Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Thank You For Your Service"

"Thank you for your service."  I get a lot of that these days.  Frankly, I don't know how to respond.  Why thank me for my service?  I didn't do it for you or anybody else.  I did it for very selfish reasons.  I joined the Navy because it offered exotic places like Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, as well as surface ships, submarines, and airplanes.  Any one of those things was better than any other job available when I was graduating college, like being an assistant manager in a Pampers plant in southeast Missouri.  It wasn't altruism that brought me into the Navy, it was the prospect of seeing and doing some really neat stuff.

I stayed in the Navy because they kept giving me cool things to do and great people to do them with.  I got to drive ships and lead teams of really sharp people.  I went to some amazing places (Japan, Korea, Philippines, Kenya, Singapore, San Diego, Australia, Hawaii, Panama, Washington DC, Honduras, Norway, England, Scotland, Belgium, Bahrain, Italy, Dubai, the Netherlands, Germany, Diego Garcia, Bosnia, and Guantanamo Bay, to name a few).  I was put in charge of a cutting-edge technology development program where we literally were inventing the technology as we went along.  I led and managed two overseas field sites.  I went to sea on a battleship and, during a gunnery exercise, watched a 16" shell as it flew for miles toward the target on the beach.  I went to sea on submarines four times.  I managed a set of operations during one brief war (Desert Storm).  I met my wife.  I worked with some of the sharpest, wittiest, most capable, and most driven people in the world.  Later, several years after retiring from the Navy, I got to work in Iraq with the reconstruction effort, and then in Afghanistan to help build their governance capability.  In all of this, we had a mission, a purpose, something that was much bigger than just making a buck.  Cool stuff, all of it.

And people thank me for this?

I have to admit, I have been extremely lucky.  I wasn't drafted to fight a brutal war, even though the draft was still ongoing at the time (I had a high draft number).  I've never personally been shot at, that I know of, and never been in a firefight.  I did lose a couple of friends to an IED in Iraq and a sailor to a motorcycle accident, but those aren't things you thank somebody for.  No, I just had a wonderful career doing fascinating things with great people.  I couldn't have asked for more.

There are many, many others who have not had the same experience.  The ones who have visible or invisible wounds, both from combat and everyday operations.  The ones who lost their families because they were gone all the time.  Many service members paid a really high price for their service, and those are the ones you should legitimately thank.  Not me.

So when people say "Thank you for your service", I'm thinking that they should be saying something like, "how the hell do I get some of that action?"  I know how to respond to that question.

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