Please Don’t Thank Me For My Service

When people thank me for my military service, I am put in an awkward and uncomfortable position which I do not like at all. Through conversations with other veterans, I have found that almost all of them dislike being thanked for their service as well.

I know that most people mean well, and think that they are lifting our spirits by thanking us for our service. I know that previous generations of veterans did not receive warm welcomes when they returned home. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful. I would certainly rather feel awkward than ashamed.

It’s just that the guys I have spoken to all say the same thing – we didn’t join the military so that we would be thanked for it ten years later. Even when it’s obviously sincere, it leaves us unsure of what to say.

Speaking only for myself, many times it comes across as hollow. It’s as if they don’t know what to say about us being in the military, so they pay lip service to thanking us and move on to talking about the weather.

As to exactly why it makes me feel awkward – it is a reminder of a time that I don’t really like to visit or dwell on unless I’m with very close friends (who were in the military, generally). In real life, I avoid attracting attention to the fact that I was in the military – no veteran plates or military stickers on my cars, almost no military shirts other than my French Paratrooper shirt and a 5th Marines shirt which I wear during workouts, and if people ask me about being in the military, I try to leave it at “I was in the Navy.” But as I said above, I’m not alone in this awkward feeling.

The other day, I heard a few men talking to a guy who had been severely injured during the first part of the war in Iraq. They discussed his injury (largely without his involvement) and then capped it off with a “thanks for your service.” To the men, it probably seemed respectful. To me, it seemed like the Soldier was an animal in the zoo, a creature to be examined and praised and then ignored once a socially acceptable amount of time had been dedicated to the topic. I could see from his body language and lack of a response that he was very uncomfortable. I later spoke one-on-one with him, and he confirmed that it felt “weird” to be thanked.

On the other hand, I was in a bar with one of my Marines – a man I had not seen in seven years – last night, and somehow a bar patron found out that we were in the military (the details are slightly hazy to me). He thanked us for our service and insisted upon buying us drinks, which in my case was Macallan. Perhaps it was hypocritical of me, but I can’t turn down a good single malt, so I accepted.

In most cases, though, I simply want to be left alone. In the abstract I can appreciate the thought when it is genuine, but please don’t thank me for my service.

92 thoughts on “Please Don’t Thank Me For My Service”

  1. I have to say I’m surprised to hear this said. I’m one of those that thanks you. I do it because I genuinely appreciate the fact that you have in many cases put your life on the line for our country and my way of life. And maybe on some level in embarrassment of the fact that I never did the same. So, at least in my case, it’s genuine.

    1. I’m retired Navy. I’m a dual war vet. Vietnam and the Gulf. In 20 years I never seen such a bunch of BS about thanking us for our service! It took 9/11 to make that happen and before that us military NEVER were thanked for our service. Us vets don’t like being thanked and its very uncomfortable. I’m a disabled war vet and don’t thank me anymore.

  2. Excellent point of view. I agree non vets dont get it. I work with a large number of guys who arent vets and they look at me and the other vets like we are weird. I summed it up one time when asked simply as ” I dont want to be thanked for something that I considered privileged to do” we serve because we “get it” ..end of story….Great blog I enjoy it greatly

    Rick .
    Former Ssgt USAF Civil Engineer

  3. Living near one of the largest naval installations on the eastern seaboard, I see military folks all the time. Generally Navy with a sprinkling of marines and air force. I have friends with husbands out to sea, retired chiefs for uncles, customers whose cars I work on plastered in base stickers. I even find that the sound of super hornets flying over my house is comforting.

    Never once have I approached one of them and thanked them. I’ve always wanted to however, I felt that the exchange would be awkward. A perfect stranger bothering a perfect stranger.

    While I constantly observe and appreciate the sacrifices military members and their families make, I make it a point to honor them passively. While my friends husband was out to sea and their car was having problems I took care of it. Not so that I can feel good about it, but that her husband wouldn’t have to worry about it while he was deployed. I’ve looked out for some of my military customers as best I can.

    To me, true appreciation isn’t just saying something to someone, it’s doing something that affects them positively. In any way. Whether I simply let a car with DOD stickers safely pass me in traffic on their way to thebbase in rush hour, or buying an rc helicopter for a retired mech that spent years keeping seaknights aloft.

    Having seen the sacrifice of Navy families personally, I know that a few words can mean much less than kind actions.

  4. Interesting reading. I was never in the military and have seem many folks doing what you describe, yet I never felt it was appropriate to say thank you for basically doing your job. Yes it is honorable to serve your country or community, but there are many other professionals that do so and never get thanked. Politicians, for example. I guess the big difference is the life-ending risk that folks in the ground face, but I reckon the majority of folks who serve during times of war are actually more in supporting roles and a small percentage actually see live fire combat. Great to get a veteran’s perspective on the topic.

  5. Evening ya’ll. Total non-military person from a non-military family. So I’m confused. Some people say ‘thank you for your service’ some people don’t say anything, ignore the Vets. I’m trying to get it even though I understand that the majority of America has no idea what the military goes through and has gone through. I have absolutely no idea how it feels to be in a battle with bullets flying.

    I just looked a Nathan message and saw the word appreciation. Would saying that I appreciate your service work better than thank you?

