Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Making the rounds yesterday was this op-ed from West Point professor Elizabeth Samet in Bloomberg on the habit of civilians to say "thank you" to men and women in uniform. Samet attributes this to a number of possible reasons: they don't know what else to say, it's from guilt over how lousy Vietnam vets were treated, absolution from collective responsibility, and maybe something else I wasn't getting. My old friend, Captain Hyphen, adds some more thoughts and anecdotes to this very common occurrence that is definitely worth the read.
This happened to me a lot in uniform and still does now that I'm out and it comes up in conversation that I spent not a little amount of time in Iraq. Yes, it's somewhat awkward. No, I certainly don't expect to be thanked for my service. But the people who say it, whatever their reason for doing so, usually just don't understand what you've went through and just want to express that they care. It doesn't really matter why they do it. I have one piece of advice for those of you who deal with this: get over the awkwardness and simply say "You're welcome." It's the usually the proper and polite response when someone says thank you. If you don't feel comfortable saying that, then just say "thank you" back to them - as in "thank you for showing you care." Merely pick one and run with it. Everyone who says "thank you" to a veteran has their own reason for saying it and you're not going to figure that out in the space of a few seconds, so it just doesn't much matter, does it? Just don't be rude and stare back at them. Now we can all stop being awkward when this happens, because it's not going to stop any time soon.