On 6 June, 2011, the men from Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion were patrolling near a village in Afghanistan’s Sangin Valley. That morning, all women, children, and livestock could be observed quickly evacuating the village, an occurrence termed “mass exodus,” which preceded all significant attacks against the Marines. This was observed by three surveillance aircraft, two platoons from Bravo Company, and another platoon providing support from the high ground in an overwatch position held by Charlie Company.
Suddenly, the Marines and corpsmen of Bravo Company began taking well-coordinated fire from no less than 20-24 enemy fighters. The attack included a barrage of RPGs, medium machine guns, mortars, and AK-47 fire. Additionally, fire was coming from four different fighting positions simultaneously—some as close as 36 meters from the American troops. This distance was confirmed by a laser range finder, and later walked out on foot by a team leader. This complex ambush would carry on for four hours during broad daylight. By the end of the firefight, the enemy was utilizing 14 known fighting positions and, at one point, had enveloped Bravo Company, 1st Platoon by 200° and closed the coordinated attack on the Marines from 375 meters to 36 meters.
Upon receiving initial contact, the recon platoon commanders maneuvered their men into a position to assault the enemy. As the battle intensified, 1st Platoon found themselves in a canal which masked their movement from enemy forces, but in-turn restricted their own movement unless they were willing to incur significant casualties.
The on-scene commander (Bravo Company Commander, Captain Earnhardt) quickly requested a Troops in Contact (TIC) from their battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Travis Homiak. This request was specifically for external fire support to provide relief for the men who were now pinned down. Available to support Bravo Company was a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) battery, and close air support options including a section of two USMC AV-8B Harriers, one USAF MQ-9 armed Reaper drone Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) and a single USMC KC-130J with a Harvest Hawk weapons platform.
Also at the disposal of Bravo Company was the expertise of their Battalion Operations Officer, Major Fred Galvin – an experienced JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller), and veteran Reconnaissance Man who was well-versed in coordinating close air support. LtCol Homiak’s initial recommendation was for the use of overhead plunging fire from a MK-19 automatic 40mm grenade launcher manned by Charlie Company in the highly elevated mountain overwatch position. Maj Galvin recommended that a different technique be used because of the risks associated with this method – particularly the close proximity of the friendly forces to the enemy.
The Marines of Charlie Company were not properly trained on the ballistic effects of firing a lobbed weapon from such high elevation. Additionally, Charlie Company had not yet test fired that actual MK-19 during their entire pre-deployment workup period, nor while in Afghanistan to confirm that specific weapon’s accuracy, which would have undoubtedly led to casualties at that distance. Maj Galvin knew that there was a more precise alternative which could be utilized immediately, yet LtCol Homiak dismissed that recommendation and instead carried on talking to the Battalion Air Officer, an EA-6B Prowler (Electronic Warfare Platform pilot, who had no previous live CAS experience in combat) about possibly using aviation ordnance from the AV-8Bs instead. As a result of the delays brought on by Homiak’s insatiable concern for the safety of Afghan civilians, he in turn left his own Marines on the ground and under heavy fire for an extended period of time.
Maj Galvin reminded LtCol Homiak that they had significantly smaller munitions available from the UAS and Harvest Hawk – such as laser-guided Hellfire missiles with a 10 lb shape charge, or even the AK-130 Javelin-Griffin missile with a 4 lb shape charge. This recommendation was also dismissed while LtCol Homiak shifted to repeatedly asking his staff judge advocate whether there were any civilians in the area, to which the answer was “no.” At that point, LtCol Homiak turned again to his Air Officer about utilizing a 500 lb GBU-54 laser-guided bomb (a munition consisting of 250 lbs of high explosives surrounded by 250 lbs of steel) which is designed to kill personnel by detonating the explosives and sending shrapnel in three dimensions. All of these aviation platforms were on station at the time of determining the proper fire support solution. LtCol Homiak turned to Maj Galvin once again and asked what he thought, to which Maj Galvin, a former MAWTS-1 Weapons and Tactics Instructor who had controlled over 2,000 live air strikes, again recommended using a smaller munition due to their drastically lower probability of incapacitation (Pi) of friendly forces as well as being more proportional to the current enemy threat that was faced by Bravo Company.
