Thank You For Your Service …. NOT!

by | May 28, 2019 |

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In the age of Donald Trump, despite this President’s effort to revitalize our military, renew respect for our Veterans, and promote America as a force of good in the world — fewer Americans are taking the time to personally to acknowledge our serving Military members and our Veterans for their service and sacrifice, even during the days dedicate to remembering those who’ve died, those who served and those currently serving. We know these days as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day.

But as a Veteran, I’m beginning to see that perhaps this is something that is changing. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is a strange phenomenon that seems to be overtaking America. It is like a dark cloud, or more so, perhaps like that well-known ground-hugging fog that we’ve seen in 1950s and 60s horror movies. While I haven’t thought much about this phenomena during my military career if it was beginning or there at all, particularly during the final years of my active-duty service. That said, I have started to notice it more and more over the last two-three years.

What am I talking about? I’m referring to what I and other veterans are noticing. That being that it appears perhaps many Americans are not or no longer taking the time to personally acknowledging or offering a simple greeting toward and thanking a veteran for their service? There was a time that the very moment we realized or found out someone served in the military, our faces lit-up. We’d smile, warmly extend our hand, and say “Thank you for your service.” And most of us, conservatives and liberals alike, genuinely mean it, perhaps. An added benefit was to find someone who genuinely means it. As a retired officer, a Colonel, I have to admit that when people have thanked me for my service, I’ve often felt awkward and a little uncomfortable.

Of course, when it does happen, the first issue and concern is that literally, everyone says it. In fact, it had been said so much that it had become, to many Vets, to be considered an empty platitude — something you just say because it is politically correct, or felt obligated to say it or compelled because another person said it.

But despite how I’ve reacted in the past, I am noticing and experiencing it is happening less. In fact, it’s happening a great deal more, that people aren’t thanking Veterans for their service.

For myself, for over a year, including Veterans Day 2018, and today Memorial Day 2019, not a single person, of everyone I had been in contact with, said not a thing regarding my military service. Nor was there a thank you, nor a hug or kiss on the cheek, not even a handshake, or even a pat on the back.

Understand I’m not looking for any compliments or adulation, particularly since I’m not a touchy person. And as I previously note, feel uncomfortable. And I’m not talking about people not understanding the distinction between Memorial Day or Veterans and Armed Forces Days, but there is a catch on Memorial Day.

Of course, that being that a lot of people seem to misunderstand the meaning behind Memorial Day, as noted. Memorial Day is a day to honor those that have died in service to this country, while Veterans Day is a day to honor all those who have served. And Armed Forces Day is for those who currently serve on active duty. Of course, it’s not uncommon for both Veterans and Service members to be thanked on Memorial Day; as if that is the purpose of the holiday. Normally, most just say thanks, and either remind them of the difference, or move on. Most Veterans and active duty members say they do encounter a general ignorance about the holidays.

Needless to say, it’s unfortunate. Every year, we observe hundreds of posts across social media in the week leading up to and on Memorial Day, reminding Americans of the sacrifices made with posts, memes, video’s and historic documentaries. So again sadly, the problem seems to be why there are fewer and fewer acknowledgements and ‘thank you’s.’ This begs the question, is it a cultural change, disgust as we saw during and after Vietnam? Are people doing so well in the roaring economy that their lives are focused on their personal lives and other day-to-day distractions? Do Americans just not care or are they ignorant of history, or totally absorbed in themselves?

Understand, that for Service members and Veterans, Memorial Day is unique. For many like myself, as it is for a lot of Service members and Veterans, Memorial Day can be a really tough time. Many have lost friends they were closer to than anyone else, or through the responsibility of Command had ordered forces under their command into harm’s way. For me it is both. For many, Memorial Day can really pour salt into a wound when they’re thinking of their comrades that aren’t with us anymore. While these are member’s private concerns and issues, they still don’t negate the need to acknowledge Service members and Veterans for their sacrifice and service. A thank you, a hug, handshake, or pat on the back is still okay. Not doing so is more hurtful than not by a thousand.

In my own way, I rarely participate in Memorial Day remembrances, services or memorial events, it’s very difficult for me, most non-veterans would not understand. Veteran’s Day, Armed Forces Day, 4th of July and other events honoring our Armed Forces, not a problem. But for Memorial Day, I will only attend Memorial Day observances if I am asked to be there as a guest speaker, invited as someone’s guest, or other capacity as a retired Veteran guest. That’s it! That’s how I roll. Yes it is complex, but as a Veteran for my part I do my thing in other in other ways; contacting Gold Star families that I know to again offer my gratitude and condolences, and to wounded guys that I served with and know to let them know just to say I’m there for them.

