Thanks for Your Service…

Monday.  Finally here.  It was a long, slow rolling weekend – and Monday gets here.  I head out for my walk earlier this morning – and see an older couple that I normally do.  I hear the greeting and cringe…

Thanks for your service…

And that’s when I remember, its Veteran’s Day.  I have heard the statement before – typically right after someone finds out that I Imageserved eight years in the United States Air Force. Its still a statement that makes my skin crawl. My usual reaction is to manage a scant nod and move on with whatever I am trying to accomplish at the moment. Sometimes I cannot get away with just that reaction – someone will take the moment to continue that “conversation” point, usually by asking where I had been stationed or what I did when I was in the Air Force. Common courtesy means I have to swallow the bile building in my throat and carry on a conversation about those eight years.

Its not that I look back on those eight years as a time of the lowest depth of the Nine Hells. I don’t. In fact, I remember my time in the Air Force with very fond memories. I was a Command and Control Communications Systems Operator, and was fortunate to have been permanently stationed at Carswell Air Force Base (Fort Worth, Texas), and Sembach Air Base (Sembach, Germany) during my tenure. Both bases closed shortly after I left each one – both victims of drawdowns imposed by Congress to save money (imagine that – Congress once believed in SAVING money!). Like every enlisted service member of the Air Force, I did my Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio, Texas), and did my Technical Training School at Shepherd Air Force Base (Wichita Falls, Texas). Shepherd no longer hosts my training school, which moved to Keesler Air Force Base (Biloxi, Mississippi).  Seeing a trend?  Yeah, I did too.  I felt like the Grim Reaper for every place I went to.

At every installation, I found friends, and I found folks I didn’t like.  Strange enough – that’s happened every place I have ever worked in civilian life.  So my guess is that particular sentiment is normal no matter what walk of life you are in (imagine that).  There were things I enjoyed about every place – but my favorite was the forests nearby at Sembach AB.  I spent so much time just walking in the woods – in the Spring when the snows were melting – in the Summer when the temperatures would climb – in the Fall when the fogs/clouds would roll in so thick you could not even see the upcoming twists in the trails you were walking – and in the snows that sometimes got as deep as your knee.  And even with the fence line for Kapaun Air Station just less than a quarter of a mile away, and the parking spaces for Vogelweh Housing even closer – the air was always still in those woods. Only the birds high above could be counted to break the silence. I still have extremely vivid dreams of those morning and evening walks.

Thank you for your service…

Yes, there’s still this statement that I have deftly avoided in the past few paragraphs.  I cringe deeply whenever I hear this.  When I find out that the individual making the statement also served in the military in some capacity, I relax a little more. I can even find myself thanking them for their service as well. Whenever I find out that the individual was a draftee for the service, I spend an extra few minutes with them. I served in a volunteer army. They did not. For me, their sacrifice is much deeper than anything I could imagine.  I mean, seriously.  I volunteered to figure out what do with my life after an initial failed run at college. The United States Air Force figured I had the aptitude to work with computers (and they were very right). Draftees rarely got that option.

No, whenever I hear that statement of thanking me for volunteering eight years of my life to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States from aggressors foreign and domestic. For promising to uphold the lawful orders of the enlisted and officer corps above me (no matter how inept or ill-suited they may have been to command a group of kindergarteners, much less a squadron or flight of clueless twenty-somethings). For promising to follow the commands of the President of the United States (no matter how much I may disagree with his policies, roll my eyes over the fact that he sleeps through meetings, or pukes on a foreign diplomat in Japan).  When I realize that those folks were provided the opportunity to not serve in a volunteer military force simply because I did.  Those words ring somewhat hollow in my ears at that moment.

I understand that those folks are providing their gratitude to me that my serving in the military meant that they did not have to. But far too often, I am left with the thought of whether these folks would be the ones that squirmed for some sort of deferment from a draft board for the conflict in Vietnam? If a similar draft board had been set up for service in Afghanistan, would they be scrambling to find shelter for themselves or for their draft-eligible children? Would they be seeking loopholes to avoid service or trying to grasp political strings that would keep them in rear-echelon positions – far from the areas of combat?  I only have to look at the fulfillment on their part of that most precious of rights provided by those in service — voting. In our last election here in Texas, just less than a week ago, we had a turnout of a little under 9% of the total enrolled voters.  Just pathetic.  And yet its a right we should cherish with a ferocity unmatched by the fires that burn the furnace of Hephaestus.

Thank you for your service…

I understand the sentiment placed behind the statement.  I understand that these folks are trying to say kindly that my individual service is welcomed and was wanted.  But I have to say, its extremely difficult to be accepting of that moment of thanks,   I get that completely.  In their shoes – which I am as a civilian – I would feel the same way – and I do.  But I do wonder, how much of that is just an empty statement of thanks associated with a single day that is designated as a “thanks” to the military?? I really do wonder.

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