A Marine Special Forces officer has been promoted in retirement after the Navy acknowledged that he was falsely accused of war crimes for leading his men through a terrorist ambush.
The Board for Correction of Naval Records admitted that Marine Maj. Fred Galvin was railroaded when he led the Corps' first special operations unit (MARSOC) into Afghanistan. In March 2007 his unit was attacked by a suicide bomb followed by small arms fire from terrorists. Galvin and his men returned fire, killing 12 enemies, only to see senior military leaders and investigators accuse his men of massacring civilians.
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MARSOC was withdrawn from the region before any investigation was completed. The men were put on trial only to be exonerated after it was discovered that the prosecution "was in possession of overwhelmingly clear evidence" and "suppressed exculpating evidence" that the Marines acted in self-defense. The board found that Maj. Galvin not only acted appropriately but paid a career-ending price for the animosity of senior brass looking for a scapegoat. The report cited one officer's conclusion that Galvin "was beset by a perfect storm of toxic officers."
"The convoy's response was irreproachable… the magnitude of [the initial investigator's] errors cannot be overstated," the report says. "The adverse fitness report is inequitable and unjust because it was not fair to relieve him."
The report said that Galvin should be promoted to lieutenant colonel and given back pay, while also removing the negative reports attached to his record that were associated with the false accusations. Galvin was pleased that the department had finally admitted he was wrongfully accused.
"Findings in this new report from the Pentagon are the full exoneration that has been sought after nearly 12 years," he told the Washington Free Beacon in an email. "False reports not only from locals but up to the Prime Minister of Afghanistan that were publicly reinforced by senior military officers led to our removal from Afghanistan, a criminal investigation, and following trial that left many of the facts unclear as they were never publicly addressed by the Pentagon until today."
The MARSOC Marines were subjected to public humiliation following the attack, which culminated in then-Army Col. John Nicholson telling reporters they were "a stain on our honor." Every in-depth investigation has since exonerated the Marine special operators, but Galvin has continued to campaign for a public apology from the military and Nicholson, who was appointed by President Obama to lead the war in Afghanistan before retiring in 2018.
Retired Col. Steve Morgan was on the three-member Court of Inquiry that cleared Galvin after reviewing the facts of the case. He said he was "ecstatic" to learn that the Navy had finally updated his personnel file to reflect the facts of the case, rather than Taliban propaganda. He said the report was "devastating" to those who tried to scapegoat MARSOC.
"Fred was almost done in by the disgraceful and despicable actions of the senior and peer officers he was serving with," he said. "I can honestly tell you I have never seen a document as devastating as this letter."
Morgan praised Galvin for his perseverance in trying to not only clear his name but for those under his command.
"This just doesn't clear Fred, this clears his Marines," Morgan said. "As I came to know during the Court of Inquiry and have known ever since, Fred's integrity is intact and unquestionable."
Galvin is now seeking to return to the Marine Corps on active duty. His attorney, Raymond Toney, said the board's report should end any doubts about Galvin's ability to lead future troops.
"The Navy has finally acknowledged that there was no massacre and that Major Galvin and his Marines were unfairly punished for the mistakes of senior military leaders," Toney said in a statement. "Fred Galvin is a model Marine and he should be promoted and reinstated."
Galvin has also earned the support of lawmakers. Rep. Walter Jones (R., N.C.) has advocated on behalf of the MARSOC Marines for the past decade. He said the board's report would finally do justice for Galvin, adding that the lieutenant colonel should be able to return to active duty.
"It has been an honor to fight alongside these men to make sure justice was restored for Fred," Jones said. "I have full confidence in his ability to lead and I look forward to seeing his future contributions to the USMC."
A Marine Corps spokesman referred inquiries about Galvin's reinstatement petition to the Navy. A Navy spokeswoman said it does "not comment on pending administrative matters."