Pearls & Vodka

I have no patience for women like Frederica Wilson

Second Lieutenant Robert M. Kelly, 29, of Tallahassee, Florida, died November 9, 2010, while conducting combat operations in the Sangin, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. He was posthumously promoted to First Lieutenant and buried in Arlington Cemetery on November 22, 2010. At the time of his death, Lieutenant Kelly was leading his Marines on a foot patrol in the Helmand province when he stepped on a landmine. At the time of his son’s death, then, three-star General John Kelly, said, He was in exactly the place he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do, surrounded by the best men on this earth-his Marines and Navy Doc.” The Kelly family found solace in the fact that Robert was taken instantly. Between General Kelly and his two sons, they have served over 12 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. [1]

On November 9, 2010, General Kelly and his wife Karen, became what is known as “Gold Star Parents.”

The term “Gold Star family” is a modern reference that comes from the Service Flag. These flags were first flown by families during World War I. The flags included a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces of the United States during a period of war. If one member of the military, represented by the blue star, was killed in action, the star was replaced with a gold star. The purpose of this process was to allow members of the community to know the price that the family had paid in the cause of freedom. [2]

On December 30th, 2009, in Khost, Afghanistan, one of the deadliest attacks on CIA personnel took place. “The carnage at Khost could be measured not only by the number of bodies that had been flown to Dover, Delaware, but also by the powerful men awaiting them, including then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, then the Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman.” Alongside Director Panetta, and General Cartwright were executives from Xe Services; one of the CIA’s most secretive contractors. The executives from Xe were there awaiting the body of former Navy Seal, and their own CIA security contractor, 35-year-old Jeremy Wise. Wise’s body was also greeted by his widow, Dana, his parents Dr. Jean and Mrs. Mary Wise, and his brothers, Green Beret medic Benjamin Wise and Marine Beau Wise. Jeremy had dropped out of medical school at the University of Arkansas to become a Navy SEAL. He grew up listening to the biographies of men like General Douglas MacArthur, read to him by his mother.

In mid-2002, during the grueling six-month course, Jeremy suffered a heat stroke on Coronado Beach. Physical weakness is not tolerated in the SEAL training program, and Jeremy was destined to wait his turn to be assigned to a ship. But as always, Jeremy wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

He convinced the number 2 officer at the Naval Special Warfare Center to give him another shot.

In 8 years on the job, Ryan Zinke had only given about ten people, out of around 2,500, that second shot.

Jeremy Wise was one of them.

Jeremy spent five years as a SEAL, with a few tours of duty in the Middle East combat zones. The desire to be with his wife and stepson brought him out of the Navy and back home t0 Virginia. The pay of a CIA contractor was too hard to pass up, and his work led him back to the warzone. At the time Jeremy was killed, the CIA believed they were close to a breakthrough on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. A Jordanian pediatrician was being brought in to be debriefed, and Jeremy was among those waiting when a red Subaru pulled up. Humam al-Balawi had strapped on a suicide vest filled with 30 pounds of homemade explosives and hundreds of nails. When Balawi balked at getting out of the car, Jeremy and his men drew their guns. Balawi emerged from the opposite side of the car when the Xe contractors began yelling at him to show his palms. Instead, he declared in Arabic, “There is no god but God,” and hit the detonator. And with that, Jeremy was gone. [3]

Three weeks away from going home, Jeremy’s brother Ben volunteered for an operation with around 50 Afghan commandos.

Their mission was to capture a Taliban leader somewhere there in the northern Balkh province of Afghanistan. On the morning of January 9th, 2012, AK-47 gunfire rang out from one of the caves. At least one Afghan commando was killed instantly; a second man took a round of fire in his face. Ben quickly bandaged the commando’s face and helped him to a dry riverbed to wait for the medevac. Apache helicopters began gouging the caves with laser-guided Hellfire missiles. Several hours later, the Green Berets didn’t think anyone could still be alive, but the Afghan commandos with them refused to check. Ben offered to go first. He tossed a fragmentation grenade inside the cave and turned the corner spraying gunfire.

