Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed while serving in Iraq, stood before the Democratic convention on Thursday, July 28 and blasted Donald Trump's rhetoric on Muslims and immigrants. Here's what happened next. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

A coalition of military support and advocacy groups took what they called an unprecedented step Monday, collectively defending the family of a Muslim American Army officer killed in Iraq from criticism by Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

The groups issued a joint letter calling for all political candidates to “demonstrate the character demanded of the offices they seek, and respect not only those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom but also their families who have borne such a loss to protect our liberties.” Bonnie Carroll, the president and founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), said this marks the first time they have ever needed to “defend the honor” of a family who lost someone in combat.

“We work in a sacred space, and we’ve never been challenged this way,” said Carroll, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year for her work with military families. “We’ve never had a reason to come together like this, and I think that alone speaks volumes.”

The letter does not identify Trump by name, but mentions the death of Capt. Humayun Khan. Trump has refused to apologize for his conduct toward the soldier’s family. The captain’s father, Khizr, appeared alongside his wife, Ghazala, at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday and said that Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one” and smears Muslims and other minorities.

Trump fired back, questioning why Ghazala Kahn had nothing to say onstage and asking whether she was allowed to talk. Trump also wondered on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday whether “script writers” for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had penned Khan’s remarks, and tweeted Monday that Khan had “viciously attacked me” and is “now all over T.V. doing the same.”

In response, the military organizations said in the letter released to The Washington Post on Monday that “as with so many families across the United States, the loss and sacrifice of the Khan family has earned them the right to ask hard questions of all those seeking elected office, whether at the local, state or national level.”

In addition to TAPS, the missive was issued by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Gold Star Wives, Got Your 6, the Travis Manion Foundation, Blue Star Families and Give an Hour. Collectively, they represent a cross-section of military nonprofit organizations that focus on everything from suicide prevention to making day-to-day military life easier.

Kathy Roth-Douquet, the chief executive officer and president of Blue Star Families, said that the groups came together to defend the Khans because of the unique place in society that Gold Star families hold.

“They have beyond sweat equity in this country,” she said. “They have blood equity.”

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and chief executive of IAVA, said that the issue has “infuriated the military and veterans community like nothing I have ever seen before, and the response to what is happening is commensurate.”

Military support organizations don’t often get involved in politics, and some don’t talk to the media, Rieckhoff said. The flap also has drawn attention to an even larger issue, which is that Gold Star families often feel forgotten after their loved one is gone, he added.

“I think this cuts to the very core of the civil-military divide,” Rieckhoff said. “We hope that this is an opportunity to bring light to an issue that has been dominated by heat.”

VoteVets, another veterans organization that describes itself as progressive and includes retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark on its board of directors, released an open letter Monday to Trump that was signed by the families of 17 deceased U.S. troops. It called his comments about the Khans “repugnant, and personally offensive to us.”

“When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us,” the letter said. “When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice. You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost.”

Letter to Candidates on Respecting Gold Star Families by Dan Lamothe on Scribd

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