Some Food for Thought (Please Don't Thank Me for My Service)

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Dutch

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HUNTER GARTH was in a gunfight for his life — and about to lose.

He and seven other Marines were huddled in a mud hut, their only refuge after they walked into an ambush in Trek Nawa, a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan. Down to his last 15 bullets, one buddy already terribly wounded, Mr. Garth pulled off his helmet, smoked a cheap Afghan cigarette, and “came to terms with what was happening.”

“I’m going to die here with my best friends,” he recalled thinking.

I didn’t know any of this — nor the remarkable story of his survival that day — when I met him two months ago in Colorado while reporting for an article about the marijuana industry, for which Mr. Garth and his company provide security. But I did know he was a vet and so I did what seemed natural: I thanked him for his service.

“No problem,” he said.

It wasn’t true. There was a problem. I could see it from the way he looked down. And I could see it on the faces of some of the other vets who work with Mr. Garth when I thanked them too. What gives, I asked? Who doesn’t want to be thanked for their military service?

Many people, it turns out. Mike Freedman, a Green Beret, calls it the “thank you for your service phenomenon.” To some recent vets — by no stretch all of them — the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters.

To these vets, thanking soldiers for their service symbolizes the ease of sending a volunteer army to wage war at great distance — physically, spiritually, economically. It raises questions of the meaning of patriotism, shared purpose and, pointedly, what you’re supposed to say to those who put their lives on the line and are uncomfortable about being thanked for it.

Mr. Garth, 26, said that when he gets thanked it can feel self-serving for the thankers, suggesting that he did it for them, and that they somehow understand the sacrifice, night terrors, feelings of loss and bewilderment. Or don’t think about it at all.

“I pulled the trigger,” he said. “You didn’t. Don’t take that away from me.”

The issue has been percolating for a few years, elucidated memorably in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a 2012 National Book Award finalist about a group of soldiers being feted at halftime of a Dallas Cowboys game. The soldiers express dread over people rushing to offer thanks, pregnant with obligation and blood lust and “their voices throbbing like lovers.”

The issue has also surfaced, at least tangentially, with Brian Williams’s admission that he’d exaggerated about being in a Chinook helicopter hit by enemy fire. In explaining his failed memory, the NBC News anchor said: “This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women veterans everywhere, those who have served while I did not.”

The idea of giving thanks while not participating themselves is one of the core vet quibbles, said Mr. Freedman, the Green Beret. The joke has become so prevalent, he said, that servicemen and women sometimes walk up to one another pretending to be “misty-eyed” and mockingly say “Thanks for your service.”

Mr. Freedman, 33, feels like the thanks “alleviates some of the civilian guilt,” adding: “They have no skin in the game with these wars. There’s no draft.”

No real opinions either, he said. “At least with Vietnam, people spit on you and you knew they had an opinion.”

“Thank you for your service,” he said, is almost the equivalent of “I haven’t thought about any of this.”

For most of us, I suspect, offering thanks reflects genuine appreciation — even if ill-defined. It was a dirty job and someone had to do it. If not these men and women, then us or our children.

Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam vet and the author of the acclaimed book “The Things They Carried,” told me that his war’s vets who believed in the mission like to be thanked. Others, himself included, find that “something in the stomach tumbles” from expressions of appreciation that are so disconnected from the “evil, nasty stuff you do in war.”

The more so, he said, “when your war turns out to have feet of clay” — whether fighting peasants in Vietnam or in the name of eradicating weapons of mass destruction that never materialized.

But doesn’t their sacrifice merit thanks? “Patriotic gloss,” responded Mr. O’Brien, an unofficial poet laureate of war who essentially elevates the issue to the philosophical; to him, we’re thanking without having the courage to ask whether the mission is even right.

It’s hard to assess how widespread such ideas are among the men and women of today’s generation. So, rather than try to sum up what invariably are many views on the subject, I’ll relate more of Mr. Garth’s story.

He grew up in Florida, son of a Vietnam vet, grandson of a decorated World War II vet, himself a bit of a class clown who drank his way out of college and wound up working the docks. The Marines offered a chance to make something of himself and, despite his parents’ pleadings otherwise, to fight.

It wasn’t what he romanticized. First training and waiting. Then the reality that he might die, along with his friends — 17 of them did, in action, by accident or by suicide. And, he now asks, for what?

