On Oct. 4, 2017, four U.S. Army Green Berets were killed during an ambush in Niger. The events leading up to the deadly attack and its aftermath are still under review. As painful as the loss of these four U.S. soldiers is, the controversy and public debate immediately after their deaths was far more painful, and a national disgrace.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were members of a U.S. Army Special Forces detachment that was part of a larger mission in the Niger region. We currently have approximately 800 military personal serving as part of a multi-national force fighting against Islamic State in the Greater Sahara/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The total military deployment dates to 2013 and President Obama, and was “lawful” based on the provisions of the “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” an act passed by Congress.
That is the basic forensic background of the situation that led to the deaths of these four heroes. This event opened the eyes of many in the nation to the extent of our military engagement around the globe. There are many questions that must be answered and a full account of the facts deserves our attention. Our troops are engaged in undeclared “wars” all around the globe, yet we as a nation watch with indifference, half-heartily offering protest.
The disgust I felt while watching the brave efforts of these four soldiers be dishonored within the public arena was beyond heartbreaking, it was infuriating. The cast of fools was large, and each in their own way should have known better, and should have shown deference and humility as each misstep played out before our eyes. As Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou strongly condemned the ambush, and called for a moment of silence “to the memory of our soldiers who have fallen on the field of honour,” some in this country shamefully made a mockery of their sacrifice. Whether it was intentional or not, we must never allow this to happen again.
Cast aside any attempted malice for the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Myeshia Johnson. We as a nation must respect how a Gold Star family member chooses to grieve as they have sadly earned that right. All must hold their tongues in respect. I know some of you are saying, “but Jeff…” Stop right there. No good can come from confrontation in this moment of grief, and this too shall pass, but we must permit all Gold Star families to grieve in their own way. The media, our elected and appointed representatives, and all the Facebook agitators should bite their tongues, take their fingers off the keyboards and shut up. We must resist our weaker impulses to engage in a back and forth that will only dishonor the sacrifices of the fallen.
President Trump was wrong when, at the end of his Oct. 16 press conference, he stated, “other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls.” His statement sent us down a path of our eventual public disgrace. A simple statement presented with grace and humility was all that was needed.
Shame also belongs with the media. I am not saying they did not have an obligation to report the story, but that is not what happened. The callous way some in the national media pursued this story fanned the flames that eventually led to us yelling at each other when we should have been showing reverence for the four fallen soldiers. The press was wrong when they agitated the situation, and at times intentionally misreported or worse, left out important details.
Even more despicable is when some in the media started to call Gold Star families. Opening old wounds and dragging their private grieving into a disgraceful spectacle was cruel. Some in the media showed a complete lack of sympathy and discipline when “they broke out their Rolodexes,” and started calling Gold Star families to ask them if they had received a call from the sitting president at the time of the loss of their loved one. Who thought this was a good idea? Did the reporter, their editors or peers offer any protests, even just a little?
Sadder still, I wonder how many of these same news outlets set aside any of their valuable space at the time of their loss to profile the same Gold Star families they were calling? Imagine you are sitting at home, years after losing your loved one in combat, receiving a call from a strange reporter who wants you to engage in a shameful public display that dishonored all those who have served this country. How would you feel?
Lastly, there is us. We not only bear witness to this sad series of events, but some actively engaged in this sickening folly. We need to be better, even as others deface our national virtue when it comes to honoring those who serve in the military. We must be better.
My contempt for those who allowed this dishonorable episode to fester for the whole world to see will never go away. I shall look upon it as one of the saddest moments in our nation’s history. There is no more solemn moment we share as a nation than to honor and respect those who have fallen in the line of duty, and yet we failed miserably. If we as a nation cannot stop our petty bickering for just a few moments out of reverence for our fallen soldiers, I have to question whether we are worthy of their sacrifice.
God bless you Sgt. La David T. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, and all who have fallen on our behalf. There are no words I can express that rise to the respect and honor deserving of your sacrifice. All I have to offer is my gratitude, and I am sorry we failed you as a nation.