  6. I am surprised by your comments Andrew but respect your blog and your choice regarding how your feel about being thanked for your service. I have never looked at thanking someone for their service as an awkward exchange, but I have only looked at it from my perspective. I have not served in the military, but I was raised with a love for our country and my freedoms and have often thanked men and women for their service. I am a physical therapist and part of my job is completing a history and getting to know my patients. People mention their service for various reasons I think, but I have always made it a point to tell them that I respect them for their service to the USA and I have always said thank you. I will keep your thoughts in the back of my mind for all the future moments I find myself in the same situation so that I can be more sensitive to what might be an awkward situation.
    Thanks for a great blog.

  7. As I usually wear my “Retired Army” collar pin I am occassionally “thanked for my service.” I know that this patriotic display is a result of the service performed by you and your generation, not my or my generation’s service in The Republic of Viet Nam. I appreciate that my generation has now been included in the honors your generation earned for us. When thanked I simply reply “it was a privilege to serve our country.”

  8. I have to agree. It is absolutely akward. I never say you’re welcome. I do respond with “well, we could never do it without the support of our loved ones at home…” Not giving a crap if they are in fact, one of those loved ones. There is always an uncomfortable silence afterward, giving just a little satisfaction that every one of them, just then, realized how dumb of a statement it is to thank a vet. Especially when some of them actually think a vet would say thank you for that dark time in our lives that we cannot make go away or get back. Coming home from Iraq wasn’t at all like the Vietnam vets coming home, so I have no idea how that feels, but I am still on that side of the fence of not thanking the vets. Glad someone actually said it out loud. Makes me feel better about wishing no one would thank me. I just really want to get in their face and tell them to vote the right way to make my service mean something. People are stupid…rah!

  9. I totally agree. My military service was a short number of years early in my life, and it just feels strange and uncomfortable to be thanked for it years later.

  10. I usually say “it was my pleasure”, and I honestly feel that way, now. There were certainly times when it wasn’t pleasurable, but I feel proud of my service even though I “just fixed airplane parts/airplanes”.

    I have vastly more respect for folks like you who were on the “pointy end of the stick” and heard shots fired in anger. When I tell someone “thank you for your service” I mean it, and I’m also thinking of those who won’t ever hear those words. I’m saying it to them, just as much as to the servicemember or former servicemember in front of me.

    Most of my service was in “peacetime”, but we still “lost” two aircraft. One with six people and the other with four. So ten “shipmates” I never knew lost their lives in “peacetime”.

    So whether the service was in “peacetime” or during a shooting war, it all counts in my book.

    So I say “thank you for your service” and give a firm handshake.

    I can’t give them those years back, or otherwise compensate them.

    Only express my appreciation.

  11. Thank you for your service (in the form of a blog) Andrew. Seriously, I always thought it would be awkward, so I never did it. I’m not a vet, but I really do admire those of you who have served. So, I’ll just shut up and keep sending modest (the best I can do) donations to Wounded Warriors etc. Less awkward for everybody concerned.

  12. I’m a lifelong public servant. My father was a Marine and my late uncle was a Silver Star recipient (Korea, posthumously). Outside the priesthood or Christian pastorship, I can think of no greater calling than that of a United States soldier, regardless of branch. I tell every veteran who comes into my orbit, “God bless you for your service.” I’ll do this until the day I die.

    I love your blog, Andrew. You’re a talented writer and bring an acute perspective on gear, guns and training. I can only ask you to search within yourself to rethink your position on what, most times, is an eager, pure heart…

  13. When someone thanks me for my service, I reply with ‘Thanks for paying for your taxes.’ It’s better than going ‘Uhh, yea…’ and heck, they paid my salary, after all.

  14. I feel the same way. Do the people saying it have some guilt over not going down and signing up?

    They can donate to any of the groups that help veterans or active-duty families. I’d rather they do that than thanking me and maybe feeling good about themselves for it.

    After all, I didn’t do it for them…..

  15. I agree with your comment Andrew’s feelings. I also think that for many folks who never had the chance or courage to sign up that they are saying “thank you for your service (because I or someone I know could/did not)”.

    It is an obligatory thing for many, but that true gratitude for making a decision to do something hard and sticking with it does exist.

    When I meet someone who’s family or themselves out of the service I simply say “I am glad you made it home” peacetime or war, military service is an inherently more dangerous job than most.

  16. I have never been in the military but I have been a police officer for many years and I get what you are saying. I get the thank you bit from time to time. I do this job because I enjoy it not because of thank yous. In my area I am more likely to hear FU pig than thank you so I probably appreciated them a bit more than some.

    I have never actually thanked anyone for their service mostly because I know what it feels like on the receiving end.

    I just usually say thank you somewhat awkwardly so that people don’t think I am being a jerk by saying anything different. It used to feel more awkward but now after having it happen quite a few times I just accept it in the spirit with was given.

  17. I missed being appreciated by my government, family, and society after coming home from Vietnam. I was “thanked” at the wall about ten years ago. I broke down. I haven’t suffered it because someone wants to thank me, but I truly appreciate a Welcome Home more than any thanks!

  18. I think I know the feeling that he is talking about and it is something that Andrew and I have talked about as well. You will never hear me say “don’t thank me for my service”, because to me it is a thank you for everyone, not just me as an individual. Once I started thinking about it in that way, it was a lot less uncomfortable. I guess I always thought….”why thank me? Thank someone that is missing a limb”, but that isn’t what it is about in my opinion.

