This article was written by Nick Coffman and originally published by SOFREP.
Semper Fidelis. Latin for “always faithful.” It symbolizes the lifelong commitment held by every Marine for the Corps and America, a promise reciprocated by the Corps to all Marines.
That is what the Marine Corps advertises.
The unfortunate reality for numerous warfighters, particularly from Marine Corps Special Operations units such as MARSOC (Marine Forces Special Operations Command), is shockingly different.
Marines faced abandonment during the 2008 court of inquiry case over MARSOC Fox Company for purported war crimes. Now, two Marine Raiders and one Navy Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsman, the MARSOC 3 as they are called, are also 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, negligent homicide, obstructing justice, and violations of orders.
In Erbil, Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) on New Year’s Eve, 2018, the three decorated Marine Raiders were assaulted by a drunken civilian contractor after he instigated a verbal confrontation. After Rodriguez’s third punch was thrown, one of the Raiders stepped in to defend his fellow Raider from receiving additional harm and knocked Rodriguez out with one punch. Rodriguez’s group of friends either left or stood around not knowing what to do, and the three Raiders brought the contractor back to their base for observation.
Chief Eric Gilmet watched over Rodriguez through the night and into the morning. After having been relieved early that morning by a base contractor, Gilmet was called back to find that Rodriguez was now unresponsive. Rodriguez was then transferred to a hospital in Germany where he died four days later of complications arising from his intoxicated state and from having choked on his own vomit.
Video evidence would eventually surface, confirming that Rodriguez was the aggressor in the situation and that the Marines did not use excessive force. 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, which is something that will follow them into the civilian world when they are applying for jobs. 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.
Joshua Negron’s wife, Erika, said the following to SOFREP, “The (MARSOC) command turned an already bad situation into a living nightmare. It’s been an insurmountable amount of stress for the past year and a half. I mean, there’s a strain on finances. I have to take extra shifts (at work). As you might know, criminal defense attorneys are not cheap. To me it seems like they’re convicting and sacrificing the Marines regardless of the facts, and what’s worse is it seems to be a personal agenda with the command. They’ve done it before, and they’ll do it again. They should and need to be held accountable for their actions, for their initial response and the way they’ve been handling this whole situation. I would not wish this on anybody.”
Major Nick Mannweiler, a spokesperson from MARSOC, said in a 2019 statement that the command is “aware of the non-combat-related death of a contractor supporting a forward-deployed MARSOC unit in the Operation Inherent Resolve theater of operations. MARSOC is providing all requested support to investigators as they look into this incident.”
During the Fox Company trial, the MARSOC leadership never, during the nearly month-long trial, drove two miles down the street to set foot in the courtroom in support of its men. It never afforded its own men the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. It never came forward to sufficiently clear the names of the falsely accused men after allowing them to be dragged through the mud.
Four months following the court room trial only a veiled press release from the convening authority was released, pseudo-acquitting the MARSOC 7 of Fox Company through an announcement using non-legal terms of “acted appropriately.” The accusations that they murdered Afghan civilians were proved to be false.
Now, three Raiders with stellar track records face a court-martial for involuntary manslaughter. NCIS and MARSOC never even took the time to inform Rodriguez’s family about exactly what took place and, up until the Article 32 hearing began, allowed the family to believe that he was murdered. It wasn’t until the second day of the hearing that Rodriguez’s family came to realize what had really happened. MARSOC leaders have still never taken the time to speak directly with the accused men.
MARSOC’s Commanding Officer, 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. At the time of this article being published, a request to the MARSOC Public Affairs Office asking about the status of Yoo’s involvement with his men and their families has not been acknowledged.
According to a 2019 MARSOC statement emailed to the Marine Corps Times, “At this time, charges against three members of MARSOC in connection with the death of Mr. Rodriguez have been referred to a general court-martial. During this process, it is imperative that the rights of the service members are protected, and the integrity of the military justice system is maintained. We are committed to ensuring this process is conducted in a fair and impartial manner.”
However, 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. When asked whether she thought her husband would be able to finish his military career, Eric Gilmet’s wife, Mindy, told SOFREP, “He loves the military. He’s been in almost 18 years. He wants to stay. But we’ve kind of seen this dark side of the military and just how it can flip on you. I was more prepared to lose him in combat, but this is just something you don’t ever expect.”
