Dear Donald Trump,
I'm a firm believer that politics should be kept out of our military and that our military should be kept out of politics. However, over the last week, a line was crossed not just between politics and our military but between personal ideology and human decency.
You recently told a crowd of your supporters, upon receiving a replica Purple Heart, that you'd, "always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier."
Mr. Trump, I'm not a campaign manager. I can't tell you how to run this race. But I say this as someone who knows you. I've met you before and you seemed as though you genuinely cared about my service and sacrifice. I wonder which version is the real you.
I am a proud post-9/11 U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient. When I first joined the military, like many other service members, I had dreams of serving valiantly and one day receiving many military accolades in service of our great nation.
In April 2003, the humvee I was driving outside of Karbala, Iraq, ran over a roadside bomb. The passengers were immediately ejected as a result of the blast, but I was trapped inside the burning vehicle for five minutes. I can tell you without equivocation that the one award I did not want to receive was a Purple Heart, but I got one anyway. And I'll tell you now, I didn't get mine the easy way.
I came home to my mother with third-degree burns over 33% of my body. I have had 30-plus surgeries to repair the skin grafts and tissue expanders since 2003. I came home a Purple Heart recipient, but my mother knew that we were only a few heartbeats away from giving her a new designation — a Gold Star.
So far you seem to have denigrated a prisoner of war, disparaged a four-star general who devoted his life to service, and disrespected the faith and the grief of a Gold Star family. Any one of these actions alone would otherwise disqualify a person auditioning for the role of our commander in chief.
I cannot understand why you have continually attempted to dishonor the memory of Army Captain Humayun Khan. You have repeatedly attempted to link him and his family to radical Islamic terrorism by even bringing their names up in the same sentence.
You say that you support our military, but your actions tell a different story. You assert that you have made sacrifices on par with the Khan family. I must ask you; do you truly understand the fundamental difference between investments and sacrifice?
Your reaction to his family's emotional statement has shown me two things: First, you have a difficult time picking your battles. In the military, this is an important lesson that soldiers learn. You attended a military academy in your childhood and you are a businessman, so I know you understand this strategy.
If your response to this family had simply been to acknowledge their ultimate sacrifice and to say that as Americans, they are constitutionally entitled to their opinions, that would have been enough. You chose a different tactic. You chose to stay in the news cycle with your increasingly outrageous statements of condemnation of a family who, by all accounts, should absolutely be off limits.
How can we trust our military in the hands of a commander in chief who we can't even trust to comfort the parents of a fallen soldier?
Second, your reaction also tells me that since you have difficulty dealing with the opinions of a private citizen of this country, you will almost certainly have a harder time in the world of global politics.
My 4-year-old daughter has a better sense of human empathy around this subject. When I take her to the park and other children stare at the scars that cover my face and arms, she takes my hand and encourages me to talk to those young children and explain why I look the way I look.
It also worries me that my fellow citizens have grown accustomed to such rhetoric. That the bigotry and bombast may have even become normalized. Some say that they are no longer shocked by what is said on the national stage of your presidential campaign.
My hope is that your actions and words do not continue to erode our civil discourse. I pray that good people in this country continue to be shocked by your rhetoric because that means they agree that your words and actions have no place in society, much less in the Oval Office.
You have stated that all press is good press. It's an interesting strategy that has thus far worked for you. But this, the memory of our fallen soldiers, their families, former POWs, and the proud recipients of the Purple Heart honor. This is not the position from which you should be getting your press. This is off-limits.
Please remember that the people you are speaking about, our brave men and women of the armed forces make up less than 1% of the population. However, if you become commander in chief, they will be the people who are going to fight for you regardless of personal politics. These are the people who will defend you. These are their families you are talking about. These are not the people you want to continue to carry out your petty grievances and personal attacks with.
I respectfully suggest you get a primer on the word sacrifice, as well as a lesson in human decency.
Jose Rene “J.R.” Martinez is an American actor, author, motivational speaker and retired U.S. Army soldier. He is the author of the ‘New York Times’ bestseller ‘Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength and Spirit.’