President Donald Trump is being criticized for what appears to have been an ill-timed and clumsy call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four Green Berets recently killed by ISIS fighters in West Africa, but he should be commended for the conversation.
“There's no perfect way to make that phone call,” White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly said during a press briefing October 19, explaining the advice he gave when Trump asked him what to say to Johnson’s widow, Myeshia.
Kelly knows better than most Americans what to say to military families mourning the loss of loved ones. A Gold Star father himself, Kelly buried his son, Robert, in 2010 after a roadside bomb detonated when the then-second lieutenant was on patrol in Afghanistan, ABC News reported.
“I said to him, 'Sir, there's nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families, but let met me tell you what I tell them. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me because he was my casualty officer,” Kelly told the White House Press Corps on October 19. “He said, 'Kel, [your son] was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed.'”
Trump couldn't have asked for a more expert opinion than Kelly's, and — frankly — it's reassuring to know our commander in chief is seeking such counsel, especially in a world where everyday Americans are increasingly out of touch with the sacrifices that come with American military life, as less than 0.04 percent of the U.S. population is serving in the armed forces, down from 1.7 percent just 50 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Americans more than ever need to know how to comfort and support our military families, but even more so, they need be encouraged to simply reach out and make an effort — not be frightened into silence because they're afraid their words will fall flat.
American military families have lived through worse than well-intentioned-but-clumsy condolences, and chances are — if you simply try to express sympathy and gratitude — they'll thank you for it because that's more than most.
The president is not polished — his right-hand man Mike Pence even admitted as much in 2016 during the vice presidential debate — and no doubt his reported words weren't the most eloquent or even the most understanding when he went to make his phone call to Mrs. Johnson and his calls to the families of the other three soldiers killed in Niger.
But for a man whose biggest losses appear to be the ones stated on his tax returns, it's refreshing to see Trump try to model respect for the men and women among us who give their lives to defend freedom — to boldly say these soldiers matter and our world is less bright without their shining example in our lives.
Words can never walk back loss, but they can go a long way toward affirming the value of life.