SOFREP spoke with former USMC Cobra Pilot and FAC (Forward Air Controller), Dave Blassingame, who served on multiple combat tours. Blassingame had this to say in regards to Homiak’s decisions:
“In training or combat, you have safe distances (Pi) for every piece of ordnance, and they are in place for a reason. The distance that the GBU was dropped in this instance was well outside of the recommended probability of incapacitation for that particular ordnance. When considering the available options for munitions that could have been used, it was ridiculous to use a 500-pound bomb.
Even a novice should be able to recognize the logic behind using a Hellfire or Griffin instead – unless you just don’t care. In my opinion, Homiak falls into that category. It is morally and professionally reprehensible to be advised against doing something that could inflict casualties on Americans, only to ignore it. Why would Homiak do what he did? It is about self-preservation. The media will not crucify a commander for getting American troops killed, but they will if that commander kills Afghan civilians. They care more about civilians than dead Marines, and Homiak knew that. He was so concerned with not killing civilians that he would rather leave his Marines in harm’s way by repeated delays in dropping requested ordnance when he could have used a Hellfire almost immediately, but he opted not to. As a Cobra Pilot and JTAC with experience in using proper fires, I can unequivocally say that Homiak made the wrong choice across the board.”
The following document was in effect for all units in Afghanistan at the time, concerning the Risk Estimate Distances of using the GBU-54 (500 lb) bomb. Depending on the angle of attack of the aircraft, releasing the ordnance being greater or less than a 69-degree dive, the weapon cannot be utilized inside of either 130 meters (if greater than 69 degrees), or 170 meters (if less than 68 degrees.)
LtCol Homiak communicated with the Bravo Platoon Commander for another assessment of their current situation on the ground, and again Capt Earnhardt requested immediate fire support. After further delays to assess the situation that ultimately totaled over 50 minutes since the beginning of the ambush, LtCol Homiak directed the Battalion Air Officer to use a GBU-54, a weapon containing over 62 times the amount of high explosives than smaller available laser guided missiles he was recommended, on a specified enemy compound. After communications were made with the pilots, LtCol Homiak again requested confirmation that no civilians were in the area. Following that was another request by LtCol Homiak to his Watch Officer to ensure that Bravo Company still wanted to request fire support – to which the answer was affirmative.
As the lead Harrier approached the target, LtCol Homiak abruptly directed the battalion Air Officer and Fire Support Planner to “abort” the strike mission so that the target location could be recalculated using precision targeting software system – another delay for the troops who were still under heavy fire. The ordnance (a single 500 lb GBU-54) would not finally be dropped until over 50 minutes from the initial request for fire support was made. During the release of the bomb on the targeted building, LtCol Homiak stated that he believed enemy forces would give up and flee and that the engagement would end as a result. However, in the time that it took for the bomb to be dropped, the enemy had vacated the building only to take up fighting positions elsewhere in an adjoining building to the one that was destroyed. Bravo Company would later conduct a battle damage assessment (BDA) that produced no blood trails or enemy personal effects in the building that was originally attacked by the first bomb – which detonated a mere 36 meters from 1st Platoon. The entire platoon should have been under theater-wide concussion protocol from the massive effect that the bomb had on them, but it was simply ignored by the command.
Still, the battle would continue to rage on for the men of 1st Platoon who were pinned down in the canal by the enemy’s heavy volume of fire. 1st Platoon SARC (Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman) Anthony Bunkley had this to say,
I mentioned the concussion protocol to higher in my CASREP but I was engaging targets, treating a casualty, and trying to re-orient myself. I brought it up again later in the evening, but mission had priority and I’m not sure how far that went up the chain. Needless to say, given our proximity to all three ordnance detonations, not including the RPGs and mortars from the enemy, we should have been pulled out and given a minimum 24hr concussion observation prior to any follow-on missions.”
Click here to listen to audio of the GBU-54 blast, recorded by a 1st Platoon member who was actually inside the canal.