His ideas about the need to prove himself slipped away, along with any patriotic fervor. He hates it when people dismiss the Taliban as imbeciles when he saw them as cunning warriors. To Mr. Garth, the war became solely about survival among brothers in arms.

Like that day in September 2011 when Mr. Garth was surrounded in the hut. A last-ditch call for help over the radio prompted a small group of fellow Marines to run three miles to save the day, one of them carrying 170 pounds of gear, including a 22-pound machine gun and 50 pounds of ammo.

THE thanks Mr. Garth gets today remind him of both the bad times and the good, all of which carry more meaning than he has now in civilian life. Hardest is the gratitude from parents of fallen comrades. “That’s the most painful thank you,” he said. “It’s not for me, and I’m not your son.”

He struggled to explain his irritation. “It’s not your fault,” he said of those thanking him. “But it’s not my fault either.”

So what to say to a vet? Maybe promise to vote next time, Mr. Freedman said, or offer a scholarship or job (as, he said, some places have stepped up and done). Stand up for what’s right, suggested Mr. O’Brien. Give $100 to a vet, Ben Fountain, author of the “Billy Lynn” book, half-joked, saying it would at least show some sacrifice on the thanker’s part.

Mr. Garth appreciates thanks from someone who makes an effort to invest in the relationship and experience. Or a fellow vet who gets it. Several weeks ago, he visited one of his soul mates from the mud hut firefight, which they refer to as the Battle of the Unmarked Compound. They drank Jameson whiskey in gulps.

“We cried in each other’s arms until we both could tell each other we loved each other,” Mr. Garth said. “We each said, thank you for what you’ve done for me."



http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/please-don%e2%80%99t-thank-me-for-my-service/ar-BBhPFEn
 

monbla256

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That's the BEST I've seen written about that !!Thanks for posting! :p :p
 

KevinM

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I'm a bit reluctant to reply to the post, because some --Many? Most? -- returning vets appreciate being recognized for their service. But I've noticed others seem uncomfortable with the ritual in whole or in part.

"Thank you for your service" can seem like a nice, impersonal one-size-fits-all ritual that's handy to fill what might otherwise be awkward silence. The welcomer has a familiar line. The vet is kind of nudged into something at least mildly patriotic. A couple returning vets have said responding to the comment is a little uncomfortable for them -- You're welcome? Hey, no problem? What the hell do you know about my service? Hey, is your daughter still hot?

So looking for alternatives, I uaually just say, "Glad you're back," which seems slightly less ritualistic and impersonal and allows the vet room to respond however he or she wishes without expectation of some Hallmark speech.

Nicely stated post to open a thread.
 

RDPipes

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Some would like to just forget it ever happen and get lost in the crowd.
 

puros_bran

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My grand father served in WW2 and became a combat decorated medic (Conscientious Objector)
One of my mentors served in Korea & Vietnam (2 tour) in the 199th LIB.
My Uncle served in Vietnam in the 82nd Airborne.. Another Uncle served in 7th cav in Vietnam. My father was an REMF in Vietnam, serving as Adjutant General until a Helicopter sent him home.. My mother signed for me to join the Corps when I was 17..

The only one of the whole bunch that ever talks/ed about his service is my father, and he never shuts up about it. Those that did don't, those that didn't do... Or as Cart said, most just want to forget all that ever happened.
 

Puff Daddy

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My father fought and was wounded in Korea. He wouldn't talk about it to me. But, I was just a kid, he died when I was eleven. Later on I had asked family if what had happened to him in Korea led to his early (47) demise and they said "probably". I don't think you can put a generic label on a war survivor. We're all human and we all deal with things differently.

My daughter served in the navy on the USS Nimitz during the last conflict, she worked on the deck of the carrier launching sorties into the sky for bombing raids into Afghanistan. That carrier circled the gulf for months operating day and night. Her comment on the whole situation was simply "Dad, it was crazier than you could possibly imagine". Apparently the Russians and the Chinese would purposely feign attack-like moves against the carriers with their own ships and planes, pulling back at the last possible moment, in attempts to deter or slow down our forces. She said the ships would instantly go into blackout and redirect all activity into defensive/attack maneuvers against the aggressors with our planes and their planes locked and loaded against one another. A click away from WWIII.

It's madness, and you can't expect to put madness into a manageable little box that we can all deal with easily.
 

