To the family of Sgt. La David Johnson
(Photo: U.S. Army photo, Elizabeth Frase)

This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilitaryOneClick.

Dear Johnson Family,

Over the past few days, the life you live has fractured into a waking nightmare. You’ve endured what we all dread during deployment: The death of our service member. But you’ve also experienced humiliation and public scrutiny that no grieving Gold Star family should ever endure.

You’ve already given so much. And for many of us in the military community, we feel completely helpless as we watch the news and see the social media posts that make public your grief.

We will hold you in our prayers and thoughts. We will donate to the verified GoFundMe set up in your husband and father’s name. We will give to organizations like TAPS and the Green Beret Foundation that seek to comfort and support the families of the fallen. Those of us that know you will bring casseroles and desserts, will sit with you, will hug you. And please know that there are thousands upon thousands of us who wish we knew you personally so that we could reach out and wrap you in our arms.

And so we grieve with you, Johnsons. Our greatest fears have become your heart-wrenching reality. Because you’ve been forced to deal with your husband and father and son’s death publicly, in the face of crude debate and discussion. Because these days should be about your precious loved one, not about anyone else.

Because of your experiences, other Gold Star families have stepped forward to tell their stories–both noteworthy and cringeworthy–of our politicians’ responses to their grief and sacrifices.

And so as a military community, we cannot just give you our condolences without action. Ours is a community of action and it has become ever clearer that we must hold our leaders to a higher bar.

We must expect them–especially those who have no connection to the military community– to truly understand the cost of war and conflict. They must understand the cost of sending flesh and blood into the deserts and jungles and mountains and oceans and skies.

We must them understand that signing a paper and taking an oath does not negate the pain and grief of a loved one’s death.

We must explain the gut-wrenching fear of an unexpected knock at the door during deployment.

We must tell our stories of fear and worry, of the comms blackouts that made our hearts sink, of the times that we’ve been terrified to turn on the news (or to turn it off), of the constant, ubiquitous scenarios that run through our heads during deployment.

We must make them understand that every service member sent into harm’s way leaves behind a family who waits and hopes and prays and cries and worries after them. That every troop movement, every engagement, every policy decision has real, tangible effect on real, live people.

We must make them understand that in order to maintain a volunteer army, those who sacrifice and give everything must be treated with dignity and respect.

We must expect compassion and kindness to Gold Star families from our leaders, whatever their politics, whatever their policy decisions, whatever their personal beliefs. And we must take that burden from the grieving family and hold them accountable when they fail.

And we must expect these things of every one of our leaders, not only when it is politically advantageous or easy. That’s how we can pay tribute to your loss and your loved one’s sacrifice. . . and the losses and sacrifices of all of our fallen service members and the families they left tragically and too soon.

By J.G. Noll