By Ky Hunter
It’s heard a million times a day. Maybe it’s accompanied by a handshake, or a hug, or a cup of coffee. While the sentiment is always appreciated, it has been uttered so many times that “Thank you for your service” often carries no more meaning than a passing nod or a courteous “hello.”
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Iraq war veteran Alex Horton argues that the nation has done a disservice to veterans by constantly putting us on a pedestal. The obligated sentiments of thanks, the forced imagery of heroics, the patriotic necessity of venerating those who wear the uniform have all contributed to the fact that veterans are seen as some one-dimensional homogenous entity. The simplicity and sterility of “thank you for your service” allows veterans to remain faceless and sterile. And for the public to keep us at arms length from what really matters. It allows the civilian world to go back to their daily lives feeling like a good American because they thanked a veteran today, without taking any ownership of their sentiments.
The fact of the matter is that veterans ought to be thanked, but not for their service. Because, quite frankly, what we did isn’t about us. The All Volunteer Force in place in the U.S. today relies on men and women to step up and volunteer. Without volunteers, the system would cease to function and the U.S. would have to rely on a conscription service, denying young men and women the choice of whether or not they serve in the military. When choosing to volunteer, service members do much more than march off to war to be a hero. We give up their personal autonomy on where we live. We sacrifice holidays, birthdays, family milestones for the greater good. We postpone educational pursuits and professional careers. We strain relationships, push loved ones to the breaking point, and leave memories behind every few years as our lives our upheaved and moved again. We forego our personal passions and hobbies for the long hours necessary to ensure that the United States is the most professional and successful fighting force on the planet. And we have all volunteered willingly to do all of this. Less than 1% of the population of the U.S. serves in the military. So for every 1 of us who serves, more than 100 don’t have to.
Rather than writing off the decision to serve with a sterile “thank you for your service” this year, own the sentiment and make it personal.
Thank a veteran that you knew you would be present for the birth of all your children.
Thank a veteran that you have pursued your educational goals safely and uninterrupted.
Thank a veteran that your biggest stress is not getting your training ride, workout, spin class, yoga, pilates, or run in for the day.
Thank a veteran that you can sit home nights and write.
Thank a veteran that you have pursued a successful professional career and living the high life.
Thank a veteran that you have the security to be a stay at home parent.
Thank a veteran that you have chosen to make your home close to your, or far form your family, close to the ocean or deep in the mountain… but you choose it.
Thank a veteran that you were able to attend every one of your child’s sporting events, music recitals, spelling bees and parent-teacher conferences.
Thank a veteran that your spouse or partner comes home predictably every day.
Thank a veteran that you have your weekends free.
Thank a veteran that you pursued your passion as an actor, professional athlete, model, musician, or under water basket weaver.
Thank a veteran that you don’t have to be one.