“Thank you for your service!”
I’m never quite sure how to reply to this. I know it’s meant with great sincerity. My friends, family and casual acquaintances do truly mean it from the bottom of their hearts. Deep down I know that they are trying to convey appreciation for all that I have sacrificed to be with the person I love most.
After all, I’ve pretty much walked away from a promising teaching career. We pull up stakes every few years and move to yet another far away location. While my children have only known the shortest of TDY separations, I’ve gutted it out for the full 12-month experience. All of this is a lot to ask and to accomplish with (hopefully) grace and selflessness.
I know that this is what is meant when I am thanked for my service. The person is acknowledging that I, too, am giving of myself and of our family in service to our country. Small pieces of me have been chipped away with each “see you later.”
Other times, I know I am standing in for my absent spouse. Without him by my side, sharing gratitude for his service feels awkward. Especially when it is then incumbent upon me to pass that gratitude along. I mean, if I actually did that, I could be thanking him morning, noon and night some days!
Instead of expressing thanks to him alone, I am included. “Thank you both for your service and sacrifice.” Our sacrifice is collective.
However, it also rings untrue to me. My service? I didn’t even sacrifice a quarter of what my spouse and others have voluntarily given of themselves.
I endured a lengthy deployment, but I wasn’t in a foxhole or FOB. I wasn’t even in the barracks. Instead, I was on my very comfortable couch at home in SoCal, snuggling my pup. I didn’t need to wipe gritty sand from my eyes or check my boots for creepy desert critters. The worst I had to suffer through was a tough bout of strep throat and hogging the whole bed.
My career isn’t what it could be, should be or would be. But I have lived all over the country and even overseas. I get to explore other professional passion projects.
My sacrifice was simply going without the physical presence of my spouse. My service is to go where the military takes us, to grin and bear it. I volunteered to live life Semper Gumby.
“Thank you for your service.”
I know the intentions behind this statement are sincere. The person is showing their gratitude for my spouse’s service to me and through me. They are honoring the dedication of our whole family to a greater purpose. And I respect that. I want my spouse to be thanked and honored for his willingness to serve our nation.
While I have chosen a different path in life, one that has required me to “give up” opportunities and expectations I once held dear, I do not serve. I have never sworn the oath of allegiance to protect our great nation against “enemies foreign and domestic.” There is no proverbial blank check, with my signature, encompassing my willingness to put my life and limbs in the line of fire.
How should I respond when I am thanked for a service I have not completed? Usually, I simply say “Thank you” and move on.
Sometimes I reply with wit:
“Oh, you should thank my husband. I can’t do that many pull-ups!”
I do not serve. I simply love a person who made the commitment to do so.