by The Rev. Laura Adelia, Chaplain, Lt Col, USAF (Ret.)
Veterans Day is upon us this week. And as a veteran, I cannot tell you how many times I have had people say to me “Thank you for your service”.
Do know that most veterans, including myself, very much appreciate being thanked. It is a drastic improvement from how many service members returning from Vietnam were treated.
But similar to how we automatically respond with a “Bless you” after someone sneezes, has “thank you for your service” become yet another automatic, knee-jerk response?
In many ways it has.
What if we dared to go beyond ‘thank you for your service’?
One of the most valuable ways is to listen. Yes, just listen. Take a little bit of time, & listen.
The next time you recognize service members & veterans, after your thank you, stop and ask, “Where did you serve?” Be observant and sensitive to the way they respond. Some service members & veterans may not want to talk about their experiences. Pick up on their cues.
One day I was out running errands, & stopped in a store to buy a couple of things. A young man worked there & was standing at the counter. As there was no one else in the store, we started chatting. There was something about his demeanor, something that said he needed to talk. So, I let him talk. He shared with me that he had served in the Army & had been sent to Iraq.
I did not share that I too was a veteran & had also deployed to the Middle East. Rather, I just listened. It was a very meaningful moment, for him and for me.
From the veterans’ point of view, you have perhaps traveled all over the world and served with so many incredible people. You have had so many adventures & so many amazing life experiences. You return to the civilian world, & someone says to you, “thank you for your service”. You want to respond, but then they make a quick exit, and you are left standing there. Inside you are saying, hey wait come back here! Talk to me! Ask me what I did! Ask me where I served!
Now of course there are many who do not wish to share their stories, as they may just be too painful to talk about. But many, really do want to share their stories and need to share their stories. We all need to feel heard.
It is quite painful to feel invisible. Invisible & disconnected from most people who have no idea what you have been through, & really don’t want to know. It’s so much easier to quickly say “thank you for your service”.
Now I know many of us, in our way too busy & overly fast-paced world just don’t have a lot of extra time.
Veterans Day is upon us this week. Do you really want to thank someone for their service?
Listen, just listen.
Rev. Laura served for over 26 years in the Air Force & Reserves. She has served numerous assignments all over the country, & has been on 3 global deployments, Panama, SW Asia (OIF/OEF) & Antarctica. She retired from the military in 2016, and currently serves as the Missioner for Veteran & Military Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of Arizona.