“Thank you for your service.” Please don’t.

Getting work done.

How do you thank a vet?

In response to yesterday’s article, Veteran Isn’t Spelled V.I.C.T.I.M., a friend wrote:

“In what way can us civilians thank you and show our concern for your sacrifice without victimizing you. I wouldn’t ever want to make a vet feel that way. Unfortunately, words don’t always come across as we mean them to. How do you wish to be thanked and appreciated?”

I don’t speak for every veteran, but personally I don’t need to be thanked or appreciated for my service. And I really don’t want to. I’m proud of having been a Marine, but thanking me for my service is a complicated issue. I don’t regret anything. But that doesn’t mean that it was all 100% bright American GI Joe serving up a hot steaming plate of freedom.

It was a dirty war. I mean the insurgent groups we fought in al-Anbar Province back in 2006 were the original elements of ISIS. There were no infrastructure, no jobs, and the insurgent groups would hire local people to shoot at us or emplace IEDs. Sometimes they would hire teenagers. The first “terrorists” I detained as POWs in Iraq were 16 and 17 years old, having detonated an IED against another unit and trying to run through our town. Locals approached us for things like food, water, power, education, local crime, and we were trained as combat troops, not policeman or an NGO. We did the best we could to do the right thing in every situation, but where the rubber meets the road things get hot.

The insurgents would rarely fight us face to face, they’d hire locals because they knew they were desperate. A man just trying to put food on the table for his family accepts the only offer he’s had in months. $200 to dig a hole in the ground and look out for Marines while they put in an IED. Yet that night there was a counter-IED mission and Muhammed gets his brain housing group switched off. Sleep on that if you were the guy pulling the trigger. On the flip side, should he approach American troops for aid, which was ever-present, he would have his head chopped off and put on display at the soccer field as a warning.

“Thank you for your service.”

You’re welcome? That’s really the only valid response to “thank you,” although usually I find myself saying “thanks.” Do you see how this becomes a tough thing to deal with? Every time someone thanks me for my service, it feels like a formality at the grocery store. I don’t actually think that they care how my day is going, or they’re interested in me, they’re just being polite while cutting a small paycheck and paying the bills. Same thing with “thanks for your service.” You’re being polite, sure, but you get to say that, then move on with your day. I don’t. I start thinking about the things that I don’t want to talk about, the things you can’t possibly take the time to sit down and discuss because you didn’t mean for your comment to be an invitation to actually learning about a veteran.Most people, I feel, do it to feel righteous. Because when you thank me for my service you get a little dopamine hit like you just got a Tinder message or a Facebook like. And it feels good.

Granted, you can’t possibly know anything about the character of my service without asking. Which is why you should stop thanking me for it!

I’m paraphrasing a quote here and I wish I could find it online, but the gist of it is this: “There is no greater evil than doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.”

Say “Welcome home,” instead. 

No matter the veteran, it’s really nice being home. This shows that you have appreciation for them as an individual without bringing your own political agenda into things. Generally speaking, on the red side, it’s “thank you for your service,” and on the blue side, it’s “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

Maybe you could take a moment to actually ask me about it? Buy me a beer and ask how I feel before you decide on your own how I should feel based on your particular political axe to grind? Not disagree with my experience just because you want to feel nice for thanking a veteran?

Besides, I have more than enough thanks from the government. I’ve been receiving benefits like the GI Bill, which allowed me to graduate college debt-free. And because I have some injuries and pain from my service I get a little gov’t check every month to help me out, not to mention free healthcare, and access to free hunting and fishing licenses, special discounts, and over 90 veteran nonprofit organizations within driving distance in my state. When I bought a house, I didn’t have to put down a deposit because of veteran’s home loans.

Those are my thoughts. If you want to go ahead and continue saying “thank you for your service,” do me a favor and pay close attention to how they react. Really pay attention and then ask yourself if you are doing it for them, or for you.

S/F Devils. Stay tuned for my new video segment Ask A Vet. That’s where you ask me anything you wanna ask a vet.

2 Comments

  1. Well Mark,
    I like the “Welcome home” statement. Please don’t think that we do not care about you as a person/veteran. I will start asking now, as I have to you on occasion. I have been walked away from by vets who couldn’t, or did not feel comfortable talking about it. That’s okay. PTSD is rough no matter how you got it. I would say that if vets want us to ask then they should change what is being taught to those of us who actually care. We have been taught not to ask.

    well Welcome Home Mark. It has been a pleasure knowing you so far

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