a murder charge.

Retired Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn said in a statement provided through his lawyer that he learned of the service's decision to deny the award and tab two months after Trump left office. Golsteyn was pardoned by Trump in November 2019 -- one of three high-profile military cases in which the president intervened.

Golsteyn was facing court-martial at the time of the pardon after admitting to killing a suspected bombmaker in Afghanistan in 2010. The man was unarmed at the time.

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The Army Board for Correction of Military Records, or BCMR -- the service's highest level of administrative review for personnel actions -- reviewed and denied Golsteyn's application, Lt. Col. Gabriel Ramirez, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, confirmed. The decision was first reported Wednesday by USA Today.

The Army declined to answer additional questions about the denial, including on the timeline and reasoning, citing privacy laws. Golsteyn had appealed to have his Silver Star, which had been approved for upgrade to a Distinguished Service Cross -- the Army's second-highest valor award -- and his Special Forces tab restored.

Phil Stackhouse, Golsteyn's lawyer, called the Army's decision to deny the appeal "an embarrassment" and "disloyal." The retired major deserves the Distinguished Service Cross, Stackhouse said, and to have his Special Forces tab reinstated.

"It's repugnant that the Army continues to denigrate Matt's heroism on the battlefield," the attorney added.

USA Today reported that the board reached its decision on Golsteyn's award in June. Golsteyn, who received an honorable discharge when he retired and is now the chief of operations at the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the results were released in November but weren't mailed to him until after Trump left office -- a move he said ensures his case will "languish in the quagmire of Presidential transition."

"I remain in utter disbelief that in November 2019, the Commander in Chief, in the presence of the Vice President and White House Counsel, personally told me that my record would be corrected ... yet the Army refused action on what the President and Commander in Chief reinstated," Golsteyn added. "Clearly, we have seen Military Departments obey the direction of the Commander in Chief in other cases and, inexplicably, the Army defied the President."

Golsteyn earned the Silver Star as a captain during a 2010 deployment to Marjah, Afghanistan. He was credited with repeatedly braving enemy fire while attached to a Marine regimental combat team.

"Captain Golsteyn displayed heroic behavior and valor in front of his 80-man patrol during the four grueling hours of heavy combat with a determined enemy force," the award citation states. The Silver Star was revoked in 2015 after officials had approved it to be upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor.

Trump's decision to intervene in the troops' legal cases, which also included those of former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, was met with criticism from military legal experts. Lorance had been convicted of war crimes in Afghanistan and was six years into serving a 19-year sentence. Gallagher, who'd been accused of war crimes during a 2017 deployment to Iraq, was later acquitted of murder but found guilty of posing for a photo with a casualty.

If the Army doesn't reverse the decision to reinstate Golsteyn's award and Special Forces tab, Stackhouse said the next step would be taking the case to federal court. He did not say whether his client is considering that.

Dwight Mears, a military awards researcher who obtained a copy of the review board's decision on Golsteyn, said winning that case in federal court would likely be difficult "because the burden of proof is extraordinarily high to contest BCMR cases."

"It requires proving that it was arbitrary or capricious, and that's an extraordinarily difficult thing to do," Mears said. "The government has to utterly fail to evidence a decision at the [board] to successfully contest it."

That's rare, but not unheard of, he added. Alonzo Swann, one of six Black sailors awarded Bronze Stars after their aircraft carrier, Intrepid, was attacked by kamikaze aircraft in World War II, sued decades later and ultimately saw his award upgraded to the Navy Cross after a judge ruled it was denied in error or "through intentional racial injustice," The Chicago Tribune reported in 1993.

For now, Golsteyn said he's hoping President Joe Biden carries out the promises Trump made to correct his records. Trump did so, Golsteyn added, in front of Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel.

"[The] only question remaining," he added, "[is] will President Biden give comity to the orders of President Trump?"

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: Army Major Pardoned by Trump Wants His Medals, Special Forces Tab Back

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