As the enemy closed in on 1st Platoon, Capt Earnhardt again requested fire support from the Battalion Commander – this time on a new known enemy fighting position. The AV-8B Harriers were now unavailable because they had to refuel, so the remaining assets were the HIMARS rocket battery capable of firing 650 lb rockets, one armed Reaper drone capable of firing laser guided Hellfire missiles with 10 lbs of high explosive ordnance designed to utilize overpressure to defeat threats instead of detonating shrapnel for hundreds of meters, and one KC-130 with Harvest Hawk with its weapons platform, capable of firing a laser guided Griffin missile with only 4 lbs of high explosive ordnance also designed to defeat threats using overpressure instead of sending steel shrapnel in 3 dimensions for dozens of meters. After another lengthy deliberation and selection process, LtCol Homiak, who had never received any formal close air support training throughout his entire career as an intel officer, again chose the largest available munitions even after asking Maj Galvin for his opinion which was to the contrary.
In spite of the “danger close” range for friendly forces, two 675 lb HIMAR warheads were fired at the enemy position – only 70 meters from the men of 1st Platoon – this time killing the enemy inside as later confirmed during a BDA. That particular munition has a probability of incapacitation of 180 meters (Pi: 1:100) and Pi of 1:1000 of 230 meters, which is significantly greater than the Hellfire or Griffin missiles that Maj Galvin again recommended.
Below is video footage of the actual GBU-54 bomb drop as well as both of the HIMARS fires (video courtesy of Marines from 3rd Recon Bn).
The men of 1st Platoon are only alive today because the canal was micro-terrain and they happened to find it even though the small elevation reliefs were not shown on a map in the operations center. In the heat of battle, the Battalion Command did not know they were in a canal at the time, thus making Homiak’s decision for repeatedly using the highest yielding ordnance against the recommendation of his most experienced officer qualified to control aviation and surface fired ordnance, the worst decision possible. To compound the negligent decision-making, LtCol Homiak authorized that not just one HIMARS (675 lb rocket) be fired on enemy forces 70 meters away from his own Marines but that two HIMARS rockets be fired, which were fired in “open sheaf” formation. This decision by Homiak, of spreading the effects of the high explosives and shrapnel from the two rockets across an even greater distance, again was the most illogical fire support decision with Marines fighting at close proximity and with the platoon not reporting to the Battalion Operations Center that they were behind any cover.
SOFREP spoke to a retired Marine Corps Gunner (otherwise known as an Infantry Weapons Officer) who offered this expert opinion on the situation,
For even an 81 mm mortar, 36 meters from friendly forces is incredibly close and dangerous, but when you start talking about HIMARS or a GBU – just the pressure and blast waves alone at that close range would be debilitating. It makes no sense in this particular situation to go straight to a GBU-54 when a more appropriately sized ordnance could have been used to break contact and allow friendly troops to move. The magnitude of the explosive power used is just shocking when thinking that an extra meter could have meant the death of these Marines. I could never imagine using something that large and that close to friendly forces in a situation like this unless it was the absolute last resort, which in this case it was not.
If this decision would have been made during a training exercise or virtually any other forward-deployed situation like this, the commander who made that call would have been relieved immediately. That is how serious the situation is. The probability of error alone should have required a different solution. What happened here is performing surgery with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel.”
As the firefight raged on, the platoon commanders for both 1st and 2nd Platoon requested approval for yet more fire support on an enemy fighting position. At this point, LtCol Homiak emotionally stated to Maj Galvin that he would not approve any further fire support or close air support missions. His reasoning for this? The platoon commanders were simply not effectively maneuvering. His recommendation was that the platoon commanders would have to move forward, or disengage to re-engage the enemy. With that final statement from LtCol Homiak he denied any further fire support after the second fire mission, despite the request from Bravo Company.
The following morning, LtCol Homiak reinforced his poor decision making with another horrible choice (prior to Homiak ever speaking with anyone in Bravo Company, 1st Platoon), where he ordered Maj Galvin to repeat that same fire support mission with overkill munitions on future occasions, as Homiak stated he was, “willing to sacrifice the lives of the Marines, for the greater good.” Additionally, Homiak stated that if Maj Galvin had a “crisis of conscience” with supporting and carrying out his plan in his absence, he needed to know.