Unfortunately, gunfire rattled right back, hitting Ben in the body armor and slamming him onto his back. More and more bullets pierced his legs as he writhed in pain on the ground. Ben was pulled to by his vest to safety by Air Force Captain Blake Luttrell. While waiting for the medevac, Ben asked what body parts were missing, “everything’s good” his friend assured him. Ben kept saying, “I don’t know what went wrong.” By January 14th, when his wife and brother had reached him in Germany, both of Ben’s legs had been amputated, and his blood had turned septic. His brain was damaged, and his kidneys were failing. At least eight rounds of gunfire had riddled Ben’s thighs, pelvis, and abdomen. By the next morning, his liver was failing, and the decision had to be made to either take him back to surgery and make his pain worse or, to let him go. With his only living brother there holding his left hand, and his wife Traci holding his other hand, a chaplain prayed as Ben Wise passed away. [3]

At the time of Ben’s death in 2012, there were only five other families who had endured the deaths of two sons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Hubbards of California, the Westbrooks of New Mexico, and the Velezes from Texas, are the only other three that have been identified. [3]

Then CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote to Jean and Mary Wise, “I am so very lost in the emotion of losing another son of yours to combat. As the father of 3 sons, I cannot imagine the pain you must be feeling. And yet, I know that like Jeremy, Ben was doing what he wanted — to fight for all of us. He is a true American hero and patriot. God bless him and you.” [3]

I grew up with Jeremy, Ben, Beau and their sister Heather, in our small town of El Dorado, Arkansas. I played on the same playground at Westside Christian School as these fallen soldiers. Truth be told, I had the biggest crush growing up on Jeremy. Even as kids, all the Wise boys seemed larger than life.

In 2011, Jeremy was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star “for extraordinary heroism.

And those words are how I would define Jeremy and Ben. And the entire Wise family.

The death of anyone is hard. But the death of a life given in service to their country impacts an entire nation. And it always should. If you are not rendered speechless at stories like my friends, the Wise family, I question your love for this country and your freedom.

Military deaths should never be about politics, partisan or not.

The calls, letters, services, and salutes should always be about honoring and remembering the life and the service of someone who died for their country, our country.

The incessant media coverage and partisan belittling of what is said, or not said, in conversations with Gold Start families is a disgrace to the legacy of their lost loved one and is a distraction from the utmost respect we should be showing.

On October 4th, 2017, a 12-man team led by Green Berets was ambushed by over 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters in the northwestern African country of Niger. The attack left four US soldiers dead and two wounded. There is an ongoing, military investigation to conclude what exactly happened in this unexpected attack. Many are questioning the US presence in Niger, and the details surrounding the evacuation of the deceased and wounded. A lot of Americans do not realize we have had almost 1000 troops in Niger for over five years as advisors to local troops in their battle against ISIS and the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram. [4]

Staff Sergeant Bryan Black. Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson. Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright. Sergeant La David Johnson.

These are the names of the four men that were killed earlier this month in Niger.

They are not sound-bytes for the media; they are not fodder for the talking-heads. They are men. They are husbands. They are fathers. They are sons. They are brothers. They are uncles. They are friends.

They are American soldiers.

They are the best of us.

President Trump has been criticized for his long silence following the attack; and also for his handling of the aftermath.

We are every day, American citizens with little, to no, insight on how long military investigations take, or how they work. The media has begun calling this tragedy, “Trump’s Benghazi.”

United States Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, US Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, Former Petty Officer First Class Glen Doherty, and Former Senior Chief Petty Officer Tyron S. Woods. [5]

Those are the names of the four men killed on September 12, 2012.

They are not an event.

They are people.

Tyrone Woods had three children. Glen Doherty was one of three children. Sean Smith had two children and was a former Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. Christopher Stevens was the oldest of three kids and a popular member of his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega. [5]

Their lives were not defined by the events that transpired in Libya in 2012.

And the lives of Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, Dustin Wright and La David Johnson are not defined by the tragedy that took place in Africa earlier this month.

Dustin Wright came from a family who had severed in the military since 1812. La David Johnson married his childhood sweetheart and was expecting his third child. Bryan Black had two sons named Ezekiel and Isaac. Jeremiah Johnson left behind a wife and two daughters. [6]

These were men who deserve more than our political bickering.

They deserve our honor, our respect, and our undying and unwavering gratitude.

