“Hey, Joe,” a quiet but familiar voice said to me from the doorway of a small room with plush furniture. The room was meant to provide as much comfort as possible for the families of military members on the worst day of their life: the day the remains of their loved ones are returned to them at Dover Air Force Base.
I had been alone in the room for only a few minutes and was exhausted but restless; the previous three days felt like three years and three minutes all at once, because so much had been taken from my family so quickly and irrevocably that I felt like I was back at war and had just gotten attacked, but unlike in war, I couldn’t fight back.
That voice from the doorway, though, was familiar because it belonged to a man I had seen on television countless times: President Donald Trump. As he approached me, he extended his right hand to shake mine, placed his left hand on my shoulder, looked me in my eyes and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Shannon was an amazing woman and warrior.”
I still have no idea what exactly I said in response. The days after my wife, Shannon Kent, was killed by a suicide bomber during a mission to fight ISIS in Syria in January 2019 had been such a blur and, anyway, I’d never met a president before.
But (I am told) I thanked President Trump, and I remember he held eye contact with me. And in his eyes, I could see — unmistakably — the same pain I’d seen in the eyes of other senior leaders who ultimately bear the responsibility for sending men and women to their deaths in combat.
As we unclasped our hands, the president said to me, “Shannon was the real deal, we are lucky to have people like her willing to go out there and face evil for us.” He kept his arm on my shoulder.
Together, as we waited for the plane that would bring Shannon home, we spent another 20 minutes talking about my wife, our children and what an amazing mother, wife and soldier she was. It was clear to me that President Trump truly cared — not just that Shannon and three others had been killed in Syria, but about who Shannon and the three others were as people.
Then the president did something that I did not expect: He asked me what I thought about Syria and what we were doing there. He talked to me — a Green Beret and a combat veteran, not some expert at the Pentagon or a think tank — about the wisdom leaving troops in harm’s way once ISIS’ territorial caliphate had been destroyed. It was clear to me that he was deeply conflicted about whether staying in Syria was worth the lives lost — Shannon and her three colleagues — on that day in January.
By Joe Kent, Gold Star husband and a retired Army officer
About the Author
Joe Kent is a Gold Star husband and a retired Army officer with 20 years of experience. He sits on the board of Military Families for Trump.