This is the untold story of the men from MARSOC Fox Company, and the leadership that failed them.

The basic story of the men from MARSOC’s Fox Company (MSOC F), the first Marine special operations unit to deploy to a combat zone in the War on Terror, has previously been touched on. The controversy, the accusations, the ruined reputations—they have all been covered to an extent. This article will provide insight on many recently declassified documents that have been suppressed for almost 10 years. MSOC Fox had no chance of acquittal due to numerous senior officers from multiple branches negatively influencing the case, as evidenced by the recently declassified documents made available to SOFREP.

SOFREP spoke at length with retired USMC Major Fred Galvin, who served as the commanding officer of Fox Company. SOFREP also spoke at length with retired USMC Lieutenant Colonel Steve Morgan, who was one of the three members of the court of inquiry (COI).

The Marines involved in the alleged war crime of killing Afghan civilians in March of 2007—the MARSOC Seven as they’ve since been called—have since been cleared of any wrongdoing. However, the reputations of Major Fred Galvin, the commander of MSOC Fox, and his Marines have been tarnished to the point that they are still tormented by the accusations cast on them almost a decade ago.

Per the previously published Military Times article, Galvin had this to say about the after effects: “The seven of us named in that investigation saying our name was associated with negligent homicide carry around a burden. People continually bring up the incident as something that was shameful. That stigma is still widespread. Our Marines must begin the healing process, to finally let this go. And when they understand that our story has been told, I believe that is the next step to being able to forgive, forget, and to move on with our lives.”

Galvin added, “The looks and the jokes and people treating you like lepers. That’s something our Marines still face because our side of the story—the full, complete story—is not out. It’s still based on hearsay.”

According to Steve Morgan, “MARSOC really were looked at as bastard children, and were not welcome [in the spec ops community initially]. This was nothing personal toward Galvin and his Marines; I believe this was about money, power, and politics within the overall U.S. military special operations structure. Mostly about money.”

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Just as when the Marine Raiders were initially formed during WWII, there was stiff resistance in 2006 to the formation of a group of special Marine operators. During the autumn of 2007, General James Conway, then the commandant of Marine Corps, directed that a rarely held COI be convened to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding MSOC Fox’s banishment from Afghanistan.

A court of inquiry is an administrative fact-finding process, not a criminal proceeding. Courts of inquiry are meant to look into very serious incidents that can include the loss of life. Three officers, with combat experience, were assigned to review and evaluate the evidence, followed by a recommendation to General James Mattis on how the case should proceed. The combat experience of the three officers on the board was a purposeful appointment because they can understand the combat mindset and thought process that would have occurred in the MARSOC case.

General Conway’s directive for the court of inquiry – 14 Aug., 2007.

Per the Military Times article, Steve Morgan said he “began his service on the court of inquiry ready to nail fellow Marines if they had committed war crimes. But he was quickly convinced that Fox Company had done nothing wrong and was being unfairly targeted. Like Galvin, he continues to pursue justice for Fox Company though his days in the Marine Corps are over.”

Why raise this issue now? There are several reasons.

To preface, this article is not about Marines versus Army, or any other branch. This is simply about the Marine Corps’ core values of “honor, courage, and commitment.” It is about a leader who blatantly violated the Army’s core values of “honor, respect, integrity, selfless service, duty, loyalty and personal courage.” If you read the Army’s definition of each of their core values, it is clear to see that General John Nicholson, a colonel at the time of the COI, violated every single Army core value through his rush to judgement in urging that MSOC Fox be expelled from Afghanistan, combined with his public condemnation and comments regarding MSOC Fox murdering Afghan civilians. In stark contrast, Fred Galvin adhered to the Marine Corps’s core values without faltering. This contrast is put on full display in the testimonies from the COI.

Another important reason why the new details of this story are just emerging is MARCENT has delayed the release of several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that have been submitted in regards to classified documents regarding the case. FOIA requests by Steve Morgan took almost five years before they were granted. The legal standard for receiving these types of documents is supposed to be one month on average, but in some cases it can take longer. However, upon receiving a complicated request, the agency is supposed to notify the requester with reasons for the delay. For example, they may ask that a complicated request be simplified by narrowing down the results.

In Fred Galvin’s case, he did narrow his request down—twice, after several years had passed—from his official FOIA request. He tried hard to obtain only four testimonies before finally narrowing it down to just three. All of that was ignored by the MARCENT SJA’s office prior to his retirement, until he hired a lawyer to work on getting the documents released. They are still only slowly being provided. When either man would reach out proactively to the appropriate agency for a status update, they would get a standard response that “there are just so many files to go through, and it is hard to find exactly what you’re looking for,” or, “It just takes time,” or, “There is just so much.”