I’m not defending what President Trump did, or did not say. I’m not defending how he handled the radio interview when he raised the issue of President Barack Obama not calling General Kelly after his son was killed. No President has been able to call every single family of every single soldier lost. Should they? Maybe. But that’s not for me to decide, nor is it the point of this blog.

I watched yesterday’s press briefing at the White House where General Kelly took the podium. If you did not, I highly recommend that you do so. You can check it out here. [9]

General Kelly began by giving, what I found to be, a heart-wrenching blow-by-blow of what happens when a member of the United States military is killed in action. General Kelly called the men and women who have given their lives in defense of our nation, the best 1 percent this country produces. He went on to explain who all writes letters to the families of the fallen. He also explained that the most important phone calls these families receive are not from Presidents or Secretaries of Defense, but from the fellow soldiers, their buddies, who were fighting alongside their children, or spouses, who were killed in action. After the loss of his son, General Kelly said, “those are the only phone calls that really mattered.” Kelly went on to say, “there’s no perfect way to make that phone call.” He actually had first recommended to President Trump, not to make those phone calls. He did clarify that President Obama did not call his family after the loss of his son. But he was very quick to point out that that’s not a negative thing. [7]

President Trump called the families of all four men killed in Niger.

When he asked General Kelly what he should say on these calls, General Kelly responded by telling him of his own experience. “Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.” [7]

General Kelly was present in the room when Donald Trump called La David Johnson’s widow, along with the families of the other three men who were killed. Kelly went on to say that he was “absolutely stunned” that a member of Congress would listen in on that conversation. General Kelly said, “I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.” [7]

General Kelly went for a 90-minute walk among the stones at Arlington Cemetery after hearing of Congresswoman Wilson’s antics on television. He had to collect his thoughts on a walk “among the finest men and women on this Earth.” [7]

Frederica Wilson is the United States Representative of the 24th District of Florida. She has been in office for four years now. Congresswoman Wilson felt that this time of devastating grief for the Johnson family was a good time to start a public feud, for publicity, with President Trump; accusing him of making an “insensitive” remark to the soldier’s widow. That remark was the one that General Kelly had advised President Trump to make. “He knew what he was getting into.” That remark is meant to elicit the understanding that their hero’s sacrifice was not in vain, nor unobserved. That remark memorializes the heroic service of the fallen solder.

The only thing insensitive that occurred during that phone call was Frederica Wilson listening in and then causing a spectacle, distracting from the grief and sacrifice of the Wilson family.

If Congresswoman Wilson is such a compassionate supporter of our military, perhaps she should start supporting measures that would help our veterans and their families financially. Up until now, she has been against those measures. Don’t believe me? Check her voting record. She opposed a measure that would have given the families of four soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan in 2013 death and burial benefits. She has continually opposed measures to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. And she has voted against measures multiple times that would ensure veterans and their families would still receive benefits despite government shutdowns. [8]

That’s who Frederica Wilson is.

Her words mean nothing when her actions have spoken so loudly.

Frederica Wilson is not an American hero. She’s nothing more than a loudmouth, crazy hat-wearing woman from south Florida who likes to stir up drama. And no, Congresswoman Wilson, that critique is not racist, as you so quickly like to cover your inequities with those accusations.

Sergeant La David Johnson is an American hero and should be remembered as such. And Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright deserve to be honored and talked about just as much. Their families deserve our respect, our gratitude, and our attention, not crazy, hat-wearing ladies who use the media as their microphone to demand more attention on themselves.

Rest in peace soldiers. May God bless you, May God bless your families, and May God bless the United States of America.

[1] http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rmkelly.htm

[2] https://www.army.mil/goldstar/

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/local/2014/01/18/one-family-two-sacrifices/?utm_term=.ba9d9a9ad3a2

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/10/20/everything-we-know-about-the-niger-attack-that-left-4-u-s-soldiers-dead/?utm_term=.5fb461b73bf1

[5] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/06/house-republicans-benghazi-report-hillary-clinton/489125/

[6] http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/18/politics/niger-us-soldiers-killed-profiles/index.html

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/us/politics/statement-kelly-gold-star.html

[8] https://www.votesmart.org

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/us/politics/statement-kelly-gold-star.html

Photo by Holly Mindrup on Unsplash