I never knew how to respond when somebody said “thank you for your service.” To me, I didn’t really feel worthy. I have never been wounded, never been shot (directly) at, never been in a fight for my life. Yes, I’ve deployed to some nasty places but overall my experience in the military has been a mostly routine, dull, businesslike one. So what to make of “thank you for your service.”?
People mean well when they say it. Most of them are just trying to pass on a message of encouragement to somebody who has chosen to live a lifestyle they could never fathom. And we know that. We know you don’t fully understand us. We usually don’t fully understand ourselves, which is why so many of us grumble and complain when you thank us for our service.
But I’m here to tell you we need to hear those words. We need to be reminded of the people who are not like us, who are nevertheless proud and grateful for us.
The military is in a bad place these days, in terms of being a part of the larger American vision. We’ve spent 16 years fighting wars in places nobody had ever heard of prior to 9/11. We’ve been away longer, and gone back more often, and have less to show for it, than at any other point in our nations history. Meanwhile, as veterans, our touchpoints at home are growing fewer and fewer. We live in different places, and have experiences that no one else truly understands. We are becoming more distant from those around us. And that’s a problem.
We’re not really that different from those who chose different paths of life. Sometimes, I think we’ve accepted too much of the idea that military service somehow makes us better, or puts us above those who haven’t served. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be proud of our service, not at all, but I am saying that sometimes, this feeling of “otherness” is more a sign of our unwillingness to find common ground with those who haven’t served. Some of us, sadly and disappointingly, are quick to sneer at “thank you for your service” because “you don’t know, you’re just saying that.” And that’s a real shame.
So this Veterans Day, I’m asking on behalf of my brothers and sisters who served and are serving, that you keep on thanking us for our service. It may make us feel awkward and uncomfortable, and we may grumble and complain, but we need to hear it. We need to remember and be reminded that we aren’t alone and we aren’t that different. At the end of the day, we’re all Americans together.