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Gold Star widow’s new memoir recounts grief and lies after Green Beret husband’s ISIS ambush death

Michelle Black places rose on her husband's, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Black's, casket in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Oct. 30, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)
May 08, 2021

When Green Beret Staff Sgt. Bryan Black was killed in action during an ISIS terrorist ambush in Niger in 2017, his wife Michelle Black vowed to herself and her two young sons to do whatever it took to find out the truth of what happened that day. On Tuesday, she released a memoir recounting her heartbreaking story, titled SACRIFICE: A Gold Star Widow’s Fight for the Truth.

“I take the reader behind closed doors as we’re briefed by the military investigators who actually lied to us, and I give a minute-by-minute account of what actually happened on the ground according to the men [that were there],” Black told American Military News. “Then I pull apart the final report we were given by AFRICOM and I compare it to what the men told me.”

Bryan Black, 35, was one of four Americans killed in the Oct. 4, 2017 ISIS ambush, along with four Nigerien troops, roughly 120 miles north of Niamey, the capital city of Niger. During their mission to hunt down Doundou Chefou — a militant suspected of helping kidnap an American — the team was attacked by at least 100 ISIS militants armed with firearms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Christopher Black. (U.S. Department of Defense/Released)

The three other Americans killed in the attack were Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, and Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25.

Just as Michelle Black was beginning to overcome the initial shock of her husband’s death, she was stunned once again when a top military official publicly smeared her husband’s name, military service and ultimate sacrifice.  

Michelle Black at the funeral service for husband U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Black at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Oct. 30, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who commanded AFRICOM at the time, told reporters in a press briefing that all teams in the command were performing well except Bryan Black’s. That team, Waldhauser said, was “not indicative of what special operators do,” Black recalled.

“In one fell swoop, he managed to dishonor my husband and those who fought and died with him,” Black continued. “I heard those words on national TV and the decision [to find out the truth] was made. I basically felt that to ignore the general’s unfounded accusations would have been a choice to dishonor Bryan and his sacrifice, so that wasn’t an option for me.”

“They unjustly pinned the majority of the blame on lower-level officers and team members. I laid bare the disparities between what AFRICOM told the families and what really happened that day,” Black said.

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) conduct funeral of Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Black at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Oct. 30, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser)

Black said higher-ranked individuals made clear that “we just had to trust them” but “they weren’t answering any of my direct questions,” adding that she suspects military officials “think they can get away” with lying to families about what happens inside operations that go wrong.

“This is the problem that you get into with the military, is that it’s like they don’t realize that the families of the fallen are not stupid. When they lie to us about our soldiers, we know our soldiers, so we know they’re lying,” she said. “And those lies disrespect the sacrifice they made and dishonors them. After they’ve died for our country, they deserve better than that, and so do we.”

“The families of the fallen, I think we’re reaching a point where it’s like: we’re not going to sit by and let this happen,” Black added.

After receiving the news of her husband’s death, Black said she went into shock, but her mind almost immediately fell on her two young sons: Isaac, who was nine at the time of his father’s death, and Ezekial, who was 11.

“I don’t really remember much. My kids were in bed and I remember thinking … I hope they’re sound asleep and that they don’t wake up until the morning because I can’t be brave for them yet,” Black said.

Now, her sons talk about becoming Green Berets like their father.

“I think it’d be incredible. I think it’d be great. It scares me but everything scares you when you realize people do actually die,” said Black, noting that her experiences, while tragic, have not changed her view of the United States military.   

“My experiences have not soured my view [of the military] but rather drawn me in because I love the military and what it stands for. I love the community of special operators that my husband and I were a part of. And I love the ideals of serving, sacrifice, honor and respect for everyone in the community. Those ideals are really what make America such a great nation. My dislike isn’t for the military, but rather for injustice,” Black said.

“The only question that remains is why so many people lied to us and put their careers ahead of the lives of my husband…and all the teammates. Did dishonoring others somehow earn them honor that was worth having in the end?”