Want to thank a veteran? Do something

November 12, 2015

Proud saluting male army soldier on american flag background

By: Pavan V. Parikh Cincinnati attorney, officer in the US Army Reserve, and partner with the Truman National Security Project

“Thank you for your service.”

As anyone who has ever travelled in uniform will tell you, that phrase is probably heard more than a simple “Hello.” And that’s fine. As a nation at war for 14 years, it is good for our troops to know that the people for whom they are fighting support them. However, even though veterans know that the sentiment comes from a place of caring, sometimes it can sound hollow. At a time when less than one percent of the American population serves in uniform, Veteran’s Day should be a time to reflect not only on the service of those who do, but to reflect on what it means to those who do not. During World War II, not only did the troops go to war, the entire country did. Rationing was imposed.

Private industry was pressed into service shifting production towards military means. During Korea and Vietnam (like in WWII and before), the draft was imposed and millions of young men were sent to fight against their will. They didn’t know if they were going to have to go and their families didn’t either. The country as a whole felt the cost of war. Now, it has become easy to not feel that debt. We can fly a flag or place a ribbon on a car or stand at a baseball game and say we support our troops. We can say, “Thank you for your service” and feel good about ourselves.

But do we all really feel the cost of our protracted wars? In your heart of hearts, ask yourself if you have really been called to sacrifice anything over the last fourteen years. Those who raised their hands and said, “Send me” have. Their families have too. If you haven’t, I dare you to do better. Our military-civilian divide continues to grow with each day we remain engaged in conflicts around the world. And that continued and widening division is dangerous for both sides of the equation. Members of the military can feel more isolated downrange and when they return. Civilians can feel more apathetic and unengaged in the process of governance that sends our troops into harm’s way.

And the leadership of our government can remain numb to the true costs of enduring global conflict when such a small number of their constituents bear the burden for protecting the rest. The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen said it best: “The military becoming more and more isolated from the American people is a disaster for America.” Like your high school English teacher probably told you, it is important to show and not just tell a story.

Servicemen and women are people of action. So, if you really want to show your appreciation for their service, don’t just thank them, do something. Donate your time to volunteer at any number of organizations dedicated to veterans’ issues. Donate your money to support the same. Sit with a homeless veteran or buy her a meal. In the airport, don’t just say, “Thank you;” engage that young soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or coast guardsman and tell them what the service of your grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, sister, son, or daughter means to you. But on this Veteran’s Day I beg of you, don’t only say, “Thank you for your service.” Do more.