    Just say thanks, and be glad that at least they are aware that people have made a sacrifice and forget about trying to measure it. It doesn’t matter that they don’t know the deal or not, they are trying.

  19. When I came home (40 years ago) no one was there, not even my family. I had spent a couple of tours in Vietnam in country in the Navy. It seemed to me that there was 2 wats going on- one in VN and one here at home against the government and anyone in the military. While I never expected nor received a “thank you” I did want to accepted and welcomed. Ten years ago a fellow vet said “welcome home” and, for the first time I felt an appreciation for all the time and hard work my team and I put in trying to do our best at our jobs overseas. I think I’d rather hear a welcome home any day as a form of thanks. To me it goes much deeper in understanding what it’s like to be gone and serving our country and everyone here at home. It may be a bit awkward to hear but it makes the soul feel a lot better than to be spit on and hated. Be glad some appreciate what we have all been through!

  20. I get it but I’ve had a few of my military clients thank me for saying that. They told me that nobody else in our business would thank them. But we do appreciate them because we are nothing without them. They are a huge part of are business. We have a special discount factory buyers program just for the military.
    I’ll keep this in mind from now on. Thanks for the insight.

  21. Andrew – I understand completely, but I’m somewhere past”it feels awkward” but well short of “Please don’t say that”.

    I’m approaching the end of a 20+ year career in the Navy, and the hardest parts it were back in the 90’s, when nobody was thanking us (but hey, nobody was hating us either). Part of me wants to ask where they were back then, but I know that many of them really mean it – my mom and my wife are both examples. They have a glimpse of what it takes, and they honest-to-God-in-their-heart want us to know they appreciate it.

    I did sign up, in part, to serve others, and their gratitude doesn’t take away the value of that, nor does a mealy-mouth platitude of “thankyouforyourservice”mumbled at the airport.

    What’s the proportion of people who are genuinely grateful to those who treat it like saying “bless you” when you sneeze? I have no way to know – but I bet it’s higher than you think.

  22. Its awkward but if it makes them feel better and more patriotic than who cares? As you said its better to feel a little awkward than shamed. I usually just tell people “dont worry about it” or “I was happy to do it” and move on. Im also proud of my service and Im not trying to hide from it… though I dont go out of my way to let it be known either. I also thank vets from yesteryear for serving as they didn’t have the luxery of dealing with an overly greatful society.

    I generally agree with you but who caares dude. The overall thank you attitude is good to have around, and I would go as far to say is even a lifesaver for some. Ill take a minute amount of awkwardness in exchange for that.

    Mike (USMC OEF)

    1. Where did I say I wasn’t proud of my service and/or was trying to hide from it?

      I dislike empty platitudes and sunshine patriotism. Businesses letting American flags deteriorate, yellow ribbons falling off cars and not being replaced, and people thanking vets to make themselves feel better – these are things I dislike.

  23. Certainly an interesting perspective. I speak from a slightly alternative viewpoint as a police officer. Ever so occasionally people will come up to us in uniform and say something like, “Thank you for what you do”. People usually sound genuinely sincere so I always say, “I appreciate it.”

    Are they simply speaking in platitudes? Perhaps.

    However, I always try to maintain the perspective that I’d rather hear an empty platitude than the usual cursing in the street or passive dirty looks. Maybe it’s different for veterans who generally don’t have a negative stigma attached to them, however I’d challenge you to maintain the perspective that people thanking you for your service is better than the alternative. Ergo, people maligning you for your service due to their shortsighted political views…

  24. I’m with you. I had my own reasons for serving and the people have already “thanked me” by providing me with a paycheck. In the later years it was a very good one. I avoid wearing any accoutrements that would indicate my service just to avoid this. The practice likely arises from guilt over the lack of welcome home for the Vietnam vets, but I have now come to consider the practice as conservative political correctness.

    JSG SMSgt. (Ret)

  25. Yes, it is awkward at times and it is uncomfortable, but to get mad, irritated, or otherwise show anything but appreciation for their thanks is disrespecting the citizens you were sworn to protect. The ones that seem disingenuous are probably ashamed or in some other way “feel less than’ for not having served, or guilt for not having voted or done anything for their country and in some small way would like to make amends for that, it just your perception, or they feel the need to do something. Others are genuine. They are Americans, patriots, people who for one reason or another were unable to join, found their calling somewhere else, C.O.’s, etc. It doesn’t matter what your MOS was, if the orders were given to protect the people of the US, you would have done it, gladly and gloriously; some of us thought we were doing that, only to realize something else, later on. Being uncomfortable with their outward appreciation, if you really look at the situation, is all about you. I say, continue on in your oath, shake their hands with pride and exuberance, thank them back for giving you the opportunity to have done something so friggin’ amazing that you have strangers coming up to you just to shake your hand, the hand of someone who was courageous enough to do it. Nobody’s TIS was perfect. Some wish we could have done things differently, fought for a more worthy cause, didn’t do what we signed up to do, did things we wish we hadn’t had to do, or any number of other things we tell ourselves on a daily basis. They don’t know these things. Remember, most of us joined so that they wouldn’t have to know these things. Appreciate knowing that they are oblivious to it and because of that, well, job well done. Shake the hand and take the thanks; and in your mind, apply it to a situation when you were serving when you should have gotten a hand shake and didn’t; anyone who has served a good amount of time has them. Be humble, shake their hands, and continue to help make America great again.

