As some or most of you know, I was in the Navy for 20 years and retired a few years ago. One of the things that comes up when you serve in the military is that there are a lot of people out there who have a great and abiding respect for what you do in the military and your service to the country. Being in the military is more than a job; it’s a lifestyle unlike any other. As a member of the military you will frequently have people, upon learning you are in (or were in) the military, thank you for your service.
I never found out a satisfactory (to me) way to respond to this. I certainly appreciated the thanks, while at the same time feeling like somewhat of an impostor. I have the perception that when you tell people you’re in the military, they automatically think you’ve done something heroic and put your life on the line. Perhaps that is just my own inadequacies speaking. I never did anything remotely “heroic” when I was in the Navy. I served during the original gulf war, and was on a ship that was among the first to launch tomahawk missiles into Iraq; I still remember the surprise that we were actually doing that. The fact that I was on a ship lent some distance and detachment to what was happening. After the missiles left our sight, we didn’t give much thought as to what was happening when and where they hit.
That was as close as I got to combat. I did many more deployments to the gulf aboard ship, some of them during Operation Enduring/Iraq Freedom, and picked up a few ribbons along the way, but I never did anything close to dangerous (outside of being on a ship that was a huge target). For me, it was less about patriotism than it was about a career I enjoyed and people I enjoyed working with. I love my country and was glad to serve it – and I did take part in more than a few community service projects overseas, which I greatly enjoyed – but as a sailor I never went into combat or faced any grave danger. Grave danger? Is there any other kind? I have no regrets about that, either; while I’ll thankfully never find out, I don’t think I’m suited for combat.
I also know that my aforementioned perception is wrong. Most people are just genuinely appreciative of your service, however it was spent. While the military is indeed quite large, it is a relatively small part of the overall population; few people do what we do. Just like we need people to get into the nitty-gritty of combat, we also need people to fix the jets and organize the paperwork.
So, if you happen to see me on the street and wish to extend your appreciation for my service, just remember…I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn…wait a minute, I got distracted there. I’ll just say thank you and go about my day, and be glad there are people out there who feel like you do.