This week, a bombshell wrapped in an SOS landed on the desk of the inspector general at the Pentagon.
The SOS was a legal complaint from attorney Mark L. Waple. It called for an investigation into whether the Marine Corps was attempting to drive Waple's client, Marine Corps Maj. Fred C. Galvin, from the service through what is known as a "board of inquiry" in retribution for Galvin's legally protected communications with Congress regarding an incident last year in Afghanistan. Such a reprisal, Waple charges, would violate the Military Whistleblower Protection Act.
Even as I was preparing to file this column, the board of inquiry concluded there was no cause to force Galvin, whose 24-year career includes a Bronze Star and five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the Marine Corps.
But that still leaves the bombshell.
I'm referring to the letters, sworn statements, reports, even a certified polygraph test result, that sit inside the complaint still at the Pentagon. The documents attest to the incident Galvin witnessed and communicated to members of Congress, among them Republican Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Allen West of Florida.
Here's the short version: One day last June in Sangin, where Galvin was serving as operations officer of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, a request for supporting fire came in from Marines in B Company. On patrol in enemy-controlled territory, a group of these Marines had become "enveloped" in a complex ambush by 30 to 40 enemy soldiers. Soon the enemy was firing from an array of positions -- rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, AK-47s -- some as close as 34 meters from the Marines, a distance not much longer than a basketball court. The company commander requested supporting fire.
Fifty minutes passed before the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Travis Homiak, complied with the request. Were civilians in the area? No. Further discussion turned on whether to use small, precision munitions, such as a Hellfire laser-guided missile with a 10-pound shape charge -- Galvin's strong recommendation -- or to use something much larger, which, in Homiak's stated opinion, would drive away enemy forces. With Marines well within "danger close" proximity to enemy forces, Galvin, a former Marine instructor in fire support for raids and reconnaissance, was concerned that the probability of injury or even fratricide from a large bomb was too high.
Even so, the battalion commander chose to drop a whopping 500-pound bomb on the enemy position near the Marines. Probably the only reason I am not now describing a scene of carnage is that, unbeknownst to either Galvin or Homiak, there was a canal that shielded the Marines from the worst effects of the colossal explosion. Meanwhile, the enemy had fled to another position to continue fighting.
Another request for fire support came in. Galvin again recommended precision munitions, given the proximity of Marines to the enemy, and Homiak again went for the biggest available bomb -- this time, 200-pound warheads. Finally, although the firefight would continue for a total of four hours, Homiak denied any further fire support. Thankfully, all the Marines came home.
I have to interrupt the narrative here to flag Homiak as a counterinsurgency (COIN) enthusiast, a true believer in fighting to win Afghan hearts and minds through what, in a Department of Defense news report, Homiak discusses as "the concept of restraint" and "being nice to people."
But maybe not so nice to Marines. In conversation with Galvin the following day, Homiak justified what a layman might see, first, as a reckless use of munitions too close to Marines under fire, and, second, as a reckless denial of munitions to Marines under fire. According to the documents filed with the Pentagon inspector general, which include the corroborating results of a polygraph test Galvin took, Homiak told Galvin he "was willing to sacrifice the lives of these Marines for the greater good."
Homiak even repeated this appalling statement, a point additionally supported by Galvin's polygraph results.
Homiak went on to say that if Galvin "had 'a crisis of conscience' with supporting or executing Homiak's philosophy ... Homiak had to know."
Willing to sacrifice Marines for the greater good?
Did I mention that Galvin, unable to accept Homiak's COIN-baked philosophy, requested to be relieved of duty? That Homiak subsequently gave Galvin two adverse fitness reports? That Galvin has seemingly exhausted all avenues in his quest for an investigation into this incident? Galvin triumphed in the board of inquiry examination into his fitness to remain a Marine, but a thorough, deliberate investigation, certainly by Congress, into this incident and the COIN mindset it exemplifies is urgently required.
Because the bombshell is still ticking.