Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn was investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command for an undisclosed violation of the U.S. military’s rules of engagement in 2010 that resulted in the death of a known enemy fighter and bombmaker in Helmand province, Afghanistan, according to the officials. The Army closed a lengthy investigation last summer without charging Golsteyn with any crime, but Army Secretary John McHugh revoked a Silver Star that Golsteyn had been awarded for heroism on Feb. 20, 2010, during the iconic Battle of Marja.
The Army also took away Golsteyn’s Special Forces tab, a qualification that goes to any soldier who completes Special Forces training, and reassigned him to the conventional Army as an infantry officer, several officials said. He is in the process of determining his future with the Army, said his lawyer, Phil Stackhouse.
It’s an uncommon fall for a commander who led a 3rd Special Forces Group team in combat. Golsteyn received the Silver Star in 2011 for braving enemy fire numerous times as a captain on a day in which his team came under attack while hunting an enemy sniper team that had opened fire on their patrol base, according to an Army summary of action. Army officials later approved an upgrade to the Distinguished Service Cross — considered one level down from the Medal of Honor in honoring combat heroism — but ultimately decided Golsteyn deserved neither.
Neither the Army nor Stackhouse have been willing to elaborate on the allegations he faced, and Golsteyn declined to be interviewed through his lawyer. But three sources with knowledge of the investigation told The Washington Post that the Army began probing Golsteyn’s actions after he interviewed for a job with the CIA. Todd Ebitz, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment.
Golsteyn’s story received attention after Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R.-Calif.) wrote a piece for the Daily Beast this week that accused Army investigators of threatening the men who served under Golsteyn and offering them immunity in exchange for their testimony. None of his fellow soldiers were willing to speak to investigators, Hunter said. Chris Grey, a spokesman for Army CID, confirmed they investigated Golsteyn, but declined additional comment.
An independent expert on military awards, Doug Sterner, said it is highly uncommon in the military for a prestigious valor award like the Silver Star to be stripped away later. Sterner, An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, questioned whether it was fair to do so.
“His award went through the process,” Sterner said. “It was properly vetted, it was properly processed and it was awarded for a single act at a moment in time.”
A number of influential people have advocated on Golsteyn’s behalf. In addition to Hunter, Medal of Honor recipient William D. Swenson wrote a letter that was circulated on Capitol Hill and said he would “gladly stand with [Golsteyn] on any battlefield against any enemy.” Swenson wrote they went through training together early in their careers, but were brought back together through “unfortunate circumstances” that he does not describe.
“Having now known Golsteyn through the course of his career as an Officer, I can truly say he is the finest Officer I have served with,” said Swenson’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Post. “He stands apart. When our nation calls for warriors to defeat our enemies, it calls for Officers like Matt Golsteyn.”
Swenson, who received the nation’s top award for valor in 2013, could not be reached for comment.
A recently retired Marine officer, Col. Randall Newman, who led infantry operations during the Battle of Marja, also has advocated for Golsteyn on several occasions and written letters on his behalf, he told The Post on Friday. Golsteyn led operations in the southern portion of what had been a Taliban stronghold, and had his complete trust, Newman said.
“Matt is a very conscientious guy, and probably one of his greatest attributes is that he is one of the harshest critics of himself,” Newman said. “I can see him being a guy and being involved in an action, and then wondering afterward if he had done the right thing.”
Newman said he was interviewed by Army investigators, but is not clear on all the specifics of the allegations against Golsteyn.
“Until someone produces some viable evidence that he has done something wrong, he should be treated as an innocent man,” Newman said. “Matt has been exposed to what I imagine is the worst punishment possible for a warrior, which is being benched.”