Early October saw the tragic deaths of four U.S. soldiers, who were killed during an ambush — officially attributed to an ISIS affiliate but (oddly) not claimed by the terror organization — in Niger. The mysterious circumstances surrounding the attack still present more questions than answers, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ and a longtime Trump adversary who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee) has demanded more information into the puzzle, including how and why such a low-risk operation went so wrong.
What is clear, for now, is that although the ambush also killed Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, most of the focus on the Niger attack has surrounded Sgt. La David Johnson. Unfortunately, much of what’s been said about Johnson actually revolves around President Trump’s crass phone call with widow Myeshia Johnson. So, what do we know about Sgt. Johnson’s fate, and how has the search for more information been eclipsed by Trump’s continuing antics?
A Decorated Soldier: Johnson joined the U.S. Army in 2014. Before becoming a sergeant, he enlisted as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. This job built upon his local (Miami Gardens, Florida) reputation as an adventurous BMX daredevil — known as “Wheelie King 305” — who nixed his own front axle because he desired a “challenge.” Likewise, Johnson excelled at military service. Although he was not, as many outlets have reported, a Green Beret, he was part of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Here’s a list of the awards (courtesy of The Guardian) received by Johnson over three years:
Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Army Parachutist Badge, the Army Air Assault Badge, the Driver and Mechanic Badge and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge – Sharpshooter with Rifle.
A Devoted Father And Husband: Local 10 News in Miami spoke with many people who knew Johnson as a “reliable” husband to Myeshia (who even displayed his devotion to his wife with a chest tattoo) and a father of two young children, a daughter (age 6) and a son (age 2). Myeshia is currently six months pregnant with their third child. She told CBS Miami, “For him not to be with us anymore is just heartbreaking and devastating because I don’t know what I’m gonna do without him. He was everything to us.”
The Discovery Of Johnson’s Body: The Pentagon is investigating the rescue operation, which scattered the 50 or so attackers and likely saved the lives of two-thirds of the dozen U.S. soldiers. Three sergeants’ bodies were immediately recovered at the ambush site (north of the Nigerian capital of Niamey), but Johnson’s body was not discovered until two days later by Nigerian soldiers. Further, no one knows how he became separated from the group or why his body was discovered more than one mile away from the ambush site. The Pentagon has stressed that U.S. forces wasted no time in beginning to search for Johnson after he was discovered missing.
Why Is Trump So Angry? A presidential detour began last week during an impromptu press briefing, in which Trump declared (when asked why he hadn’t yet mentioned the four soldiers killed in Niger) that he was better at consoling families of fallen soldiers than Obama was. This led to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) reporting on Trump’s consolation call, in which he told Myeshia, “He knew what he was getting into.”
Days of controversy eventually led to John Kelly defending Trump while attacking Wilson’s credibility, and one exhausting week later — Myeshia has confirmed Wilson’s account of the call as “100% correct.” Myeshia also told George Stephanopoulos that Trump had struggled to remember her husband’s name. She was angry about Trump’s “tone,” as well:
“What he said was that ‘he knew what he signed up for,’ but it hurts anyways. And it made me cry because it made me angry because I was very mad about the tone of his voice and how he said it, he couldn’t remember my husband’s name.”
In response, Trump couldn’t resist disputing a grieving widow’s claim on Twitter: “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”
Where will this strange saga from here? Trump will likely continue lashing out, and while some conspiracy-theory-oriented types may consider it a diversion, that’s probably not the case. He’s simply an arguer who clashes (with anyone) over the tiniest details even when he’s already been proven wrong. In the meantime, the Pentagon will hopefully discover more about what really happened to Johnson and his fellow U.S. soldiers in Niger.