Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a five-part series.
KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The mission brief was meticulously detailed. Each objective, as well as every hospital and police precinct along the route, was plotted by satellite imagery. Body armor was optional. The mission commander would directly confront any threat. And should he become incapacitated, the instructions for escalating force were clear: shout, shove, shoot.
This was not Mosul, or Wanat. This was Kansas City’s urban core, where Fred Galvin owns, operates and maintains 13 automated cash machines. It is rife with gang-related violence, he explained. From 2000 until 2014, the annual murder rate here made it one of the nation’s 10 deadliest cities. Galvin spent more than half his life in the Marine Corps, much of that time leading small stealthy units in violent flashpoints abroad. A 45-year-old retired major, he now leverages his specialized military training as a lone-wolf entrepreneur filling a void in a poverty-stricken pocket of America’s heartland.
Galvin’s Arrowhead Capital is a fast-growing and surprisingly lucrative line of work, but if things hadn’t taken a devastating turn, had he not been betrayed by the institution he loved, he’d likely still be in the Marine Corps. But when he hung up his uniform in 2014, Galvin found it impossible to get a job, he said. Google his name. The search results underscore why.
Galvin was commander of Marine Special Operations Company Foxtrot in March 2007, when he became a central figure in one of the most publicized — and ultimately flawed — war-crimes cases since the Vietnam War. More than a year later, after a three-week military tribunal called a court of inquiry, Galvin and six of his Marines were cleared of all wrongdoing related to allegations they indiscriminately killed innocent Afghans when a suicide car bomber targeted their convoy. But long before they appeared in court, Fox Company’s Marines were publicly condemned by several senior military officers, sold out by those responsible for upholding the unassailable American ideal that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty.
Widespread media coverage depicted them as out-of-control cowboys. The public scrutiny was embarrassing. The prospect of going to prison was terrifying. And their 10-month legal battle was relentlessly stressful. One enlisted Marine, a Mexican national, was convinced his mother would be deported. Others recalled their superiors telling them “it doesn’t look good for you boys.”
Collectively, the fallout left them physically sick, psychologically broken and deeply embittered toward the leaders they blame for causing and perpetuating their anguish and shame, including men who’ve earned generals’ stars. For some like Galvin, there have been lasting professional setbacks, too.
But the betrayal from within, that shattered their trust in the institution. It defied the core values instilled in these men from the moment they joined the Corps: honor, courage, commitment. “This still haunts us,” one of those Marines explained, “because no one has publicly acknowledged we did the right thing that day. We did our jobs — and we were crucified for it.”
Galvin has been on a mission to restore honor for Fox Company, one that consumes him even when some suggest he should move on with a new life. But he’s not wired that way. He believes he owes it to his men to secure the full and public vindication they’ve never had.
Officially, the Marine Corps concluded in May 2008 that Fox Company’s Marines “acted appropriately” on the battlefield, that their use of force was justified as they encountered and escaped a complex ambush in the minutes following the suicide strike. No criminal charges were filed in connection those events. Afterwards, the case quietly disappeared from the spotlight.
To Galvin and others associated with this affair, “the statement we ‘acted appropriately’ is weak and leaves far too much to the imagination,” he said. “It’s easily interpreted as ‘we got away with murder.’ ... Even today, I have friends call me regularly saying this guy or that guy smeared our names, behind our backs.”