    1. Where did I say that I got mad, irritated, or did not show appreciation?

      Also, when did I swear to protect citizens?

      1. My apologies. This comment was not directed at you or anyone specifically, rather just a general feeling I got from reading the article, the comments, as well as my own experiences. As for swearing to protect the citizens, well, all I can say is I guess the Oath of Enlistment means something different to you than it does to me. Because I guarantee that were an enemy of the people about to do harm to any one of them, I would protect them.

          1. Is this the proper wording of the oath?

            “I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

  26. I haven’t served but worked for a 20 year retired navy chief, and more than few other’s who have served in the Army, Air Force, and Marines. I appreciate your post Mr Tuohy and support your opinions. While most service persons active and retired I know don’t mind being thanked for their service, many now a days since 9/11 seem to almost pander for it. I work in the arms and sales industry, and a lot of service members including police ask for discounts, or other benefits without being offered !!! …. and well, that’s disappointing. As I understood, listening and observing for the past decade plus, to hear some members ‘play’ a victim’s role because of their service rather than what the armed services was originally intended is disheartening. So, thanks! not because of your service, but that you are very much encourage me in your honest writings and opinions that some who served, well aren’t …. that way.

  27. I THINK THAT EVERY THING EXPRES BY ALL IS CORECT BUT REMENBER MORE WARS WILL COME AND ARE MAIN TARGET FOR THEM IS USA THATS FOR THE ARAB WORD , IS JUST LIKE PERSON I MET HE TOLD ME THAT WORD WILL FOR THE NEXT 1,000 YEARS WILL BE WITH THERE JIHAD AGAINST AMERICA THERE CITICENS AND OTHER COUNTRIES HELPIN US SO LETS BE READY WHENT IT COMES. SO DONT LET THE GARD DOWN BE PREPARE MORE THINGS WILL BE HAPPENING…..

  28. Most of the people who have “thanked” me have at least seemed to have meant it.

    Andrew, as from where you were trying to hide from it, you went out of your way to mention that you have no plates or stickers, don’t like to dwell on it, etc. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, to each their own, but I guess I just don’t understand the whole veteran/military thing being some huge secret.

    I don’t make a huge effort to advertise it, but it is a pretty significant part of my life and part of my identity that I am proud of, so my moto-vet plates on my car I wouldn’t consider an over the top effort to advertise it any more than the Mason badge or a political sticker is. I do know the type that introduces themselves by their service before their name, and that’s not me, but I also do not make an effort to keep it some big secret. I am also happy to use any off color questions as a teachable moment. For example the infamous question: “Have you killed anyone?” “No, but for reference that isn’t really an appropriate question, and here is why…”

    I guess I just don’t care if someone says thank you, even if its minorly awkward. I also wouldn’t want to give the impression to those who truly are thankful that their thank you to us isn’t enough. Some serve, most don’t. Thats why were having this conversation in the first place. Excuse any typos from my large thumbs on my phone screen.

    Mike

    1. It’s not a huge secret. I discuss it if asked and mention it unasked if relevant. I don’t go out of my way to let everyone know what I did regardless of the situation. As you said, to each their own, but that strikes me as bombastic.

      1. Constantly making a point of it? I’d agree. OTOH I’ve met one of my closest friends through a conversation sparked from the plates on his car a few years back (before I was actually a veteran, but while I was in the service).

        I don’t feel the need to tell people “Hi, I’m Mike. I’m and Jew and a vet studying biology…” but I also have no problem having vet plates on my car. I also don’t have an issue being thanked. I do agree it can be a little awkward, especially when if you ask me all I did was drive around the desert looking for IEDs for a good amount of money, but some people really look up to vets so who am I to cut them down.

        Mike

  29. Never thought about that before. I’m one of those guys who has not served in the military but has the utmost respect for those that have. Many of my friends are vets.

    When I see someone in uniform, if it’s not going to interrupt, I try to make a point to shake hands and thank them for serving and thank them for the sacrifices they’ve made. Occasionally I’ll offer to buy a drink or a meal.

    I had no idea that this put folks in an awkward position. I’m open to suggestions on other ways to show gratitude to those that have put on a uniform in the service of this country. I’d like to show my appreciation, but not in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

  30. Aaron thanking them (especially the guys who served in generations past and never got any thanks) is fine and donating to a well researched veterans program never hurts.

    Mike

  31. Yeah it does feel weird sometimes to be thanked by a soccer mom or some random dude, but I say it to other (younger) vets myself. I do it to acknowledge I know they didn’t have to go/serve but did anyways (as I did). It’s normally in a context where they’ve mentioned past service in some way. I also say “Welcome Home” to Vietnam vets when there service comes up through conversation.

  32. What ticks me off are the snide jackass remarks about how you pay my salary. I actually work for a living, and the job I do right now should be paying me about triple what I’m making now (if I worked for a civilian company). So either start actually paying me a real salary, or stop acting like a jackass. Id never complain about what im making, but the point remains, if your actually paying my salary than you need to stop being such a cheap ass and start actually paying it.

  33. If it’s awkward for you, imagine how awkward it is for me. I was a “cold warrior”. I never fired a shot in anger nor was I shot at. As a submarine sailor in the eighties, I doubt I was even targeted. It makes me uncomfortable to be thanked for something that was in no way heroic. I felt I had an obligation to fulfill, and I did it. It’s kind of like someone walking up to me and thanking me for paying my mortgage.