The other opportunity I take on Memorial Day as I did this year and last Veterans Day 2018, was to visit Sarasota National Cemetery where I take some time nearly every Memorial Day, when I’m not involved in a memorial event, to take a solemn walk among the fallen and pray for them and their families. There were many visitors to the cemetery. It was really my only contact with anyone today. I normally wear a blazer with a few military pins; the Flag, Colonel’s rank, and jump wings in honor of the fallen. I spent several hours there, throughout the cemetery during the afternoon and early evening. I stood, knelt and prayed throughout the grounds. I greeted passers-by and chatted with several dozen visitors. But strangely as talking my jacket off and getting in my vehicle to leave, I suddenly realized no one acknowledged me as a Veteran or said thank you, even though it was obvious.

As I drove home, I realized no one throughout the day acknowledged, nor had anyone did similar on Veterans Day 2018, or even a 9/11 observance I attended in September 2018. I recalled as I drove home it used to be frequent if not overwhelming years before, to the point I made previous, I used to feel awkward and uncomfortable. Sadly, I’m feeling uncomfortable, but in a different way, more so in disheartened, dejected, regretful, depressed, out of sorts, glum way. And not so much for me, but for those are in the same situation or the fallen…are we are they becoming irrelevant, less important or worst case forgotten.

On the flip side, I for one sincerely appreciate the fact that some civilians do go out of their way to acknowledge our service, just make sure you fully understand what you are thanking us for. When choosing to volunteer, Service members do much more than march off to war. Certainly, none do so to be heroes.

Understand only we the military can determine who the true heroes are. We give up our personal autonomy on where we want to live and work. We willingly sacrifice holidays, birthdays, and family milestones.

For many who have served it’s a catch 22 situation depending on the approach and situation, which those that did not serve don’t know how to navigate.

Many veterans that I have served with over the years simply say that they just don’t want to be anonymous. You have to admit, unlike the “Total War” of World War II, for the past 18-years, our country has not really been a “country at war,” meaning a nation on a war footing. Americans back home still have gone to the mall, the beach, the pool, Disney World, as our entertainment, dining, and tourist industries are thriving. So much so, that in many ways, you would hardly know that Americans were fighting and dying in numerous hot spots from Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa. Perhaps, it is for that reason people can’t acknowledge recognizing Service members and Veterans for their Service on holidays dedicated to doing just that. 

At the same time, some veterans, though they won’t publicly acknowledge it, believe that saying “thank you for your service” is almost a way for civilians to massage away some of the guilt for not participating themselves. I read in an interview with the New York Times, an Army veteran said he feels like the thanks “alleviates some of the civilian guilt,” adding: “They have no skin in the game with these wars. There’s no draft. No real opinions either,” he said. “At least with Vietnam, people spit on you and you knew they had an opinion. Thank you for your service is almost the equivalent of ‘I haven’t thought about any of this.’”  So some might question that no saying nothing, as I’ve experienced, might be a way of just avoiding the issue of thanking Veterans all together.

In the past I’ve told people if you’d like to show your appreciation but want to avoid the cliché, what’s the solution? Veteran-recommended alternatives to “Thank you for your service”: are to take the time and talk to veterans. You might ask us what we did while in uniform. What was our job in the military? It shows a deeper interest in my sacrifices. If you run into a vet that doesn’t want to talk about it, ask what he or she is doing now. Are they going to school? Where do they work now that they are out? Help destroy the anonymity that many vets feel.

When I asked veterans how civilians should thank them for their service, one answer proved to be the most common: “VOTE!” Volunteer in your community, try and make a difference, and vote for what you believe is right. Honor the actions of veterans by ensuring that your voice is heard at the ballot box. Educate yourself on veterans’ issues. There are many great organizations that help veterans with real issues, but the most impactful is to use your right to make your voice heard. If you’re not using your Constitutionally-granted rights, like the right to vote in our democracy, then what the hell was I fighting for?

After all, despite the various reasons that people join the military, from free college, to a steady paycheck to something much more patriotic or idealistic, there is one thing we all have in common: Our passion for our country and your rights and freedoms that we swore to protect.

Regardless and when in doubt, it’s always safe at the very least to thank a member of our Armed Forces or Veteran for their service to our nation. It’s not too late if you didn’t have the opportunity to do so…in fact any day is a good day, they’ll appreciate it.


Jim Waurishuk is a retired USAF Colonel, serving nearly 30-years as a career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer and special mission intelligence officer with expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare. He served as a special mission intelligence officer assigned to multiple Joint Special Operations units and with the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Task Force and international and foreign advisory positions. He served as Deputy Director for Intelligence for U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) during the peak years of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terrorism.

Waurishuk is a former White House National Security Council staffer and a former Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C. He served as a senior advisor to the Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and served as Vice President of the Special Ops-OPSEC.

Currently, he is the Chairman of the Hillsborough County (FL) Republican Executive Committee and Party and serves on the Executive Board of the Republican Party of Florida.

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2 years ago

Vietnam soured Americans on war. Wars since then have been fought for corporate/globalist goals, not for the good of humanity. This is not like WWI and WWII. These unnecessary wars that harm so many people are the reason respect for “service” has plummeted. Trump is right to get us out of these unnecessary wars that only benefit the military industrial complex.

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