Galvin expressed to Homiak that in situations such as the attack on Bravo Company, where no civilians were in the area and the enemy were clearly defined, it was warranted to use precision-guided weapons with low yield, especially within the restraints of the Coalition’s Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN) Strategy. Homiak disagreed and again stated his preference to restrict the further use of fires, in spite of the fact that Marines and Sailors might be killed as a result. In fact, Homiak reiterated his sentiment to Galvin a second time that he was “willing to sacrifice the lives of the Marines, for the greater good.” Galvin later took a polygraph test examined by T. V. O’Malley, who was the President of the American Polygraph Association, which confirmed that this statement was true.
As a result of their differences, and Galvin’s unwillingness to needlessly risk sacrificing American lives, knowing that order to be unethical and unlawful, Galvin requested to be relieved as the battalion’s Operations Officer because he could not in good conscience comply with an unlawful order to needlessly risk American lives by selecting weapons with disproportionately high explosive yields or deny fires when Marines needed fire support that was capable of precisely targeting the enemy. Homiak’s immediate response was, “then effective immediately you are relieved of your duties.”
Galvin drafted up official and protected letters to 88 members of the HASC, SASC, various US Senators and Congressmen from his home state of Kansas, and his III MEF Inspector General within his chain of command – asking them to investigate the incident with LtCol Homiak.
Congressman Walter B. Jones (North Carolina) took action and requested that an investigation take place. The response to Congressman Jones by the Deputy Commandant for the Office of Legislative Affairs, then Brigadier General Rudder, stated, “I’m commenting for the Commandant of the Marine Corps.” He also states that they, “conducted an investigation.” The problem is that nobody was ever assigned as an “investigating officer,” nor was anyone from 1st or 2nd Platoon asked any questions about the 6 June 2011 bomb drop. This was confirmed by various servicemen who were with Bravo Company during the incident. If an investigation had taken place, you’d think that the men involved from Bravo Company, 1st Platoon may have been asked questions. It never happened, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, General James Amos “white-washed” a false official response in December 2011 to a member of Congress and member of the House Armed Services Committee, a felony offense.
What happened next was an order by III MEF to send Fred Galvin to a Board of Inquiry (BOI) with the intent to involuntarily kick him out of the service. Intent on expediting the process, the original order initiating the BOI was signed on Sunday, Christmas Day of 25 Dec 2011 by the Deputy Commandant of Manpower and Reserve Affairs (then LtGen Milstead). He literally came into his office on a Christmas 96-hour holiday liberty period to sign this order initiating the process to involuntarily separate Galvin from service after he had served over 24 years in the Marine Corps. All of this due to Galvin’s request via protected communications through Congressman Jones’ office to obtain a copy of the “alleged investigation,” into what happened on 6 June 2011 to the Marines of Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion.
SOFREP spoke directly with Congressman Walter B. Jones who had this to say about the situation,
“In my humble opinion there is a clear pattern, particularly under the leadership of General Amos, that there is no real effort to get to the bottom of the truth in matters such as this. Upon reading General Rudder’s response, I remember thinking it was clear that the office of the Commandant was not interested in dealing with this matter properly. General Amos’ standard tactic seemed to be to give a short answer and then hope that the issue would go away – not to follow the best course of action for the accused Marines, along with giving them the benefit of the doubt from the beginning.”
However, for Galvin’s communication on 13 December 2011 to Congressman Jones’ office asking that the HQMC provide a copy of the “alleged investigation,” Galvin was ordered on 25 December 2011 by LtGen Milstead to be sent to an involuntary separation board. The BOI found the allegations of “sub-standard” performance leveled at Maj Galvin to be unsubstantiated based on the preponderance of the evidence, and found that there was no evidence of anything that warranted his separation from the military. The Marines who were brought in for questioning and examination overwhelmingly testified of Galvin’s ability to lead effectively with a quality work ethic and sound tactics. This method of sending a Marine Major to an involuntary separation board through a Board of Inquiry for, “Substandard Performance,” had been investigated by the DOD IG’s office as a tactic that had never before in the history of the Marine Corps been utilized in an attempt to remove a major from active service. The board concluded with a recommendation that the case be closed as a result. In fact, more than one of those questioned during the BOI stated on record that if they had the choice, they would want their own sons (who were active Marines) to serve under Fred Galvin.
