As a combat veteran, nothing makes me cringe harder than the awkward moment when somebody tells me, “Thank you for your service.”
It’s extra uncomfortable for me, since I don’t enjoy praise and recognition regularly, when it’s just for doing the job I used to get paid to do.
I try my best to accept graciously and not make the moment any more awkward than it needs to be. But I should add a caveat by saying I’m sure I’m not the majority in feeling this way, and I want to thank you for voicing your appreciation.
I’m not trying to write another cynical “hot take” from a veteran complaining about Veterans Day. I’m glad we live in a time when our service members are appreciated for the job they do, rather than viewed with suspicion or disdain.
With an all-volunteer military, the most that a society owes veterans is a “thank you for your service.” Nobody forced us to serve and we were paid well for the job we volunteered for. We get whatever benefits we’re entitled to, whether they are education, retirement, disability, or medical care. Because someone was a squad leader in an airborne infantry unit doesn’t mean that [insert company name here] owes him or her a job as a senior leader.
That could be a smart move (more on that later), but us veterans need to check our sense of entitlement at the door.
Now, let’s say you’re one of those proud, patriotic Americans who disagrees with me, and you feel an obligation to veterans—those who served so you didn’t have to. If that’s true, and if you really believe this, then what does it mean? How do you thank veterans in an impactful way “on behalf of a grateful nation?” How do you give back?
The Biggest Impact
You can offer to be an emotional resource, but trust me, no combat veteran will want to pour his or her heart out to a civilian who has no concept of what life is like in a combat zone. To be honest, it’s part of the reason we don’t like seeking help from civilian mental-health professionals. The diploma on the wall may show years of training and declare that we should address the person as “doctor,” but the doctors we most respect were there in the fight with us.
So, maybe we’ll come to you and ask to talk. On behalf of my fellow veterans, thank you and God bless if that happens … but it probably won’t.
Maybe you’re a restaurant owner and you offer free meals on Veterans Day, and you want to offer a military discount year-round. Thank you. Some of us look forward to taking advantage of this every year. I won’t hate on you for that because it’s a kind and noble gesture. But if you ask me, businessowners can make the most impact on veteran finances by committing to hire veterans in leadership roles.
Veterans bring a level of leadership experience and complex problem-solving that is unique in the business world. Give them meaningful work, and recognize the unique skills and experiences they can bring to your organization as managers and senior leaders. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. The ability to deal with tight deadlines and limited budgets are skills that take years to cultivate. A veteran will be light-years ahead of his or her peers who took a different path to your organization. They’re force multipliers.
My experience was a little different from your “average Joe.” I was lucky; I found my way into a large organization that saw the potential of special-operations veterans in their organization. Through an accelerated leadership pipeline, I could emerge from the other end as a full-time leader, performing at the same level as my peers who’ve been in the industry for seven to 10 years.
I say this in all seriousness: Hire my peers.
I’ve been working at a senior/director level for several years in my new industry. I’d take a Green Beret veteran over an Ivy League MBA any day.
Perhaps you should seriously consider making your company’s charity of choice a veterans’ organization? I’ll even become an unofficial (aka free) brand ambassador if you back the Special Forces Association (SFA)—just let me know and we’ll get the message out. While I’m more than a little biased toward the SFA, I’d support your choice of any reputable veterans’ organization.
If you really care about thanking veterans, don’t think about us just on Veterans Day. Let us help you the other 364.
Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. You can follow him on Twitter @EricksonPrime.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.