    There is only one thing that bothers me more:

    The company I work for has a very slight bias toward hiring vets. The most qualified person gets the job, but if two applicants are equally qualified, the preference goes to prior military service. It seems like a reasonable tiebreaker to me but you should hear how loudly my coworker bitches and whines when a vet gets hired.

    1. I echo your sentiment. I served in the Army for a brief period and ended up primarily being a garrison soldier. Although I did dangerous things in training, I never was ended up in a combat zone – never fired a shot in anger, never been in someone’s sights. Makes me feel awkward.

  34. I may be the only one who has been a little turned off by the fairly recent swing of the pendulum to the point where we nearly worship military personnel. This country is supposed to be a nation of citizens with soldiers to defend it when necessary, not a nation of military that is served by a citizens. I think that anyone who volunteers for military service should be treated with the respect that that individual is due, regardless of what uniform or patch they wear. Likewise, I think those who never volunteered should be judged by what they’ve done, not by what they didn’t do.

  35. Another Nathan said “Likewise, I think those that never volunteered should be judged by what they’ve done, not what they didn’t do.”

    Okay, but ties go to the vets.

  36. I can relate. While I do consider myself to be a patriot, I joined mostly for the benefits. Joining when I did was the logical thing to do in order to support my family and enlarge my future prospects.
    This last weekend I went to Canyonlands National Park. The ranger at the gate thanked me for my service. In reply I thanked her for coming back to work after the shutdown. I wonder if my comment felt as awkward to her as hers did to me.

  37. While the military has its share of shitbags I think its fair to assume that in the case of a “tie” honorable service in the military is something that would set the contenders apart. Think ofnit as just another item on the resume.

  38. Like others mentioned this phenomenon is a stark contrast to the post-Vietnam days where public sentiment towards veterans was one of disdain or spite. 20-30 years ago many working in the pentagon would change to civilian clothes because of the stigma from wearing the uniform. While I can appreciate how annoying and hollow some of these comments made by strangers are, I would think many veterans 30 years ago would have preferred it to what they went through in coming home.

  39. Thanks for the interesting post and comment thread. I am a middle-aged doctor in a small town with no military experience. I received some of my best training a VA hospitals and military bases, and have treated active duty and former military patients and their families ever since. Many of these patients have really interesting experiences to relate (a common cause of running late). I admit, I have never felt inclined to thank my military patients for their service. I have figured that the best way I can show appreciation or patriotism is to provide medical care for them and for their families. (Exception: wishing Marines a happy birthday if I happen to be seeing them on 11/10)

  40. You don’t need to say anything at all.

    Some of us could not serve for various reasons and respect military personnel.

    Some of us respect the sacrifices you have made for our families to be free and safe.

    Sorry but you are going to get a thanks from me if I find out you served because I truly appreciate what you have done. If someone is taking time out of their day to thank you it’s likely not hollow, it’s the sheeple walking buy clueless that are hollow to your job and sacrifice.

    Not too many years ago our Vietnam Vets were given a very different approach, be glad that so many American’s are showing you the respect you deserve.

    1. That’s mostly how I approach it. I’m appalled at how vets were treated in the past and am determined that it shouldn’t continue into the future.

      When I was in college Iraq fever was kicking up and the graffiti was everywhere and I thought that the guys showing up in camo deserved better than to be shouted at by trust fund morons that thought T-72’s were the same as an M1 Abrams. So I walked up and shook their hands and said I appreciate what you’re doing. It was awkward for both parties. I thought I as doing the right thing. I hope it was.

      My standard response these days is: “I’m glad you’re back.”

      I understand the fair-weather-fan loathing. People I know are genuinely happy to show their support of a job that we couldn’t or didn’t do. Family I have in the south do not screw around. They build houses for wounded troops. The honor flights are a big deal. I was lucky enough to attend one last year. It was something to see.

      I don’t understand the whole thing and I never will, but I appreciate that someone else can do a job I can’t. That’s why I’m thanking them. On a level, I’m well aware that someone more capable than I has done something that makes my life better.

      Shooting buddy is a PH vet from Vietnam. I don’t thank him, I don’t talk about it. I figure if he wants to talk, he will. I’ve met a few vets from Iraq, I know a few that went to Afghanistan, and as curious as I am, I leave it be. If they want to talk, they will.

      It’s a personal predilection, and I hope I never offend someone with my awkward attempts, but I hope they understand what is meant.

  41. I don’t like it either, because I have become very opposed to the structure and usage of the US military. People are thanking me for being part of some things that in retrospect I hadn’t been a part of. Obviously that’s controversial, but the point stands; don’t thank me.

  42. Dgr. Median active duty pay is around 38k. That’s free food, medical, clothing and more. What would you be doing that would pay minimum 120k, and more accuratetly more like 180 or more after you buy health insurance, house, car, and also be sure to factor in time off work every 2-3-4 years when you get laid off. It might be 6 months. It might bet three years.

    Please share what you would do privately that would pay you these wages.

    You may have been a government employee so long, you do not know what’s going on. You just see wages and think you are getting ripped off.

    Lastly median wage in the country is 40k. You might do better reamining with the federal gov. The median wage at fed level is now over 100k.

