Op-Ed

What happened to Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami-Dade? The Pentagon owes us an answer

Members of the Special Forces cry at the tomb of Army Sgt. La David Johnson at his burial service in October at the Memorial Gardens East cemetery in Hollywood.
Members of the Special Forces cry at the tomb of Army Sgt. La David Johnson at his burial service in October at the Memorial Gardens East cemetery in Hollywood. Getty Images

Last week, I met with Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. It seemed almost serendipitous because the Pentagon is expected to release a report any day now on its investigation into the Niger ambush during which Islamist militants killed Sgt. La David Johnson, who hailed from my district.

“We have to get to the bottom of [what happened to him],” Esper assured me during our brief encounter. I plan to hold him to his word.

Nearly four months have passed since this tragedy happened. During that time, many distressing details have leaked. Even more questions have been raised about the circumstances leading up to the attack that also led to the deaths of Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and wounded two others.

Many of those questions have focused on why American soldiers were deployed to combat insurgency in West Africa; the purpose of the mission Johnson and his team were on; and whether the unit was adequately prepared and supported by its command.

How did the ambush happen? Was there an intelligence failure?

More recently, it has been reported that the officers who planned and executed the deadly mission may be reprimanded for failing to follow procedure.

I want to learn the answers to those questions, too, but for me, the most burning one is: What happened to Sgt. La David Johnson?

As we know from news reports, Johnson was somehow separated from his unit during the melee. Two days passed before his body was found and recovered a mile away. His body was in such horrific shape that his widow, Myeshia, was advised to not view her husband’s remains for fear that the experience might scar her psyche for life. Weeks after Johnson was laid to rest, we learned that additional remains had been found at the site where he was recovered.

What we don’t know are the details of his final hours and how he was separated from his unit.

I have spent many hours trying to envision what that final journey of Johnson’s life was like. Did the militants force him to leave the original site of the attack? Was he alone with his captors? How was he killed? Was he bound, shot and disrobed? Who found him?

And, most important, why him? Did the terrorists target him because he was the easiest one to grab? I also want to know whether he was led away on foot or by vehicle. What do the surviving members of the unit and their counterparts from Niger recall about the abduction?

Much ado was made about my spat with President Trump and his chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, but my concern about what happened to Johnson is personal. I have known generations of his family, and he and his brothers are members of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.

Pentagon officials owe the Johnson family a definitive account of their loved one’s final hours. They owe everyone in Miami, too, because La David Johnson was a valuable member of our community.

He was one of us.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 24th Congressional District in Miami and Broward counties.

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