“Thank You For Your Service”

The first time someone thanked me for my service, I was a little stunned — I had no idea how to respond. My first reaction was to say “Thank you”, but no, that wasn’t right; “It was my pleasure” was not exactly accurate either.

“Umm, you’re welcome?”

I had been out of the Navy already for probably ten years, and I had not heard this before. When I first got out, “Thank you for your service” was not a thing. It was just not something that civilians would really have noticed, let alone something for which they would have considered thanking me. No matter how proud I was to have served, to them it was just something to put on my resume.

These days, of course, people say it all the time. Everyone says it. In fact, it’s pretty much a pat response. “I was in the Navy.” “Thank You For Your Service. Now where were we?” Indeed, since it is used so much, I sometimes wonder if it’s become passé. Has it come to the point where “Thank You For Your Service” is akin to “Have a nice day.” or “Hi, how are you?”

Do people even realize what it is they’re thanking me for?

I’m sure my experience was much like a lot of others. Not all, but a lot of us joined because we saw no future for ourselves otherwise. Don’t get me wrong — I was a smart kid who got pretty good grades and could have gone to college. My parents, however, were not financially able to pay for college, or even get loans for me to go to college, and I knew it. And because of our low economic status — or perhaps because my high school academic counselor was getting ready to retire and was just plain tired — I had no idea there were grants and loans I could get with a less than stellar academic record. This was when the internet was still in its infancy, and I thought that unless I had a GPA of 3.8 or higher (which I did not, due to some poor choices I’d made during my Junior year), I would not qualify for financial assistance. I didn’t even bother taking the SATs. So, facing a future in which I delivered pizzas or waited tables to support myself and any hypothetical family I might have, I decided to join the Navy.

At the time (I was 19), I didn’t realize that I was signing up to give up everything in service to my country; that I was signing up to live in the same room with 55 other girls and only one bathroom with no doors on the stalls. To spend 20 hours a day studying, running, doing 8-Count Body Builders, folding my clothes just right, and NOT talking to boys for what seemed like an eternity. And it honestly just did not occur to me that I was signing up to risk my life to protect the freedoms, the lifestyles, and the dreams of millions of strangers — of millions of Americans. But that’s what I did. That’s what we all did. And I realized it soon enough. Most, if not all, servicemen and women can tell you about friends they’ve lost to war, about dreams they’ve lost in service, and relationships they’ve lost to long separations. They can tell you stories of trauma, of fear, and of heartbreak. We gave up our freedom, our option to choose, our chance for a normal life, and, for some of us, our very lives, to protect those very same freedoms for millions of people we did not know, and would never know.

But for everything we lost to the military, the military gave us so much more in return. It gave us a sense of pride, a sense of honor, and a sense of ourselves that no one else can even imagine. Because of what we gave up, what we sacrificed, because of what we’ve learned, and seen, and done, we are so much more than we could have been. We are not only military, or former military, we are a unit, a brotherhood, a family, and nothing can take that away.

So, for everyone out there who says “Thank You For Your Service”, even if you don’t know exactly what it is you’re thanking me for — “You’re welcome.”

Originally published at www.rallypoint.com.