Did you know that there are 18-million veterans living among us today? To think that Veterans Day is today, how do we begin thanking our veterans or how do we even know who to thank?
Start with the ones you know – your neighbor, your coworker, the gentleman wearing the U.S. Navy Veteran ball cap standing in line at the grocery store. As we continue to learn more about the very nuanced military culture, we know that every veteran’s military experience is unique because of the endless variables that color their experience – the branch they served, the period they served (war or peace), the job they performed, whether they faced combat, whether they enlisted or were drafted, whether they came from a military family… so many factors.
Begin with a genuine expression of gratitude – not platitudes. Some servicemen and women will openly accept your expressions. Use this opening as an opportunity to engage the veteran about their service. You may ask, which branch did they serve? What job did they perform? By asking such questions veterans start to understand that you are interested and have some knowledge of military culture. If the veteran opens up and starts to share, simply hold that space for him or her. Try not to interrupt or ask too many questions. By holding that space, you are expressing gratitude and honor for that veteran that they may not have otherwise received. This can be the truest expression of gratitude.
Also, be prepared that some veterans may dismiss your “thanks” – for reasons we may never understand. But rather than insist they earned the nation’s gratitude, simply hold the space for them to share their story if they are inclined. Some may say they don’t feel as though they did much of anything – maybe they processed paperwork, while their buddy fought on the front lines. We could offer platitudes that their job is just as important as the next, but that’s likely not what this veteran is searching for. Maybe they just needed the space to express that they wished they would have been there on the front lines to save their buddy.
Most importantly, if you notice that during the conversation something that you may have said unsettled the veteran, simply apologize and again hold that space. It may be awkward and uncomfortable for a time, but it’s in those places where we grow and learn to support those who need us the most.
This Veterans Day we encourage you to be mindful of the experiences of our nation’s servicemen and women. All Gave Some. Some Gave All.
To learn more about the military culture, considering watching the PBS docuseries American Veteran.