Although this case differs from the corporate scandals such as Enron which lost $60 billion through leaders at all levels turning a blind eye to corruption, it is widely documented that in corporations where whistleblowers who report corruption receive career ending reprisals from their organizations. The COIN pushing commanders in these wars have wasted over $1 trillion as well as left America with the loss of over 6,800 service members’ lives and tens of thousands wounded in action. Do these commanders believe in COIN so much to allow their wives and children to relax in a B&B in Bagram after a decade and a half of winning hearts and minds? You will never see any of these commanders put any of their skin in the game by booking a quaint room for their mistress in Mazar-i-Sharif. The COIN commanders circa 2011 sold slick sounding words of “reintegrating” the tired Taliban forces back into society as they stated the Taliban desired. Has this happened? Well the Taliban and ISIS have spread their influence all across Afghanistan due to the failed COIN strategy, while no commander has been held accountable for the gross failure of this inept strategy.
GySgt Owen Mulder, a well-respected and retired 0321, witnessed the 2012 Board of Inquiry to separate Galvin, firsthand. He had this to say to SOFREP,
Although I never worked directly under LtCol Homiak, I am certainly aware of the opinion of Marines who have served under him, and the well-known arrogance and superiority that Homiak showed toward Reconnaissance Marines. After the 6 June incident, junior Marines on subsequent deployments were fearful of going into their first combat deployments under his leadership. Some of the more seasoned veterans who served under him opted to leave the service instead of continuing under his oppressive, careless style of leadership. So many great 0321’s are no longer serving because of the negative impact he had on their careers. In contrast, Homiak made it very clear that his focus was to get through the deployment without controversy with favor toward the COIN strategy so he could get promoted, versus actually being successful against the enemy.
During the board of inquiry, it was the first time I had the chance to personally hear Homiak speak. Fred Galvin was the most desired platoon commander in the west coast Recon units where he had served with distinction, and everyone wanted to serve in his platoon because of the great reputation he garnered. Galvin’s men knew they would have a better chance of survival with him in charge, due to his thoroughness in training. There were no unnecessary risks taken with Galvin – risks were taken, sure – but they were always calculated and with the platoon’s best interest in mind. His integrity is second to none. He is one of a handful of officers that truly believed and lived out everything that a Marine officer should embody. When I heard he was coming home from the deployment early and knowing that Homiak was in charge, I knew that something wasn’t right and it certainly wasn’t an issue with Galvin’s competency. When the Marines of 3rd Recon Battalion came back from that deployment, I had never seen such a bitter group of Marines. This was a result of the absurdity displayed by their command on the deployment.
None of the accusations thrown at Galvin could touch his fitness for being able to train and effectively lead – because it was indisputable that he was an excellent officer in that regard. The board deliberated for the minimum amount of time that they were required to take (45 minutes), and then they unanimously decided that Major Galvin was in fact fit to retain his commission. Rumor has it, the board came to a conclusion so quickly that they used their remaining time in that 45-minute window to have lunch and catch up as they waited for time to expire.”
Upon returning to Okinawa after the 2011 deployment, the 3rd Recon Battalion Command had caught wind of the morale issues plaguing the unit, and was under investigation by the Headquarters Marine Corps Inspector General’s office regarding the morale complaints.
The command Sergeant Major sent word for a representative from each platoon in Bravo and Charlie company to attend a meeting to discuss what was going on. One former recon Marine, Sergeant Nick Schmidt, had this to say,
“Once we got to the classroom for the meeting and waited for a few minutes, instead of the Sergeant Major, in walks LtCol Homiak. Homiak had mislead us on purpose as he often did. This speaks to honesty and character…you never lie to your troops. Homiak stated that he wanted our perspective on why morale was so low, but we all were hesitant to bring up anything too heavy at first for fear of reprisal. Finally, I asked him about one particular instance where a dog handler Marine was killed by an IED that was just outside our base (Patrol Base Alcatraz) in Afghanistan. After that incident, our company was accused by the Commanding Officer of being responsible for that casualty because we were supposedly not being diligent enough on our post. The thing is, we had reported night movement outside the wire, but were ordered by the Command not to engage because it was “probably just a farmer” – even though we could see them placing IEDs night after night and reported this to the Combat Operations Center (COC).