  43. Growing up I had a grandfather who had served in WW2, and later found out he was part of the 1st wave of assaults on Omaha beach. He never came over for the memorial day BBQ’s, never talked about the war, but always stood at the POA during any color ceremony, and took the flag from his front lawn down during times of inclement weather. Whenever someone without military experience thanked him, he’d always grit his teeth, fake a smile or reply in a flippant mannor, “sure, why not?” and leave them in an uncomfortable silence.

    I didn’t understand his behavior until it was too late. He passed away a decade before my time in Fallujah, Ramadi, Al Nasseria and other miserable places to understand the totality of wars, their consequences, and the fragility of life itself.

    There will always be those who never considered or lacked the capacity to serve, but to simply thank combat veterans for their life changing services (the magnitude of which they cannot comprehend), that’s what makes it an empty gesture at best and insulting at worst. The war is a very personal, and sometimes tragic event that one simply survives through. No one thanks a rape victim for surviving, it’s just as awkward.

    If you need to say something tell them, “Welcome Home” because there is no greater freedom loving nation than the United States of America, that you can both relate to.

  44. The whole “thank you for your service” thing sprung up while the Bush Admin was brow-beating anyone who criticized the Iraq War. Remember “why do you hate our troops?!” refrains over and over on the news? Those wars cost lives, scuttled our economy, perverted our politics, and led to the ongoing militarization of our police and federal government. I get the call to action and the patriotism involved in signing up, but saying “thank you” is a political act of endorsing those boondoggle wars.

  45. I agree with you Andrew. I don’t truly feel comfortable talking about my service times except with close friends or fellow Marines. Even then it’s always in context. I’m not sure why either except that I don’t want to glamorize it beyond what it is. Being in the field basically sucks let alone being deployed. Sure, every Marine, feels some gratification in actually being able to use their training but it’s not some movie and I don’t know anyone who didn’t want to go home as soon as possible. Because of this it feels disingenuous to talk big and when some “thanks you for your service” I’m at a lost of words also.

  46. I couldn’t agree more with your blog. My husband and I were both in. He had a cushy desk job, while I on the other hand, had the rare opportunity of field work. While deployed, I was the one sent on missions, not only because of my MOS, but also because I was on the Lioness team. ( Last one in Iraq) Needless to say I experienced a lot. I too, only like to relive these days with those who have walked the same roads as I. My husband on the other hand, enjoys flaunting his time served, still walks in parades, talks about the “Marine inside him” all the time at work.Still wears USMC gear, and can be heard giving the occasional “oohrah.” It is not typical for females to serve, let alone to be the one who had more “experience” then her male counterpart. So when that awkward moment comes of ” thank you for your service” my husband is always the one getting thanked, and I am cast aside as the lolly bystander, which is just fine by me, until he says ” Oh, and she is a Former Marine too….” the looks of sympathy, apathy, embarrassment that I get after that comment never help the situation that I always try to avoid. I always attempt a kind smile, a hand shake, and a solemn “thank you.”

  47. I am a Marine that served in two combat zones since the “War on Terror” was declared. Being thanked for my service has always been an awkward exchange, to which I never really knew how to respond. However, since I have joined an organization that is only for combat vets I have become close with other servicemen from all generations. The Vietnam veterans took it upon themselves to look out for one another while coming back when the mass public turned a blind eye to them when they came home. A Vietnam veteran who runs into a stranger who also served in the Vietnam war will say “Welcome home” and leave it at that. Many years later they still say that to one another as a sign of mutual respect. Those men said the same to me when I came home, which gave me a feeling of appreciation with no response necessary. The American public should follow their lead.

  48. Awkward is the perfect word.

    Most people take this the wrong way, but the most annoyed I’ve gotten with the “Thanks” was each time I returned to the States (at end of tours or on R&R) and had to walk the “handshake line” at the airport. All I wanted to do was get a meal, meet my connecting flight and go home. The thought that ran through my mind at that time was “If you want to do something nice, GTF out of my way and stop wasting my time to make yourself feel better.”

    I accidentally discussed these feelings with some non-military family and was given a very hard time, as I’m supposed to accept that these people were doing something nice for me and I should be appreciative. After a couple of years, I sort of see that point, but I still strongly disagree with it. I’m not walking around looking for thanks, a handout or to make you feel better. I do what I do for my own reasons… Needless to say, I no longer discuss very much at all about my work with family, let alone any experiences from deployment…

  49. I never knew they felt uncomfortable about it until a woman retired Army Major brought it to in a van going to a retirement ceremony. She said it makes her feel awkward. I have never said it to a military person because it makes ME feel awkward. But there are other military people who absolutely loved being in the military, wore out their military clothes and still wear their dog tags!!!!! So go figure.