It was only when he was compelled to retain the services of a powerful “inside the beltway” lawyer that the MARCENT staff judge advocate’s (SJA) office made an effort to expedite Morgan’s FOIA request. From that point, it only took three months to obtain the documents he sought. Fred Galvin still has not had his five-year-old FOIA request approved. NCIS investigation and courtroom transcripts, including interrogation audio and video recordings, have been denied as part of that FOIA request prior to the COI and still to this day.

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In 2015, a letter from then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Dunford, who is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to one of the four U.S. senators and one U.S. congressman who inquired in June of 2015 regarding the MARSOC case. The senator’s letters to General Dunford were dated 8 June, 2015, and General Dunford’s response to the senator came 16 days later, on 24 June, 2015. Attorneys for both Fred Galvin and Steve Morgan are still frequently engaged with MARCENT SJA’s office, urging the release of the testimony of the Marine officer that has been requested and the NCIS interview audio and video recordings.

Excerpt from General Dunford’s 2015 letter, which requests that “all releasable documents” be made available.

If the senior officer in the U.S. military responds to a standing U.S. senator that evidence should be provided, and “all releasable documents will be made available,” then that evidence should have been provided, because the commandant at the time (now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) ordered it.  But it did not happen.

There are reasons for the FOIA process taking so long, but it was not because they actually needed that time to fulfill the request. MARCENT was able to provide the entire set of COI documents to Congressman Walter B. Jones (North Carolina) shortly after the case was closed, years ago. Since they were still classified at the time, he was not able to share their contents. However, following the time that Congressman Jones reviewed these documents in their entirety, Major Galvin continued to serve for another seven years in the Marine Corps with a top-secret clearance. Still, his FOIA requests, even with two attorneys pursuing the production of this evidence, were ignored until after Galvin was forced to retire from the Marine Corps in 2014. It is pretty clear that a particular individual or group did not want the documents to fall into certain hands.

One of the thousands of recently declassified pages is General Nicholson’s (then a colonel) sworn testimony from the 2008 court of inquiry. It shows how, despite the facts, at the time of the 2008 COI, he still accused Fox Company of homicide even though his command, which was the first on the scene of the ambush in Bati Kot, never observed any bodies, blood, or evidence to support his accusation of a capital offense. He never actually read any of the investigation reports, even though he had the opportunity to do so prior to making his judgments.

Image from the COI testimony documents – Jan., 2008.

His comments also state that he claims that Fred Galvin deceived him by not providing him the information from the Fox Company missions. During the testimony, the COI senior jury member clearly pointed out how Col. Nicholson’s staff did in fact have the operational information given directly by Galvin, and that Galvin did not deceive Nicholson. Col. Nicholson not only admits that he made this mistake on the record when he was pinned down on it by the COI president, but he has never taken any corrective action to restore MSOC Fox’s professional reputation.

Image from the COI testimony documents – Jan 2008.

Col. Nicholson in this same testimony also states that he had four similar officer integrity matters in Afghanistan, where he highlights one particular example shown below of how he forced an Army officer to resign over an “allegation” without his day in court, or at an NJP hearing, but instead from the pressure of a counseling session. These are clear examples of how he abused his authority and remains unrepentant. Given his own words and the words of his command investigating officer, it’s obvious he intimately knew the facts in this case from personal face-to-face testimony, as well as that of his own command investigating officer. Yet he still distorted the truth.

Image from the COI testimony documents – Jan 2008.

Fred Galvin states, “These examples are how Gen. Nicholson violated every one of the Army core values, and are why it is so critical to examine who he truly is since he has been placed in charge of all U.S. and coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan.”

Nicholson received his promotion to general after only 16 months as a lieutenant general, and recently had his Senate confirmation hearing rammed through in the unprecedented span of about a week.  There are questions surrounding the “how” and “why” of that process. How does a man like Nicholson, who has, through his sworn testimony, proven that he is unfit to lead, sail through his Senate confirmation?

As briefly covered on page 27 of Jake Tapper’s book, “The Outpost”, Nicholson has family connections with deep political ties. Nicholson’s father was a brigadier general and a West Point graduate, Ranger, Silver Star awardee, the former secretary of the American Battlefield Monuments Commission, director of the National Cemetery Administration, and is the former undersecretary for Memorial Affairs for the Veterans Administration.

General Nicholson’s uncle, Jim Nicholson, is a West Point graduate, retired Army Reserve colonel, Ranger, Bronze Star awardee, the former ambassador to the Vatican, the former secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Is it any wonder that the recent Senate confirmation for General Nicholson was accomplished in short order with such influential connections behind him?