We were told that we were not authorized to shoot. When I confronted Homiak about it, he responded by saying that under the Rules of Engagement we were in fact authorized to shoot. I reminded him that we were ordered not to, and that he would have hammered us if we had disobeyed his order. He acknowledged that yes, he would have disciplined a Marine for breaking an order even though the Marine was authorized under the ROE and should have engaged the target. Homiak noted that he heard my point, but clearly defended the paradox he created for the entire command. Refusing to take responsibility, he moved on like he didn’t care.”
The COIN strategy of winning hearts and minds is generally targeted at Afghan nationals who live a life devoted to sharia law, which opposes democracy – not respecting the lives of American service members, which in tribal meetings between the locals and military leaders, the Afghan elders would openly call the Marines, “infidels.” When a leader truly believes that he has absolute and unchecked power, as well as American lives being less important in the grand scheme of things, then decisions such as using untimely, inaccurate, inappropriate and disproportionate fire support solutions are implemented. Homiak was willing to take risks with the lives of American service members, but he was not willing to take risks with his career by quickly using smaller munitions to support the Marines who needed it.
So dedicated was LtCol Homiak to this COIN strategy that was an abject failure, he was found to be suppressing information in his daily IntSum (Intelligence Summary) reports to the Division HQ. Specifically, Homiak took information from Recon teams of homes they searched and found opium processing and bomb making facilities, and sent reports to higher headquarters that excluded that information to make it appear that all was well in Sangin Valley in 2011. His message that COIN was working couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Former Law Enforcement Professional (LEP), Tony Mangum, was on foot with the men of Bravo Company during the 6 June ambush, and he had this to say about the deployment,
“My job was primarily to help with searches, site exploitation, and tactical questioning, among other things with 3rd Recon during the deployment. In regards to the ambush, it was like I was in a movie. I was with 2nd Platoon when we began taking fire, and I was stuck in the middle of a road taking cover inside a large pothole with bullets cracking all around me. Tree branches were falling off of the trees behind me due to the volume of fire. Two Recon Marines bravely stood exposed to the fire from their waist up and returned fire long enough for me to reach proper cover – but not before I went through a magazine and a half of my own through well-aimed shots. We had just witnessed the mass exodus of civilians from the buildings we were taking fire from, but it still took an eternity for our fire support to materialize because Homiak was worried about killing civilians we knew weren’t even there.
As soon as the GBU dropped, we all knew that something was wrong. We knew Major Galvin was there, and it was the only thing that gave the Marines some peace of mind – we knew we’d be ok if he was there. His Marines loved him. Once Galvin left, it was all downhill from there. It was pretty clear to me that Homiak did not give a crap about his Marines – he regularly destroyed their morale.
It was very difficult to work under LtCol Homiak’s command because there was such a disconnect between what we were finding on the ground and what the Battalion command felt was going on – in spite of the reports that we were giving them. For example, we captured some weapons that belonged to a group of Taliban fighters, but Homiak literally gave them right back not long after they were confiscated. One of those Taliban members had forensic evidence tied to him as being a bomb-maker. Homiak was so consumed with his COIN strategy that all he cared about was making the village elders happy in a misguided attempt to win their hearts and minds. If the village elders, some whom were clearly corrupt, asked for something then Homiak would do it in spite of any evidence we found that proved it was a bad idea.
Other instances involved enemy fighters, some who signed sworn statements (in Pashtun) admitting that they were Taliban sympathizers, fighters, and bomb-makers. Homiak released countless men like this. One particular instance involved a known, high-level Taliban commander and IED maker that happened to be related to one of the district elders. Weapons that belonged to him were confiscated, but due to his ties to the district elder Homiak ordered that they be returned – not handed over to the Afghan Army, but returned to the Taliban commander in an effort to strengthen ties with that village elder.
Another instance involved a captured suspect who admitted to have been a trained bomb maker. The suspect admitted to having received formal training in a compound in Kajaki, and that he was trained to identify coalition uniforms, vehicles, and aircraft. Also that in their training they are taught to either be a spotter or the actual bomb placer. He also told them where he was trained, and even who recruited him. This should have warranted being sent on for further questioning, but Homiak again released him. Talk about a morale killer for the Marines of 1st and 2nd Platoon.
There was a constant conflict between what we were reporting on the ground, and with what the Intel section was reporting to the Commander. I would regularly bring up questions about the discrepancies, but they were just ignored. Homiak’s Marines were getting shot while doing the work on the ground, and it seemed it was all for nothing sometimes.