  50. I have to say that I’m glad I came upon your blog and Instagram. It’s been cool reading and seeing your stuf, and I also have to say that I somehow feel vindicated after reading this post. There is and probably always will be a part of me that regrets having never served and doing — what I feel as I’ve gotten older — my duty. And, I often think about it, and how it might feel. And, I observe my sister, who has good intentions,and who wants to join the armed services herself. She is a Goruck devotee, and rarely a day goes by without some kind of praise on Facebook for our service personnel or veterans. And I think about how I might feel seeing and hearing and receiving that praise, and I can only say that I think I understand your “hollow” comments. If I could go back in time and CHOOSE to go into the service, then why would I need or want random strangers’ thanks? It is a choice. One chooses to go that route, because that’s what they want to do for various reasons. Honor. Principle. Ideals. Adventure. Challenge. Tradition of family. Because they seek a family. I can never forget the summer when I went to the D-day beaches,came home and read Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation. I was proud — not thankful — after reading many stories in that book that described the veterans coming home from WWII who didn’t need or want anything in return for what they had done for several years previously around the globe. They just wanted to live their lives and take advantage of the many opportunities that laid ahead and get on with their lives. They didn’t want or seek anything in return from their country. Lastly, I want to say that I’m proud that I live in a country where people are inspired to make a choice and lead their lives in an honorable manner that — despite that individual’s reasons — does ultimately serve a greater good. Thank you for saying what I felt that I couldn’t.

  51. Well we all get a vote, not like we live in North Korea where they can kill their people for watching t.v. So if you want to thank a vet continue doing so, if you feel a bit awkward about being thanked, that’s ok but it is probably still going to occur. Everybody is different and some are sincere and others are not, whatdowedo…Some veterans do not want to be approached, so don’t. Do you go out of your way to thank every vet you see? Probably not. Common sense and common courtesy always apply.

    If you see a member in uniform at starbucks, tell them you got this and buy them that cup of coffee. Or maybe when you see someone in uniform, who serves our country, treat them with respect. They will pick up on that.

    Who knows, this simple act may help us all become better. I think appreciating our troops is a good start. Its Veterans Day.

    It is the soldier, not the reporter,
    who has given us Freedom of Press.

    It is the soldier, not the poet,
    who has given us Freedom of Speech.

    It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
    who has given us the Freedom to Demonstrate.

    It is the soldier, who salutes the flag,
    who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag
    that allows the protester to burn the flag.

    By Father Dennis O’Brien
    Chaplain, United States Marine Corps
    God Bless Our Troops

    http://news.yahoo.com/north-korea-publicly-executes-80-people-033055520.html

    1. you are signature block says “Chaplain, United States Marine Corps”, you must mean you are a Navy Chaplain. Cause that’s where we get them from.

      Good to know you have all the answers.

  52. In a weird way, I think I get this.. I have never served in the military nor did I think that some of the kids from high school viewed their entrance as a privilege. Collectively, however, the “Armed Forces” of the US and the many brave men and women that have made up these institutions through the course of time, create the entity that has protected the freedoms of all of us. I am very grateful for these freedoms and do not take them for granted. For that. I am appreciative of the sacrifices of the men and women who, at an individual level, contribute to the greater cause.

    But to your point, it’s like being thanked for babysitting your own children when your spouse is away. That is not a favor, that is what I do and yes, I am privileged to be able to do it.

    I appreciate the role you have played in maintaining these freedoms and I appreciate the sacrifices of those who know you (personally), missed you and worried about you while you were/are deployed and those that are relieved that you are home safe and healthy.

    Welcome Home sir.

  53. When ever I meet someone who served I usually mention that most of the men in my immediate family served and because of that I have a lot of respect the work they do. Is that too close to “thank you”? Should I not say anything?

  54. I finally understood why I get mad when others thank me for my service. Imaging you live in a town, imaging the town is next to a river. Imaging the river is rising, and soon the town will be underwater. Now imaging you and some friends started to fill sandbags to dyke the river bank because you liked the hard work and besides, someone has to try to stop the water. Now imaging the entire time you are filling sandbags, the rest of the town are going on with their days or sat in their front yard and watched you. After the water is receded, some fat ass come over and say “good job, thanks for your service to keep my home above water.”
    I feel the civilians saying “thank you for your service” or “did you kill anyone?” do not actually want to understand what my service was or how the killing was carried out. They are already set on their version of my War and are just looking for conformation of what they already think it’s true.

    It could be just the cynical me, but the “thank you for your service” people always seems smug about it, as if the obligation is fulfilled, I would rather get no thanks, but have them learn about counter insurgency or the Strategic Corporal.

    Every sandbag I filled, every round I fired was not but for 1% of my generation. Maybe my family and friends benefited little from that, but it was not for them, it was for the Marines went to war with me.

