Editor’s note: This Q&A is with Aaron Vanderbeck, a former Marine Raider and Scout Sniper.

Two Marine Raiders and one Navy Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsman, the MARSOC 3 as they are called, are being abandoned by their commanders over charges involving the 2019 death of a contractor and retired Green Beret, Rick Rodriguez.

Gunnery Sergeant Joshua Negron, Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Draher, and Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Video evidence has surfaced, confirming that Rodriguez was the aggressor in the situation and that the Marines did not use excessive force and that it was clearly self-defense. Yet, not before the MARSOC 3 were humiliated in front of their peers, denied promotions, suffered loss of pay, and had their security clearances suspended. Even though the video evidence exists, these men are still being treated as criminals and have not received any form of support from their so-called special operations leaders at their command.

MARSOC’s Commanding General, Major General Daniel Yoo, attended the funeral of Rick Rodriguez but never appeared in any of the proceedings for the men of his own command. Up to this point, Yoo has not once spoken a word of support for his men. Yoo is the convening authority and will be the one deciding how this case unfolds. The prosecution team for this trial works directly for him. It is difficult to understand how a fair and impartial trial will be possible when the man overseeing the entire process has shown a blatant lack of support for his own men in spite of what testimonies and video evidence prove. Yoo had a choice and specifically opted for a general court-martial, which carries the most severe level of punishment, over a lesser form of trial or hearing.

Now, former Marine Raider, Aaron Vanderbeck, is riding his bicycle 2700-miles from California to North Carolina in support of his MARSOC brothers who have been wrongfully charged with manslaughter. His goal is to raise awareness for this case and urge people to support these innocent heroes.

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For more about this case, read here and considering supporting their battle to be exonerated.

 

SOFREP: How do you know Josh, Danny, and Eric?

AARON:  As most people know the SOF community is a relatively small world and nine times out of ten if you don’t know someone specifically you now of them either of their reputation or through mutual friends and deployments. I first met Josh back at the time 1st Raider Battalion (MRB) was known as 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion (MSOB). At the time we were operating out of mobile travel trailers, a defunct para-loft, and an open pad of gravel and concrete. The battalion was small, agile, and laser-focused on training and deploying for war. Josh and I were in the same company but different teams for what was at that time my 1st Afghan deployment. Alpha company was the place to be and as a new guy, every man I crossed paths with was a true warrior in their own right. Needless to say, I kept my mouth shut and learned a lot, a lot of times through pain and my own mistakes. After that deployment, I did a few more workups and deployed for training (DFT’s) exercises with and around Josh and was always impressed by his humility, mission focus, and calmness.

On March 10th, 2015 a UH60 helicopter call sign “MOJO 69” carrying 4 Soldiers and 7 Marines from 2nd Marine Raider Battalion crashed off the coast of Florida killing all on board. It hit our community very hard. As a way to support the families and honor our brothers lost a fellow Raider organized a 770-mile ruck march from the crash site to Stone Bay North Carolina where the Raider Command is based. That is where I first met Danny and established a working knowledge of “who he was” and “what he was about”. First off, anyone that is willing to put in the miles, the sweat, and the growth to carry their brothers’ stories and support their families is worth taking note of. Secondly, Dan and I had a history of mutual friends, and in the SOF community, a lot hinges on reputation, and I only ever heard good spoken of his personal character and commitment to his brothers and the organization.  Over the years we just maintained loose contact until this ordeal with the case and the MARSOC command really started acting absurd, and I finally realized these men were really in a lot of ways alone and unsupported, which is unacceptable to me in a community allegedly based on brotherhood.

Eric and I have never actually met that I know of, but he has a special place to me personally and the men who form the core of operators. A lot of people refer to his job title as a Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsman (SOIDC) and based on that title there have been entire volumes of books written. They are the most highly trained and skilled field and emergency combat doctors in the world and true-life supermen. The precursor to that in the Navy though is the SARC, the Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsmen. Although the two are most of the time interchangeable, the term SARC is very comforting to hear and familial, it strikes up in my mind of what a real hero, friend, and brother are. Some of my very best friends are SARC’s and I knew beyond all doubt that I could count on them to be beside me not just to pull the trigger but to patch me up when I got shot or blown up or otherwise injured. The Raider Battalion is small, but the Special Operations Medical Community is even smaller and the men that operate in that realm are some of the most humble, strong, and reliable men you will ever meet.

SOFREP: Why a 2700-mile bike ride to bring attention to the MARSOC 3 cause?

