Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How to Say Thank You

People often thank me for my military service. It is always nice to hear and I appreciate it. Here in Texas, this kind of thing happens all of the time. I almost never encounter people who are cynical or hateful while I am in uniform. As the situation in the Global War On Terrorism improves (just like I always said that it would), people who have been silent about their patriotism for the last couple years have started to thank me in public again. Just last month, I had a wonderful patriot offer to pick up the ticket for my wedding anniversary dinner. Yup, this part of the country makes a Soldier feel welcome.

As a matter of fact, I think that I can only recall one time that someone called me a murderer. He did not have the courage to say it to my face of course... he said it behind my back to my wife.

There are several different kinds of thank yous. They all come from different motives and perspectives. It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines regarding what the thank you really means. Once you've heard enough of them, you get really good at picking out differences. Obviously the one I appreciate the most is the one that comes from combat veterans. It is a great honor to have a hero tell you that you are doing a good job. I once had a WWII vet tell the Wounded Warriors that I was escorting that they were the real heroes. He said that the kamikazes in the Pacific were nothing compared to IEDs and child suicide bombers. This Iwo Jima vet told us that his courage looked pretty easy compared to what wars have become. He brought me to tears.

I also love to hear the thank you from members of military families or real patriots. You can tell by talking to these folk that they understand why my vocation is necessary. They may not have a full grip on what being a Soldier is like, but they know why they exist and what they are here to do. They understand that a Soldier's primary job is to efficiently kill the enemy and break his stuff; to cleanly end the fight for the sake of justice and peace. These people get it.

Then there are the thank yous that I could do without. First among these is the half-hearted guilt thank you. This happens when a real thank you is delivered and the person who is not really grateful does not want to be seen as unpatriotic. This is the guy in the grocery line who shakes your hand because he is not going to be the only one who didn't. This is the public official who supports the troops for the same reason that he has town hall meetings and goes to church: to get/stay elected.

Second is the very popular pity thank you. This happens when a person feels sorry for Soldiers and thinks that they are victims of the vast political machine that does not care about them. Frankly, this person insults my intelligence and ignores the fact that I volunteered. If all you have is pity for me, please just keep your thoughts to yourself. This person only sees me as little more than a pawn that is moved around the world to help rich people get what they want.

Third is the selfish thank you. This is the close cousin to the pity thank you and it comes from people who are just glad that you are going off to die instead of them. They say "thank you", but you hear "better you than me, bub." These guys are glad that you volunteered because that means that they probably won't be drafted anytime soon.

Finally, you have the fear thank you. This is the one that starts out feeling like a real thank you, but it reveals itself to be little more than worry about your personal safety. It usually comes out as, "You aren't going to have to go over there are you?" or "Gosh, I hope you aren't one of the ones getting deployed." These people mean well, but they don't understand the nature of a Soldier. It is my job to fight. It is my vocation to be ready to deploy into risky situations. If you are proud that I am a Soldier, please don't tell me that you hope that I will never do the work of a Soldier. We all want to avoid danger, but sometimes danger must be faced. If I am the man that this great country sends to go do that work, then so be it.

The best thank you is the one that takes sacrifice. Actions always speak louder than words. You can thank me if you want, but here is what I'd rather you do to show your gratitude:

1. Go visit a wounded Soldier and help their families visit them.
2. If you have a family member in the military, volunteer for the Family Readiness Group.
3. If you know someone who has just come back from combat, educate yourself about the symptoms of PTSD/MTBI and be ready to help us detect it.
4. Go find a family who has people who are deployed and help them with whatever they need.
5. Find the parents of a Soldier and congratulate them on a job well done. Give them the credit that they deserve.
6. Volunteer, donate, and become involved in the USO.
7. Get involved with the Wounded Warrior Project! These severally wounded veterans deserve your personal thanks alot more than I do.

In my book, until you have looked a severely wounded 18 year old kid in the face and told him (or her) "thank you" in person, you don't know the meaning of the words.

Sunt facta verbis difficiliora. It is one thing to say that you are a grateful patriot. Being a grateful patriot is another matter.

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