Once he even sent me and some Marines out to do a battle damage assessment at night – under white lights – after we had been in a firefight for most that day. Who does that at night in Afghanistan? There was no need to be exposed to that level of risk just to find some enemy bodies. It could have been done in the morning, but Homiak did not care. If I ever objected, Battalion command would basically say, “do your job or go home”. I couldn’t just go home and leave the platoon there, so I stayed.
Because of Homiak’s willingness to “sacrifice Marines”, we spent the rest of the deployment as gunfighters, not a reconnaissance platoon. We could never rely on supporting fires or emergency evacuations, and some of our men paid for it with their own blood. It wasn’t that we needed bombs dropped just to destroy things, but in some cases it would be to disrupt things so the platoons could maneuver.”
The enemy situation in Sangin valley, which reconnaissance Marines reported to Homiak and his staff, was being continuously distorted in the filtered reports to the Division Operations and Intelligence staffs to create a perception that an incredible wave of peace suddenly broke out across the most violent area in Afghanistan all because of COIN. Homiak’s media spin campaign used the precise words that his superiors wanted to hear, such as “These guys just want someone to talk to…we’ve gotten a lot out of being nice to people.” Still, it landed him an eventual promotion to Colonel, a seat at a top level military school and a job at the Pentagon.
Unfortunately, as the Marines withdrew from this area a year later, the peace loving locals strangely returned to all being Taliban again. Countless naïve American military counterfeit commanders who never personally fired a round at the unrelenting Taliban were completely fooled by Afghan tribal elders talking about “peace” prior to the 2014 announced withdraw. Did the Taliban actually seek peace, or was it money instead? Tribal elders were smart enough to take a break and let the Americans believe the Taliban was tired and wanted peace – in exchange for reconstruction project money while they could get the cash prior to America’s mass withdrawal in 2014. This later proved how foolish these American counterfeit commanders were when Sangin reverted back to Taliban control upon the American’s retrograde.
In 2010, as a result of one Commanding Officers’ hesitation, three Reconnaissance Marines from 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion were denied emergency extraction when they were being overrun by Taliban fighters, and those three Marines were all tortured, shot in the head, and had their bodies thrown over a cliff as a result. LtCol Homiak had dubious ties to that incident. After a 2010 post-deployment debrief, LtCol Homiak was asked by a fellow Marine Officer (who wishes to remain anonymous) if he was going to address this issue with the CO of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines who denied the emergency extract of the Marines from 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion who were brutally killed, and LtCol Homiak stated, “No, I may have to work for that guy some day.”
It was observed by many in the 3rd Recon Battalion community that Homiak had a severe ego problem as well as a small man’s complex, which he completely overcompensated for by trying to impress others. In Afghanistan, a lot of guys will chew and some guys will often sit around (instead of work) and smoke stogies. For Homiak, he regularly tried to overcompensate by not just chewing, he went one step further and had an entire side of his mouth completely bulged out by chaw. Then when others would smoke stogies, he had to one-up everyone there too. He had the foresight of bringing a corn-cob pipe to the party. He wanted to show everyone that he was ‘old-school’ just like General MacArthur.
Also, since Homiak felt small in comparison to the recon Marines, he would regularly continue in his attempts to further demoralize them by assigning them to base security immediately after they returned from a 1-2 day patrol. This started as soon as 3rd Recon began to operate in June (summer in scorching Sangin Valley). Homiak identified more with the Marines who were not 0321’s and he often gave the non-0321’s a break. The non-0321’s didn’t leave the wire nearly as often as the 0321’s and didn’t face the threats of Sangin Valley, and the 0321s would come back off of patrol completely exhausted from the heat and their heavy body armor, only to be immediately assigned to perimeter security.
