(This was originally published on my Facebook page as a “note” on November 9, 2012. I hope that all who read this will share it as far and wide as possible. Not for my glory or my readership numbers, but to help people understand what Veteran’s Day is like for active-duty military members. I left active duty in Nov 2015, but this message still represents my thoughts about Veteran’s Day.)
It happens to a lot of us in uniform. We are pumping gas or grabbing a household necessity in the grocery store. We happen to be in uniform because we are headed to or from work. It usually comes from nowhere and, at least for me, it usually takes a moment to realize the comment is aimed at me.
“Thank you for your service.”
What do I say to that? How should I respond? I never know the answer to this, thus I am usually uncomfortable for a moment and simply say “Thank you” in return. Sometimes that answer seems to welcome further probing like “what ship are you on?” or “where are you stationed?”
I try to be polite to any stranger who approaches me in public regardless of the topic at hand. This situation, though, perplexes me. I am not comfortable responding to “thank you” and “I appreciate your service” or any other acknowledgement of my military service in a public setting.
I do consider my brothers and sisters in arms to be heroes. I just don’t think of myself that way. I wouldn’t dare speak for them, but I am pretty sure they feel the same way. Most of us just see ourselves as regular people doing a job for extraordinary organizations. Nothing we do individually means anything in most cases. We work as a team.
If anyone needs a sincere “Thank you”, it is our families. It is our spouses and children and parents who stay behind and carry the weight of our household responsibilities without our help. They often take on multiple roles and learn new skills just to survive while we are away doing the nation’s business. They take on the burden of the pain and suffering when their hero is lost to the nation’s cause. They are the ones who are forced by circumstances out of their control to wonder all day every day if today will be the day they get the bad news. They are the ones who watch the nightly news with keen interest and hope that some recipe for world peace will be discovered, only to find out that it becomes more out of reach every day.
If anyone has earned a special “day” on the calendar, if anyone has earned a free meal at three dozen national chain restaurants, it is the family members of military personnel. Their sacrifice and dedication deserves all of the obligatory mentions I keep hearing tossed about on television commercials and news shows as Veteran’s Day approaches. I hear endless talking heads reminding me to “make sure I stop a military veteran and thank them for their service”.
Don’t thank me. Show me you appreciate my service by showing me you are dedicated to making America the greatest country on Earth with the way you conduct yourself and the way you help your neighbor. Show me my sacrifice is worth it by becoming an educated voter who knows and understands the issues and by not being someone who just watches an hour of network news every night to see how to vote. Reward my time away from my family by making sure they have a safe and comfortable community to live in. Do not steal their treasure by being a strain on government resources through negligence, laziness or disregard for the difference between right and wrong.
So to all of the people out there who think you need to take a moment to thank me for taking up arms in defense of your liberty, there is someone else who makes it possible for me to do what I do. There is someone else who needs your benevolence and your dedication to keeping America great. This Veteran’s Day, I will be off work. I will be taking time to think about those who came before me and acted as heroes so that when my time to serve came, it might be easier for me than it was for them. It is my job to carry on their tradition and continue their progress. It is my job. I am owed no gratitude for that. In doing that job, I am placing extraordinary strain on my family back home. I am taking something from them that cannot be replaced by a TV commentator calling me a hero. This Veteran’s Day, do not thank me.
If you want to thank someone, thank my wife and my son.