Editor’s note: This article was originally published by SOFREP.com on April 24, 2017. This updated version of the article is being published due to the recent news that now-Colonel Homiak has been selected as the Commander of the Marine Raider Support Group based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. All accounts in this article are based on the statements of men who were on the ground during these incidents or are subject matter experts in their field.

The men of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Marine Recon Battalion first escaped death in the form of a U-shaped ambush by Taliban forces late in the afternoon on June 6, 2011. Then, they escaped death again, this time from a 500-pound GBU-54 laser-guided bomb dropped 34 meters from their position about an hour after they requested supporting fire. The ordnance was well within the danger-close range of 130 meters, and even inside the distance (70 meters), where the probability of incapacitation is 10%. This was followed by two 675-pound HIMAR missiles fired in an open sheaf about 70 meters from their position—also danger-close for that ordnance. The only reason the platoon did not have significant, immediate casualties from the explosions was the Marines and sailors had found cover in micro-terrain, a small canal not seen on the maps. The overpressure of the blast was nonetheless debilitating; some of the men were rendered unconscious. One described the blast in detail: “I was unconscious for a moment. All the air was sucked out of my lungs. I thought I was going to die. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. Then debris fell on us for a solid minute.”

The Bronze medal citation for SSgt Jeremy Froio, the joint terminal attack controller, stated, “It is impossible to overstate the earth-shattering effect this ordnance had on the platoon at such close range.” Virtually every member of 1st Platoon demonstrated concussion symptoms following the bombing. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Travis Homiak, had ordered the use of the heaviest munitions on station despite the recommendation from the battalion operations officer, Maj. Fred Galvin, who had recommended the use of smaller munitions, which were available and would be highly likely to neutralize the enemy while posing significantly less danger to the Marines and sailors of 1st Platoon.

The unit returned to base camp early on the morning of June 7th, under cover of darkness. Upon return, members were assigned to guard duty and other routine base camp activities. Not only did the battalion command make the decision to use the GBU-54 and HIMARS instead of more appropriately sized munitions, but requests by the platoon SARC (special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman) to follow the theater-wide concussion protocol prescribed by the Department of Defense in Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-033 issued on June 21, 2010, fell on deaf ears higher in the command.

At the minimum, those men should have received a 24-hour concussion observation period before being assigned other duties or being sent back out for follow-on missions. DTM 09-033 stresses that it is particularly important to follow the protocol when the percussive blast is from friendly fire. The observations should have been entered in the Marines’ and sailors’ medical records. Instead, routine base camp activities and guard duty took priority, and no record of the incidents were added to the affected service members’ medical records. For the next several months, the platoons from Bravo Company would receive contact from the enemy (direct and indirect fires) on a regular basis, being ambushed on almost every patrol during the first half of their deployment, taking sniper fire in their base camp, and having grenades lobbed at them over the base camp berm. Although there were numerous percussive blasts experienced, DTM 09-033 was willfully and knowingly ignored for the entire deployment by Lt. Col. Travis Homiak.

As a result, the mental and physical damage done to the men who were actually fighting the enemy on an almost daily basis continued to add up. The command failed to properly document this damage within the medical records of the affected Marines, and it has caused many to lose out on the appropriate benefits and care from the VA they needed to address CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), TBI (traumatic brain injury), and PTSD.

The long-term results of the blast

At the age of four, Randall Stevenson, Jr., nicknamed “Steve-o” by his buddies, knew he would someday sport dress blues like his father, Randall Stevenson, Sr. Randall Sr. was a Marine artillery officer who originally dropped out of college as a senior to enlist in 1979, in response to the Iranians taking over the U.S. embassy. Although accepted to LSU, Steve-o chose to enlist in the Corps while still in high school—just before his eighteenth birthday. This allowed him to secure an infantry contract guaranteeing him the opportunity to test for Recon selection. In September 2009, he went to MCRD San Diego, in keeping with a three-generation family tradition. His great-uncle had the now-famous Gunny Lee Ermey (rest in peace) as one of his drill instructors, and his father had been selected for OCS at the completion of boot camp. Steve-o often recalled the “truest words ever spoken,” uttered by his father before he went to boot camp: “You will always be my son, but in a few weeks, you will also be my brother.”

“Steve-o” on patrol during deployment
Steve-o spent much of his first two years in training, including School of Infantry, Advanced Infantry Training, Amphibious Reconnaissance School, and Airborne (Paratrooper) School. Corporal Stevenson deployed to Afghanistan in May 2011, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, where he was initially a SAW gunner on his Recon team and later became the assistant team leader. After the deployment, he was transferred to III MEF Force Recon Company and continued advanced training at Freefall School and Scout/Sniper School. He was promoted to sergeant just before he completed his four-year contract. This was partially because the re-enlistment rate for third contracts in 3rd Recon Battalion had dropped from 72% to 27%, creating a dearth of sergeants and staff sergeants in the Recon community. This reflected the low morale of the unit, something so severe; it became the subject of a command climate investigation by the 3rd Marine Division inspector general.

Steve-o chose not to re-enlist, and although he passionately loved the Corps, he told his father and girlfriend the values he had been taught about Marines taking care of their own were not being embodied by some senior officers and senior staff NCOs, who were more interested in positioning themselves for political gain or awards, assignments, and promotions than being Marines. Steve-o openly expressed admiration and respect for the staff NCOs in his company and platoon, and for his platoon commander, who was later his Force Recon company commander, Captain Philip Peacock. Steve-o said, “He did everything he could to keep us alive and accomplish the mission.” Captain Peacock, the sole officer with 1st Platoon at the time, has declined to comment on the events of June 6, 2011.