Last month, we observed Memorial Day – once known as Decoration Day. The internet was rife with heartwarming messages of support for our military community, discussions about past wars, and many stories about someone’s granddad, or aunt, the draft, and so on. It got me thinking about whether that path could have been right for me.
Eventually I stopped laughing long enough to breathe and write this. Everything, from PCSing to deployments, makes me want to run screaming – I don’t know how Service Members do it. Seriously, I DO NOT KNOW! I was an Air Force brat, and later attached to an Army installation abroad, and I recall a lot about the military life. In my eyes, Service Members often encounter massive physical, mental and emotional challenges that I don’t have the guts to even consider, let alone endure. Even if I had tried when I was single and in great shape, I would not have made it past basic. So hats off to them. Seriously.
Reflecting on the military is inevitable on a day that honors our Fallen. But many civilians are relatively unaware as to the difference between Memorial Day and just about any other military-related national holiday – and not because we civilians don’t care, but some of us simply have never been told the difference in a way that makes sense. Even after growing up surrounded by Service Members, I still needed to be told the difference between a Retiree and a Veteran (hint – not all Retirees are Veterans.) For someone completely unaffiliated, there are plenty of unknowns.
Like many people, I admire much about the military community. I know Service Members, past and present, who totally embody essential core values, to include courage, honor, virtue and integrity. They embrace those beliefs as their own; not only as a means to get through the military, but to get through life, period. Living by a creed sets Service Members apart from the rest of us, and can provide them with security, comfort, and guidance when the going gets tough. These values are what enable camaraderie, brotherhood (and sisterhood!) in the military; they form the basis of relationships with co-workers, friends and family. They are vital and thoroughly admirable – I believe this is the basis of our respect for the military, above all else.
Relationships in the civilian world usually aren’t so ordered, disciplined, or honorable. But many of us truly appreciate just how much Service Members (willingly) sacrifice, and while Memorial Day may not be the appropriate time to do so, we should be able to show our gratitude to our living Service Members every day! After scouting through the web on Memorial Day, it struck me such an exchange can be awkward. We civilians try to express our gratitude and sometimes it comes out wrong, or inappropriately phrased, because it’s not quite a natural thing to do. Many of us feel the best we can do is post an appropriate quote/photo/video on official days of observance. Personally, I’ve never been able to thank a Service Member, Retiree or Vet for their service without feeling like a fool. I have questions like, do they consider their role a service? Do they event want to be thanked? Do my words benefit them as they do me, or is it just something I am saying to get rid of guilt? And naturally, the answers to all these questions will differ depending on who you speak to. Grrrr! What do I do?
It’s okay, people! See, we have other options. Rather than enduring the weird, sometimes not-well-received “thank you for your service”, we can say “we think you’re amazing and worth supporting” in other ways. How so?
- Head up on post – attend Family and MWR events, go to the Dinner Theatre, golf on post, ride at Hilltop, bowl at Gordon Lanes, and all that jazz. You and all your civilian friends are welcome!
- Share the moment – if you are doing all that already, tell others to do the same! Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, however you connect with your friends, show them how you’re demonstrating your support! If they ask how your social life assists the military, just let them know that every penny spent with Family and MWR, AAFES, DeCA and so on is vital to the military community, and provides low- to no-cost entertainment, education, financial support and more for our Service Members, retirees and family members.
- Talk to a Service Member, Retiree or Vet – sorry, there’s no magic formula. Ask them how they are doing, if they want to talk, if there’s anything you can do for them. Talk to them about this topic. You might be surprised by their response, or they may provide you with more insight than my sorry ramblings!
- Get involved – yes, there are programs out there for you to “adopt a soldier” or send cards at Christmas. And yes, these are lovely programs with the right intentions, so don’t pass them up. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to try something new. Go visit your local VA, Veterans Hospital or War Home and volunteer. Ask a Spouse if you can help with anything – shopping, babysitting, yard work – and mean it.
- Donate to Fisher House, or the Wounded Warrior Project. Volunteer through Army Community Service (ACS) or join one of the organizations open to the public. Contact your local Family and MWR or Public Affairs offices for more information. Again, the internet is a wonderful tool, so put Google to good use and discover how you can get involved at home, or afar.
I know this is a brief (somewhat biased) list and I’m sure there are plenty more ways to say your thanks, but those are my go-to tips! At the end of the day, I think it’s fairly obvious how much we admire our military, but it never hurts to say it, however and whenever you can. As the late, great Maya Angelou said, “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”