Veterans Day is celebrated nationwide on November 11th as a day to honor those who served in the military. The words "thank you for your service" may seem inadequate, but to me, those words have more meaning than those who haven't served will ever understand.
The very first time someone said it to me, I didn't know how to respond. "You're welcome" didn't seem appropriate, so I remained speechless as a fellow American thanked me for my service and sacrifices. After that, I thought about how best to respond. It's difficult to sum up in one sentence, but I came up with this:
"It was both a privilege and an honor for me to serve my country."
I am privileged to live in a great nation amongst such diverse people and to have been afforded the opportunity to live with such freedom. I am honored to have represented my country by wearing the cloth of our nation, by serving alongside some remarkable people, and by taking up the mantle of those who served before me.
I am also grateful for the bonds of friendship that transcend ethnic, cultural, and ideological differences.
Don't underestimate the power of this small gesture of saying "thank you". Veterans Day celebrates the sacrifices all veterans have made, built upon the belief in something bigger than themselves. Protecting our nation's freedom sometimes requires the ultimate sacrifice.
Remember that when someone volunteered to serve our country, his or her families joined them in the sacrifice. There were hardships. Those families remained behind while the servicemember deployed. Their spouses and children moved away from their relatives, friends, jobs, and support networks every few years to unfamiliar places. Veterans missed birthdays, anniversaries, children's first words and first steps taken, and even funerals of loved ones. These were hardships endured daily in times of peace and many relationships suffered. The whole family lives a veteran's sacrifice.
You can thank a veteran in serval ways; by saying it, by your actions, and by learning more about them and their service. One of the best ways to honor a veteran is to understand their sacrifices and engage them in meaningful conversation. Listen to their story. Some who haven't served form their opinions about the military based on movies and television. Most veterans cringe at those Hollywood portrayals. As a brief example, in the span of my entire military career, I never heard the words "That's an order!" barked by a superior.
The reality is that every single veteran has had a different experience and no single voice could represent all of us. Our experiences are shaped by service branch, rank, specialty, deployments, and the era of service. The span and variety of our experiences are vast. The experience of someone who spent four years in the Army infantry during Vietnam is much different from that of a recently retired Navy SEAL, or that of an Air Force pilot who served in the 90's or a Marine Combat Engineer who served in Afghanistan.
Once you get to know the veterans in your workplace and your community, you'll find that we are ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences. Those experiences shaped who we are today, and we're proud of it. So yes, it was indeed a privilege and an honor for me to serve my country.
It made me who I am today.