A transfer case with the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee, are carried off of a military aircraft at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, August, 29, 2021

A transfer case with the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee, are carried off of a military aircraft at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, August, 29, 2021 Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

‘Dear America’: Gold Star Families Want ‘Archaic’ Support Systems Fixed

The Pentagon team that manages them “have not protected us, and they have refused to listen."

An open letter from the undersigned:

Dear America and our leaders,

We live in the land of the free because of our brave. This is the country, and you are the precious people, that our husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters died for while fighting in the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Niger, and across the globe.

We write today as Gold Star families whose loved ones were killed in action over the last twenty years. We do not ask for pity, but we stand as warriors, and ask for action and accountability. Just last week, 13 families joined us in the greatest loss known to American life: they have joined our ranks as new families of the fallen. We hear a lot of promises and know our leaders care, but you politicize our loss rather than wrapping around us and prioritizing us with support, policies, and services that are needed to heal and move forward. 

Honoring and remembering our service members and their loved ones should not be a political issue, the politics around it are disgusting. United we prosper; divided we fall. We are more than a tweet or a political tag line. We are the survivors. We need you to choose country over politics; to choose America over your career. Many of you tweet the names of our lost yet turn your face from us when we ask you to help or change the policies to better support our families and the legacies of our loved ones. They fought, bled, and died for you. Please be there for them; please be there for us. 

We have spent thousands upon thousands of hours collectively pressing senior Pentagon and Congressional leaders for better professionalized systems, casualty assistance, real support, and a genuine relationship with the military. The military overall has scaled back our survivor programs. Some nonprofit organizations collect money by exploiting our loss. They haven’t reached out at the end of this conflict, they haven’t help change the policies that hurt our survivors, and they are failing the mission. For the survivors of future conflicts and for the preservation of the all-volunteer force, we must do better. We can do better. We are better than this. 

We are concerned about the failed systems at the Pentagon that must be remedied to better honor the service and sacrifice of our fallen. The current systems and processes for supporting our Gold Star families are archaic, fraught with inconsistency, and nearly impossible to navigate. The small team who manages supporting Gold Star families hasn’t modernized. Catastrophic mistakes have occurred: leaked information, improperly identified remains, failures to file paperwork accurately and on time. They have not protected us, and they have refused to listen. 

We want changes that help future survivors navigate a confusing process, get answers to questions, and know there is someone to turn to when we need help. We want engaged leadership, real long-term support, and an end to the political infighting around our loss. 

Together we ask for: 

• Program reform. The Department of Defense needs a bigger, better-trained team to manage survivor and casualty issues. Beginning with the knock on the door through the end of our lives, we need a substantial and well-trained, professionalized team to better support these needs. 

• Improved technology. The administrative systems are archaic and impossible to navigate. They need meaningful investment and reform to better support survivors. 

• Politics to end. Republicans and Democrats alike politicize our loss, parade us out, and usurp our stories. We are united against the politicization of loss and ask you to be better, do better, and put your country over your political future. Our fallen did.

• Veteran Affairs support. The VA motto is “To care for those who have borne the battle, their widow and their orphan,” yet they lack programs to support the widow and orphan. This needs to be prioritized, as the mental, physical and emotional impact of loss is tremendous. 

• Leaders to lead. Help us better understand the choices you make at a national level. Our loved ones died in a country that we thought we were helping improve, but what we see is anything but improvement. Was our loss worth it? We ask ourselves that question every single day and we need answers from you. If you know something, speak up; do not be silent. We must learn, make changes, and move forward from this. 

Honor for our fallen. Support the building of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial and help us honor and remember our heroes that embody the best our nation has to offer. 

Accountability. Our loved ones deserved better than the outcome of this war. There needs to be meaningful debate and a thorough review of our failures and policies. We must do better, and live by these words: “No one left behind.” Leaders need to be held accountable. 

America is an exceptional country and we are lucky to live here. We can only honor our fallen by coming together to heal and rebuild this country. We must unite around our precious veterans, whose service and their tremendous effort to honor the member of the fellow comrades make us proud and humble. 

May we all be worthy, and may we live as Americans worth dying for. 