This was a constant source of frustration for the 0321s who were trying to recover. Additionally, Homiak imposed mass punishments across the entire battalion if he learned of anyone who would defecate in a “wag-bag” and didn’t immediately put on full body armor to go run out to the burn pit and instantly dispose of it. This literally became the Battalion CO and SgtMaj’s primary mission in life – to patrol the camp and see if anyone had taken a crap and not instantaneously donned full body armor to sprint to the burn pit and throw their wag-bag away. Even at night, Homiak and his SgtMaj (Arvizu) literally would use the GBOSS (Ground Based Operational Surveillance System) to search across the camp looking for warm wag-bags (this is not a joke). Homiak was very successful with his strange fetish of searching for “criminal defecators,” and once he did he would always announce his edict to the battalion of having everyone go to full PPE (wearing of complete body armor) for 24-48 hours. This dictator-esque type of executive order had life threatening implications as the 0321s who would come off of a 1-2 day patrol and then were sent to the perimeter security would now not be able to mentally and physically recover prior to their next patrol due to having to wear body armor (vest, throat protection and helmet) due to Homiak’s decree.
One anonymous source had this to say about the 2011 deployment,
“On 6 June, it took over an hour for us to get air support even though we were taking small arms fire and fire from RPGs, DSHK machine guns, and RPKs. Homiak once talked about denying air support by bragging how little they had to use it during the deployment. He often bragged how Bravo Company held a battle space that was typically reserved for a full infantry battalion, but the problem was we weren’t really able to do our jobs as a result because we weren’t the same size as a regular infantry battalion. In his mind we were doing great things as a battalion, but we always had the general feeling that the Afghan nationals were more valuable in his eyes than we were. It was a commonly known among us that he did not care for 0321’s.
Once we returned to base (Patrol Base Alcatraz) from the 6 June ambush, we found out what happened to Major Galvin, and then the assault on our morale really began to pick up. If you went to the restroom to use a wag-bag, you had to wear your full kit – even though the restroom area was well-inside a berm that provided protection from direct fire. Once, a Marine was caught not wearing his kit when using the restroom, so for the next 24 hours the entire company had to wear full kit inside the compound. In another case, there was a punishment handed down where there had to be a “firewatch” at the restroom area to make sure that Marines properly disposed of their wag-bags.
This is the type of problem that occurs when you take a Marine who doesn’t know anything about reconnaissance or the infantry, and you put him in charge of an entire Recon Battalion. It makes no sense.”
Homiak was fixated on his next promotion at the time, and he has now been selected for a promotion to 0-6 (full-bird colonel) in 2016. One of the areas that Homiak sought to ensure his promotion was by obtaining a Bronze Star with “V” for valor, or as the military’s award system states, for “heroism”. Any award with a “V” has to have two sworn statements of witnesses who observed the act of valor. Although he went out with the platoons quite a few times, Marines interviewed for this article never witnessed Homiak engage in any sort of heroic actions during this deployment, let alone even fire his weapon.
Homiak abused his authority and in the process received a bronze star with “V”, was sent to the National War College (the most prestigious top level school for military officers), and is now up for an O-6 level command within the Marine Special Operations community this summer – in spite of never having attended MARSOC’s Assessment and Selection (A&S) or Individual Training Course (ITC). Homiak also holds the MOS for a Ground Reconnaissance Officer despite reportedly never completing the Basic Reconnaissance Course. A week prior to this article’s release, SOFREP reached out to Homiak directly to confirm and we were directed to the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office, where a request was made by phone. At the time of this article being published, a response has not been provided. The question that the fathers and mothers of Americans must ask is are you willing to sit back again and have, “your own” – sons, brothers, husbands, and friends – sacrificed for the “greater good” by men like Homiak to support their COIN philosophy?
The Marines from 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion had their voices heard at the end of the 2011 deployment through a 3rd Marine Division directed command climate investigation, in which Marines vented to the Division Commander but the investigation was ultimately ignored. One of the tenants in the British Royal Marine Commandos is the guarantee that every Royal Marine Commando is owed “competent command.” US Marines also need the same guarantee. To ensure a commander such as Homiak is not again selected for Colonel command, which he is being screened for this month, viewers are asked to contact their lawmakers to request complete copies of the following:
- The 3rd Marine Division Command Climate investigation into LtCol Homiak’s leadership style which was conducted by all members of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in 2012.
- The “alleged investigation” stated from Brigadier General Rudder who was, “speaking for the Commandant of the Marine Corps,” regarding the investigation into the 6 June 2011 complex attack on Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Sangin, Afghanistan.
The people of the United States of America deserve to know what these men stated to have occurred on this deployment, and they deserve to have the sons and daughters of America led by competent commanders.
Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121