AARON:  Good question and multifaceted so I will do my best to streamline the answer. First, I have had the phrase “preach with your feet” in my head for many years now. We live in a culture that is very content to throw verbiage at a problem but often times unwilling to walk out the meaning, implications, and responsibility that the true solution requires. Our culture doesn’t lack orators, they lack physical representations of men and women who will walk in justice, righteousness, and truth, and do so with authority, humility, and strength. Now, I am not saying I am that guy because we all have our own brokenness, weaknesses, and limitations. I am stating though “How do good men become part of the regime? Because they don’t believe in resistance.” In other words, we shouldn’t allow our own perceived points of weakness to stop us from standing for what is right. And each of us are without excuse in our daily lives and have the opportunity to stand up and resist that evil, whether it is in our nation, our homes, or our own hearts.

These three Special Operators have served with honor, humility, and diligence for decades and at their time of need the organization they sacrificed so much for, them and their families as well, has turned its back completely and silently on them and left them to hang unjustly. When an organization grossly fails to live up to its charter (Semper Fidelis?) those leaders need to be held accountable and challenged by the men under its command. I understand not a lot of men have voiced that for whatever reasons, or maybe out of a sense of helplessness when it comes to matters of rank and structure, and I don’t judge them because they are my brothers. But I know that regardless of popular or mass opinion that “right is right” and someone needs to take a stand for our brothers where very few have.

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SOFREP: How have you been able to physically and mentally prepare for such a daunting journey?

AARON:  Without sharing too much back story I have a background of endurance type events. Special operations training, marriage, and parenting will teach you that very well if you allow it. Primarily I believe that the battle is in the mind for anything we encounter in life. I do normal stuff, ride long distance when I can (a couple 100 milers, and shorter 50’s) but overall I have always strived to have a working level of endurance and physical fitness, especially as I age. I don’t have much but what I do have I know is the key to success, relationship, and reason. I would love to expound on that but will save that for a later time maybe.

SOFREP: What is the core gear that you’ll be bringing with you on the road?

AARON:  A working bike, a trailer for my day to day and tools/repair stuff, my bible, and my brothers’ names along with the other people I have met who have shared similar and frustrating stories of injustice and abuse at the hands of bureaucracy, careerism, and a cracking moral framework at the Department of Defense and, really, at the national level. On the teams and to this day I still stand by “the man makes the gear” not vice versa. When I train people, I typically state something along the lines of “you can teach a monkey how to shoot a gun but you cannot develop the foundational character in the moment of when too or more importantly when not to shoot that gun”. Your greatest and most important tool is your mind. That is why character development, teaching the benefits and value of patience, suffering, etc is so important and foundational when we are young and as we grow, and looking for continued opportunities to facilitate those lessons. I believe gluing all that together should be humility, otherwise, we run the risk of developing complexes where we find our identifies in rank, accomplishments, social status, etc., which is where a lot of the problems of this case stem from, I think. King Saul offered David the most top rate armor and weapons of the day to face the giant Goliath, but David was “only” a young shepherd who knew how to use the tools he had trained with, and more than that he had the relationship and reason piece down.

At the end of the day, one of the core SOF truths is “Humans are more important than hardware.” The question I/we need to ask ourselves in the case of these 3 and our own lives is “do I/we actually mean that or is it just a neat sounding but empty catchphrase.” And I am asking General Yoo specifically and personally and the leadership in the Marine Corp and SOCOM to basically come forward, do what they KNOW is right, repent and realign their lives back to that truth.

SOFREP: What do you anticipate being your biggest challenge on the road? 

AARON:  Staying on top of proper nutrition and hydration, weather in the form of headwind and heat, and again the mental/physical aspect of riding a bicycle for over a month straight. This hasn’t been something I have lightly prepared for or been crass about in any aspect. I have no romantic connotations of what the ride has the potential to entail. That said, I believe the only way is forward. It is an endurance exercise; spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically, not a race or a sprint.

SOFREP: How can people support your journey to raise awareness for Josh, Danny, and Eric? 

AARON:  Get the word out, go to the United American Patriots page, follow along with the ride and share the reason why I am doing this and who it is for. Ask yourself what you can do specifically to help clear these men and stand beside their families. Contact your local, state, and national representatives. Work on your own heart, we did not get to this point as a nation overnight, it was/is because of those “tiny” compromises we have made throughout history. Change needs to start in our own homes first before it spreads outward.

SOFREP: Anything else on your mind that you’d like our readers to know? 

AARON:  Nobody is self-made. I am a living breathing testament to the many people and one specifically in my life who sacrificed for me in my hours of need. It has been beyond encouraging to witness the level of support rise for Danny, Josh, Eric and their families and I have high hopes and expectations for them being cleared of this mess soon and their reputations restored. I personally want to thank everyone thus far who has reached out and the ones who have been fighting for them the last year and a half and carried the brunt of the load beside them. Press in, press on, and press up. Endure.

“Never above you, never below you, always beside you.”

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