With heavy but hopeful hearts,

Name (Loved one’s service branch, theater)

Sara Werner Clark (USMC, Iraq)
Seana Arrechaga (USA, Afghanistan)
Mariah Smith (USN Syria)
Dawn Leimbach Fowler (USA, Afghanistan)
Jennifer Henderson (USA, Afghanistan)
Krissy Roberts (USAF, Iraq)
Taylor Strong (USMC, Afghanistan)
Helen Keiser (USA, Afghanistan)
Rebecca Egger (USA, Afghanistan)
Terry Burgess (USA, Afghanistan)
Elizabeth Burgess (USA, Afghanistan)
Sarah Lindsay (USA, Afghanistan)
Deanna Sartor (USA, Afghanistan)
Ginger Gilbert Ravella (USAF, Iraq)
Elena Gutierrez (USA, Afghanistan)
Tabitha Farmer (USA, Syria)
Melissa Moriarty (USA, Jordan)
Candace Jones (USA, Afghanistan)
Margaret Eggers (USA, Afghanistan)
Delmer Tracy (USA, Afghanistan)
Patricia Tracy (USA, Afghanistan)
Joann Yost (USA, Afghanistan)
Michelle Melgar (USA, Mali)
Felicia Ross (USA, Afghanistan)
Megan McGill (USA, Afghanistan)
Ashley Wheeler (USA, Iraq)
Nancy Gass (USA, Afghanistan)
Melina Nolte (USMC, Afghanistan)
Tiffany Eckert (USA, Iraq)
David Horton (USA, Afghanistan)
Holly Vicari (USA, Afghanistan)
Emily Potter (USA, Afghanistan)
Kylie Willis (USA, Afghanistan)
Kayci Owen (USA, Afghanistan)
Chuck Lewellen (USA, Jordan)
Tiffany Dennis (USA, Afghanistan)
Surana Prince (USA, Afghanistan)
Wendall Pelham (USA, Army)
Char Westbrook (USA, Afghanistan)
Jane Horton (USA, Afghanistan)
Sarah Geisen (USA, Afghanistan)
Tammy Moore (USA, Afghanistan)
Colin Hawkins (USMC, Iraq)
Pamela Presley Tolbert (USMC, Iraq)
William Eggers (USA, Afghanistan)
Darlene Nedley (USA, Afghanistan)
Stephen Eggers (USA, Afghanistan)
Cristy Eggers (USA, Afghanistan)
Priscilla Farmer (USA, Syria)
Becky Moriarty Davis (USA, Jordan)
Theresa Morehead (USA, Afghanistan)
Toni Gross (USA, Afghanistan)
Annette Cuzzupe-Kirk (USA, Afghanistan)
Jennie Taylor (USA, Afghanistan)
Joe Kent (USN Syria)
Dawn Pelham (USA, Afghanistan)
Normie Healy (USN Afghanistan)
Amanda Rivera (USA, Gulf of Aden)
Alexandra McClintock (USA, Afghanistan)
Jessica Charles (USMC, Afghanistan)
Bob Keiser (USA, Afghanistan)
Susan Harris Kolean (USA, Afghanistan)
Brittany Harris (USA, Afghanistan)
Megan Ewy (USA, Afghanistan)
Preston Farmer (USA, Syria)
Stephanie Ouelette (USMC, Afghanistan)
Amy Baldulf (USMC, Afghanistan)
Stephanie Badulf (USMC, Afghanistan)
Maggie Duskin (USA, Afghanistan)
Tiffany Burgess (USA, Afghanistan)
Larry Mace (USA, Afghanistan)
Kristen Santos-Silva (USA, Afghanistan)
Kelly Gibbons (USA, Afghanistan)
Krista Johnston (USA, Afghanistan)
Morgan Zimmerman (USA, Afghanistan)
Terri Pryor (USA, Afghanistan)
Peter MacFarland (USA, Afghanistan)
Barbara Allen (USA, Iraq)
Michelle Black (USA, Niger)
Scarlett Horton (USA, Afghanistan)
Stephen Ross (USA, Afghanistan)
Richard Johnston (USA, Afghanistan)
Colleen Stevens (USA, Afghanistan)
Lanita Hall Herlem (USA, Iraq)
Karen Black (USA, Niger)
Megan Wherry (USA, Afghanistan)
Marina Gonzalez (USA, Iraq)
MacFarland (USA, Afghanistan)
Brittnay McCall (USA, Iraq)
Devin Farmer (USA, Syria)
Amanda Marr (USA, Afghanistan)
Emma Wright (USA, Afghanistan)
Amanda Justice-Peterson (USA, Afghanistan)
Cindy Lewellen (USA, Jordan)
Jill Stephenson (USA, Afghanistan)
Ricky Halleland (USA, Afghanistan)
Eden Badulf (USMC, Afghanistan)
Rachel Perez (USA, Afghanistan)
Kayley Sharp Henderson (USA, Afghanistan)
Mary MacFarland (USA, Afghanistan)
Laura Gonzalez (USA, Iraq)
Dennis Leehan (USA, Afghanistan)
Suzette DeTulio (USA, Iraq)
Susan Harris Kolean (USA, Afghanistan)
Danielle Boyd (USMC, Afghanistan)
Betsy Farmer (USA, Syria)
James Moriarty (USA, Jordan)
Marcia Leehan (USA, Afghanistan)