General Nicholson is a politician, not a leader. One only needs to look at his uncle’s questionable political record with the VA and the 2012 Romney campaign to see how Nicholson is being groomed for a similar path.

This also likely explains how General Nicholson has stayed out of trouble throughout his shamble of a COI testimony, and instead has enjoyed protection from public criticism of his involvement with the MARSOC case. For further proof of the connections that he had at his disposal, look at the DoD inspector general at the time the events took place, LTG. Claude M Kicklighter. Kicklighter was Jim Nicholson’s Chief of Staff at the VA prior to becoming the DoD inspector general—another fortunate connection for General Nicholson.

Personal connections aside, General Nicholson’s testimony shows clear proof that he made an ill-informed decision in accusing the Marines of MSOC Fox, along with urging Major General Rodriguez to pull them out of the battlespace. Nicholson’s biography from when he was a brigadier general shows that, as an officer he was an intellect, with multiple bachelors and masters degrees and plenty of staff time spent as generals’ aides. He was a special assistant to generals and the secretary of the Army, as well as a speechwriter to an army general in charge of the U.S. Army in Europe from 1996-1997.

Screenshot of then-Brigadier General Nicholson’s official bio, which highlights his time as a speechwriter.

The speech-writer assignment is no longer part of his official biography. It is something he likely does not need to worry about promoting, now that he has already been tapped to take the lead command in Afghanistan. He is an intellect’s and not a warrior’s warrior. SOFREP has reached out to General Nicholson’s NATO land command office prior to his change of command, but has yet to hear back.

The honorable thing for General Nicholson to do would be to admit his failures in violating the soldier’s code to “treat others with dignity and respect” and resign his commission or retire as a lieutenant colonel, which may be the last rank he honorably held. Ironically, until this past month, Nicholson wore the same rank as George Washington did when he resigned his commission, so it is not unprecedented (although the circumstances differ greatly).

During the COI, Nicholson admitted to overlooking facts and important information. In one particular case, it was that he “missed” information in the mission statement that permitted Fox Company to be in the battlespace that they occupied. In his mind, they were not supposed to be there, despite the facts. This means two things could have happened: Either he did not read the mission statement and lied about it, or he did read it but chose to ignore the facts that were in front of him.

Image from the COI testimony documents – Jan., 2008.

The answer provided above proves that he was willing to admit he missed important information, yet he still would not admit that he made a wrong decision in accusing Fox Company. Nicholson’s own investigating officer stated that the Fox Company patrol was “shot at from both sides of the road” in a reported dated 9 April, 2007 (one month prior to Nicholson’s 8 May, 2007, public condemnation of MSOC Fox).

Image from the TF Spartan executive summary– 9 Apr 2007

The report also states that Nicholson’s soldiers were authorized to conduct operations that interfered with the international media. These allegations of threatening the media were publicly mentioned in the media as being a cover-up by MARSOC.. Nicholson knew it then and now, but has failed to make any attempt at having these allegations appear to be anything other than the work of Marines in the press, although his investigation clearly stated that it was at the hands of his own soldiers. Even to this day, Nicholson has made no effort to correct his actions or apologize to Fox Company in the manner that he did to the Afghans, nor has he created any deliberate speech in an effort to restore the honor of Marines who fought courageously during a complex ambush. The damage done by General Nicholson is not something left in the past for the MARSOC Seven to deal with, it is still active.

Even as recently as 2014, leaders within the International Bar Association as well as Amnesty International continue to bring up WikiLeaks reports they feel are “prima facie” evidence that Fox Company killed Afghan civilians. The military leadership within SOCOM or the commandant of the Marine Corps could have exercised their leadership traits of judgment, justice, or initiative, and put these libelous issues to rest once and for all, but since they failed to stop this false narrative of mass murder, it still torments the MSOC Fox Marines with threats of domestic radicalized extremists, as well as web searches by human-resources departments that have prevented several of our Marines from obtaining positions in the private sector they were qualified for.

There is no statute of limitations for leaders who need to do the right thing, and General Nicholson still has time to provide some closure for Fred Galvin and the members of MSOC Fox. Even as recently as 2016, the Pentagon has reversed their stance by clearing the names of Marines involved in a controversial V-22 Osprey crash that claimed the lives of 17 Marines. In the meantime, it is not comforting to know that Nicholson has been promoted to four-star general, and has recently taken over command all U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Per the Military Times, “In his remarks at Wednesday’s change-of-command ceremony, Nicholson acknowledged the ‘tough path’ ahead. Then, speaking briefly in Pashto, he said, “Let us go forward with courage.”

Let’s challenge General Nicholson to live by his own words. 

 

For more information on this case, you can read the full series here: