A friend recently sent me this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/sunday-review/please-dont-thank-me-for-my-service.html?_r=0 and asked for my reaction. My response is below…
I have heard similar sentiments from other veterans. While I understand the idea, and I have certainly received a share of thanks that I felt weren’t entirely genuine, I don’t agree with the idea expressed in the article.
“Thank you for your service” has become a very common practice, and has become so common that it does seem to be compulsory for those who didn’t serve to utter this greeting when faced with a veteran or service member. Whatever the motivations behind the issuance of said thanks, however, it must be noted that this trend indicates a drastic improvement from the welcome Vietnam era veterans received. I don’t agree with the article in that the existence of a draft during that era does not justify spitting on homecoming soldiers or any of the other prevalent gestures of disrespect and protest that were common at that time.
Instead in the modern era, our homecoming service-members are welcomed home, and thanked for their service, which to me represents a maturation of the general population who is now able to make a distinction between the strategic decisions of the federal government and the decision to serve and protect. The decision to invade Iraq was not made by any of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines who served there, were wounded there, or were killed there. That decision was made by lawmakers in DC, and I for one am glad that this distinction is now wholly recognized by the general public.
That being said, it is difficult for homecoming servicemembers and veterans to re-assimilate into the same general public. We all have experiences, memories, and scars that differentiate us from that same general public. We at times feel alienated and alone. It can be difficult to relate to others who don’t share those experiences, memories, and scars, and at times this can be exasperated by seeming less than genuine or perhaps compulsory outreach from those who didn’t serve, albeit from guilt or peer pressure. The way I see it though, is not to request that people stop thanking vets for their service, but instead veterans need to meet the general public in the middle. The way I see it, we need to take a more active role in our reintegration, and stop living in the past. The way I see it, we have all lost friends or made sacrifices of our own, but it cheapens those sacrifices if we confine ourselves in the present and the future. It would be my challenge to veterans to find new ways to re-identify themselves beyond the days of their service. Find new communities to become a part of, redefine service, redefine your purpose. As veterans, we can’t control whether the general public cares about what is going on abroad, but we can lead by example. We can become leaders in our local communities, and we can show others how to be responsible citizens. In doing this, it behooves us to embrace each member of that community, and instead of shrugging off thanks, we should reply with “You’re welcome, do you want to see what I am doing now?”
All that being said, I have been thanked many times for my service, and while it occasionally feels like a compulsory reaction when someone becomes aware of my background, I find this to be rare. By and large, I feel as though the welcome and thanks I receive on the basis of my service is collectively warm, genuine, and heartfelt. I foe one encourage everyone to thank every veteran and servicemember for their service. I make a habit of this, and it is my sincerest hope that vets and servicemembers know that I am truly thankful. I have also expanded this idea to thanking anyone who has dedicated their life to service. The armed forces are not the only enclaves of service, and firefighters, police, TSA, those who feed the homeless and so on deserve thanks for their dedication to the community as well! In fact, finding in ourselves genuine thanks for all of the things that enrich our lives is a really good habit to establish, and I encourage everyone to take a moment each day to evaluate and express thanks!