Expressing appreciation for someone’s service is always welcome, whether they’re still involved in military affairs or haven’t donned their uniform in decades.
The team at Accredited Home Care has worked with many clients who have been members of the military at different points of their life. Everyone is different in where, when and how long they served, what they experienced, their good and bad memories of their time, and their interest or reluctance in discussing everything they encountered. Many also differ in their personal politics, their opinions on the state of the world today and the role of the present-day military, but they do seem to be unified in appreciating anyone who sincerely and genuinely says thanks.
That’s good to keep in mind as Veterans Day approaches. The annual U.S. holiday to recognize the role of our veterans is celebrated Nov. 11 this year. Depending on one’s community, there may be parades, celebrations or gatherings taking place at veteran’s centers or cemeteries.
Of course, there’s no reason to wait until then to acknowledge sacrifices people have made or appreciate efforts in wartime or peacetime. These feelings can be expressed anytime. There are also several veteran- and military-focused holidays throughout the year, including Memorial Day in May and Independence Day in July.
Any of these occasions can be a great opportunity to genuinely and sincerely let someone know that their efforts are appreciated.
It isn’t always easy to launch this conversation unless you know each other well. Because people’s experience of service can be so personal, and civilians don’t always know or understand the military world and culture, there needs to be some degree of trust established.
Certainly anyone can say “you’re welcome” to someone saying “thanks,” even a stranger, but people can benefit by establishing a dialogue and explaining why this greeting is welcome.
So if you want to initiate these types of conversation, try some of these strategies.
- Ask for a general history of what they did and where they served. This gives you an idea of whether they were posted somewhere domestic, somewhere internationally, in a combat area or a support area. Finding out whether they were in a more dangerous area might have a greater chance of not wanting to share.
- Ask for their funniest memory. Chances are every posting has interesting characters and situations. There may be some “in-jokes” that might not be funny or even understood by civilians, but thinking back on the better times may beneficial than trying to remember less pleasant memories.
- Avoid opinions/politics. The state of the military and the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs definitely lend themselves to opinions and even frustrations. These opinions may likely come up unsolicited. Generally, appreciation for someone’s service shouldn’t be connected in the slightest to a country’s foreign policy, military decisions or resource management at VA clinics and hospitals.
- Don’t say much. There’s a perception among some in the military that only people who have served understand what the others have experienced. So if you’re a civilian, it might be appropriate to say “I don’t everything you went through but thank you.” This could lead to extended conversations or simply he or she acknowledging your statement.
Not just words
Even if you aren’t quite comfortable having a verbal discussion, there are still various ways to acknowledge their contributions.
- Make a card. Your favorite store has plenty of thank-you cards handy and it doesn’t have to specify military service. Pick one up, have your family and friends sign it, and write a basic message. This can be delivered in person or mailed so the recipient gets it in their mailbox.
- Offer help. Does someone need help inside or outside of the house? Do they need a ride somewhere or assistance when they get there (grocery shopping, errands, etc.) Do they need someone to sit in the waiting room with them at their next VA appointment?
- Offer companionship first. Get together now and then for coffee or drinks with a veteran in your life and let them decide what to talk about – even if it doesn’t have anything to do with their military experience. This will also start to build up trust and familiarity.
- Describe your life. Since they had a role and a responsibility in helping make the world safer for you and people like you through their service, they may enjoy hearing all the good things happening in your life, including your family.
- Encourage outreach. If a veteran you know doesn’t know much about other veterans in the area, do some of the research for them. You may learn about American Legion or Veterans of Foreign War posts nearby that would welcome others – and maybe get them involved in post activities if they’re willing to volunteer.