    1. Similar feelings shared. I have no Usmc plates/Stickers/Insignia randomly scattered on my tool box. I honestly feel that a marine vet/ especially a combat marine vets servicd history should be added to the same rules while enjoying a drink of choice in an adult environment per say(No religion, No politics, No fucking ridiculous self loathing marital issues/ and no god damned discusiion of my military service! Regardless if good or bad, Most military movies arent cloae at all especially marine movies. But one quote that hollywood got right, a marine must have snuck it in or threatened a directors livelyhood was Jarhead. When the Senior Drill Instructor acts Swamford if he came from a military family, he said yes sir. My dax , he was a marine sir, in Vietnam. Drill Instructor says did he ever talk about it, no sir w wll only once. That I can remember sir. Well good Then he probably wasnt lying. Now that is onw of the truest statements Ive personally watched proven correct to infinite. Wasnt anyone elses war, and it damn sure wasn’t of your doing, fuck probably coulls have goven two fucks if you ever saw that country in a poster than in person. But once again not our call. But Ill be damned if Im gonna feel sorry for my self and die or even worse let another in the same boat as I take a bullet because I wasn’t particularly politically motivated or driven. But situation being how it was. I wasnt taking up arms against the weak, and cowering behind women and children. We didnt just cross our arms and shake our head three times and magically appear in a shithole where oppression is not only the way of life/ it also happens to be misprotrued as religion by uneducated people being taught since birth that this was the way. I didnt decide to update my passport, take 30 days leave somewhere that you cant even fucking blame the blind ignorance on alcohol and drugs. Oh and also lets throw in an assault rifle that we would have never bought or even talked about and oh yeah, not only cant underatand or read a fucking thing. A nother genius idea was to not think to happen to bring along someone that spoke arabic( that would be a fucking godsend. I didnt even know anyine that practiced that religionn. So impossible scenario, not as a result of anything I did, thought, or wokld have been involved with. So no I have no desire to display my service, shake hands with someone that doesnt have to carry that with them like an invisible vandalier of 240 brass. Im not ill, but the first post that got me to here was hinestly the first time ive saw my view publicly displayed, and it doesnt have a thing to do with patriotism. I served honorably and nobody passed on my watch.. And every day Im not in the desert is a better day than some other poor bastard that was put in the same impossible scenario.
      “USMC Combat Vet Operation Iraqi Freedom”

  55. I confess that I don’t EVER stop someone in military dress, or known to me to have served and say, “Thank you for your service.” I will nod and smile, and that’s it. Nor would I EVER even dream of asking, “Did you kill anyone?” as I both have manners and remember how reticent my father-in-law was, and how other veterans I have known were, to talk about their experiences in wartime.

    On the other hand, maybe you are taking the ‘thank you’ in the wrong way with some–like, if I did it, me. I will always regret my decision not to perform military service. I have many excuses, but none seem sufficient, now. If I were to say ‘thank you’ for YOUR service, it would be with a sense of shame and an apology that you have bravely done what I did not do.

    There is a line from Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ that sums it up:

    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

    I hope that puts it in perspective.

  56. Thanks for writing this, I too feel awkward when people thank me for serving. I’m apparently one of the many that say “thanks for paying your taxes” because it seems to lighten the mood. For awhile I didn’t know what to say and would usually mumble “uh, thanks?”.

    I think it would seem more sincere if they actually asked what they hell I did in Afghanistan instead of thanking me and the shitbag who spent his entire deployment checking ID’s at the chowhalls in Bagram in the exact same way. To them we all did the same job, while everyone who deployed know that’s complete bullshit.

    Don’t thank me, talk to me.

  57. I’m not in the military, but I feel that saying “thank you for your service” is just a kiss ass/half ass way of people who are not in the military apologizing or justifying themselves for not “having the balls” to do what people in the military do. I’m very thankful to those who are out there risking their lives and serving our country, but I feel that a shallow “thank you” doesn’t do anything to convey my thanks at all. People in the military CHOOSE to go into the military, and although they do not have a choice for where they are ordered to serve or what they’re ordered to do, they made the choice to join so it really does seem weird to thank them for a certain career they decided to go in to. Thanking them seems to steal that voluntary choice they made and belittle the fact that they had the guts to join up and take the job in the first place.

  58. I’m right there with you. It’s hard to explain that we don’t serve to earn the gratitude of those that didn’t without sounding *ungrateful for their gratitude*. The assumption that their “thanks” somehow squares things or is even welcome highlights this rift of sorts. When I hear “Thanks for your service”, I try to explain politely, that despite their good will, that it’s a little insulting. If they take it badly I invite them to ponder whether they’re grateful or if they’re really just trying to make themselves feel better.

  59. I’ve never served, but I’ve always felt that saying “Thanks” wasn’t really a whole lot. Usually I ask what they did, and if they’re interested ask a few questions, and learn something. Or buy ’em a drink.

  60. I absolutely never know what to say. If I’m out at the bar with friends, my goto is to say “thank you for paying for my college with your tax dollars…”

  61. I think it’s different for everyone. I don’t think its awkward. Maybe its awkward if you make it awkward. I just reply with a smile saying “well I’m just doing my job.”
    Maybe because before I joined and I was younger I have told someone the same thing and they didn’t say much and didn’t even smile, i sort of tried to understand why they acted that way, but it made me a bit mad because it took guts for me to say it. I was a very anxious kid back then.

  62. Fully agree. I cleaned gyms and picked up base recycling, so when someone asks ‘were you in the service?’ and I say ‘yeah, Air force.’, I know that ‘thank you for your service’ is coming.
    Most times I say ‘yep.’
    But sometimes I say ‘I cleaned gyms’.
    Occasionally I’ve had a few drinks and say
    ‘Oh, did you live in base housing on X Air Force base during 20XX-20XX? If you did, then you’re welcome.’
    What I want to continue saying is
    ‘Glad I could help. You know you could have been dropping off the recycling at the recycling center so we didn’t have to go out and pick it up. FYI.’
    But it never goes that far.

    I really get uncomfortable when other prior service men say ‘thanks for your service’.
    What the heck do ya say then?
    ‘You too?’

  63. I usually say “where were you 40/50 years ago”? If the person is too young or maybe not even born yet I try to put out “we needed people like you 40/50 years ago”. It gets quiet and just leave. I was a winger, a support troop. Just think how the 03’s feel? The grunts, the river rats? The guys who are really jacked up. I got lucky.

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