Seventeen months after the incident, the spouses of the accused have yet to hear from MARSOC at all, let alone offered assistance through this difficult time. Danny Draher’s wife, Destiny, told the following to SOFREP, “I need somebody who’s going to actually say something and stand up for what’s right because right is right and wrong is wrong. And I just can’t understand a culture that’s willing to fight for constitutional rights and sacrifice their lives and sacrifice time away from their family. But then when it comes down to the truth, and transparency and justice, you get scared of that? And if you’re in a command position and you’re telling people, you can’t say this, or you can’t do that, or you can’t back up these guys, that’s unlawful command influence.”
According to each of the spouses of the accused, not one family readiness officer (FRO) or liaison from the command has reached out to offer support in any way. Those families are not only left on their own to keep things together during this uncertain time, but they have to worry about what the future will hold for them. Destiny Draher said, “Not one phone call. Not a checkup on our well-being. One person (MajGen Yoo) has so much influence and doesn’t care that when he retires he’ll sit on his six-figure job while Danny and our family have to figure out how we provide for our family. How does Danny get a job after this? If he wants to, let’s say hypothetically go work for the government, he can’t because his name has been smeared. And even if it is cleared, all that stuff is still out there on Google. (MajGen) Yoo has put millions of dollars into each operator, and you know what? It’s like they’re disposable. Disposable heroes.”
There is a mentality among many senior-level officers in the Marine Corps to abandon their troops at the first indication of trouble in order to preserve their own careers by showing to their bosses that they won’t tolerate perceived misbehavior. These corrupt leaders are so focused on achieving the next promotion that it is easier to leave their own men hanging instead of putting their neck out for them as good leaders should. They make snap decisions based on preliminary reports and never stray from these decision. Either buck the system and protect your men or shut your mouth and protect your career.
Erika Negron commented, “The type of fear tactics the command is using silences those that actually want to come forth and speak the truth (in support of the MARSOC 3). And so they’re not going to do it. They’re afraid for their own personal careers and whatnot. This is what we’re up against and they’ve gotten away with it so many times. It has to stop now.”
When the truth begins to surface in a trial, the prosecution defends its position by providing excuses about how, if it was not for the poor judgment and lack of leadership, the command would never have been in this position to start with. Countless times, those reports are proven to be false, but the damage has been done and the leaders who were so quick to judge never come out to admit that they were wrong.
In many of those cases, the vindictive leaders often have their own skeletons in the closet. Early in Yoo’s career, as a captain, he was charged for driving while under the influence of alcohol, but he received grace from his superiors and continued to make his way up the ranks. A colonel at the time of the Fox Company trial, Yoo once strongly urged an officer he knew, who was in command of a battalion, to not select Fox Company’s commander as his Operations Officer due to the perceived disgrace of the MARSOC 7 case.
MajGen Yoo is not alone in his moral decay. General James Amos was infamously involved in unlawful command influence with a Marine Scout Sniper platoon. Other senior Marine Corps leaders such as Generals Krulak, Hagee, and Cartwright have all demonstrated their own two-tiered justice system that destroys lance corporals and pardons their own gross misconduct.
According to one defense attorney associated with the MARSOC 3 case, the conviction rate in Marine Corps trials is reportedly 98 percent. The next highest conviction rate from any major organization or nation comes from a little country called China at 92 percent. Is that what military justice is? It seems to be pre-judgment and rush to decisions in order to sweep an issue under the rug instead of diligently and methodically facing it head-on.
Hopefully, there is enough time to stand up and take action by contacting your representatives and demanding that the MARSOC 3 case be dismissed. And as Destiny Draher says, ”You can also donate to United American Patriots or the Recon Foundation, but when you write your Senator and your Congressmen, there has to be a follow-through. You can’t just write to them and then leave it with their automated message.”
If history is any indicator, Marine Corps leadership will never right this wrong, nor will it come, of its own volition, to the aid of the accused. It will require action from you for that to happen.
Semper Fidelis? While every branch has its own problems, at this point the motto seems to be but a marketing slogan for the Marine Corps.