Puff Daddy

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In rereading what Dutch posted, one has to wonder what these vets think they were made to do all this for? Unlike WWII vets, they come back home to a country that hadn't been under imminent threat, that didn't see it's very way of life challenged, that wasn't facing a very real threat of being overtaken. The modern vet comes home to a country of self centered, entertainment consumed morons who, unless they actually had a close family member serving in harms way, only relate to the conflict as a telvised soundbite emotion opportunity that was no more real than a movie. War for politics and war for protection are hardly the same thing, so an outpouring of "Thanks for your service" probably comes off as "One more thing I get to do for you, give you an opportunity to feel good about yourself".
 

Fr_Tom

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My father served in the Navy in WWII and Korea. Most of Korea he was at the Pentagon. He delivered Marines in the Invasion of Guam and was there for Saipan too. There was almost nothing he had to say about his service, although he talked about the Pentagon a little. Before he died he gave me New Guinea and the Marianas By Admiral Morrison. He had heavily annotated the book with notes in the margin. This was a huge gift because it gave me some insight into his service.

A comment he made once about Viet Nam was that really for the veterans returning home, the poor reception they got may have been healthier in the long run for them as they struggled to come to terms with it all. He said that when you came back from WWII you got a parade. When you were having a hard time, it was one of those "What do you mean? You are a hero." things, and it was dismissed.

More than 40 years after Guam and Saipan, fireworks would make him break into a cold sweat, pace the floor and look for cover. Some of those experiences were dredged up pretty quickly in his mind.

Among the few things he did talk about was the body fungus he got in the Philippines. He had bought a bunch of pipe tobacco in port somewhere and lost it to mold. Once when he was on an unladen landing craft and he was on watch, a torpedo was fired at the ship and they had the alarms. He braced himself for the impact and likely death. Due to the shallow draft of the unladen ship, the torpedo went under the ship and missed.
 

Stick

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A very interesting read Dutch, thanks for sharing. I think you hit the nail on the head with the 'thank you for your service phenomenon' . Whilst well intended it can (not in all circumstances) be perceived as somewhat 'marshmallow'. It's a tough call, especially when few have 'been there'.
 

williamcharles

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When I came home I had to check in with the veterans service officer. When I started to leave his office he gave me a slip of paper, told me to go to the courthouse and check in there too. He told me it wasn't mandatory but I was in for a "nice little surprise" if I did. I almost didn't go. Curiosity got the better of me. A lady in that office took the paper, thanked me, and gave me a "bonus" check for $100.00 from the state of Indiana. The state was giving a check to all returning Nam vets from Indiana when/if they reported in. She said it was the states way of saying thanks and to help us get back on our feet. I stared at her for a few seconds, thanked her and took the check. I was broke and looking for work. That check went toward my rent for the month.

When someone thanks me I just tell them they're welcome and didi. They don't need to know my problems. I'm sure they have enough of their own. Don't we all?
 

Jevverrett

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Good reading, thanks for the food for thought. A lot of my family served and the younger generations (my father on down the line) who did feel it was kind of pointless. Not that it wasn't challenging and full of character building experience. More that the wars In Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan weren't for good enough reasons. My grandfathers generation served because it was what you did. Our way of life had a price to them. He was proud of his service, but then again, his enemy was trying to take over the world.
 

nismo270r

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Thanks for sharing this Dutch. I think the “thank you for your service phenomenon” is more prevalent with our recent vets due partly to what Puff Daddy posted up. I know in the recent years watching everything unfold in the middle east, it gets to me...that thought of "What the hell was the point?" When I got back in 2009 it did make me feel a little uncomfortable when people would say, "thank you for your service" even though I understood that it wasn't meant in poor taste and they weren't trying to say, "I understand what you did and what you went through".  I also understand why it gets to some vets more than others though. Even among vets, there can be that attitude of, "you have no idea what I've been through" even for someone that literally served right along side you.

I know this is an old commercial, but it's still one that hits home for me and carries a powerful message:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WSx11Kmnmrg" frameborder="0" loading="lazy" allowfullscreen ></iframe>
 

ftrplt

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This general topic is discussed within my various veteran's groups fairly often. Over the last several years, one train of thought tries to explain our feelings toward things such as "Thank you for your service." We appreciate it, although the phrase is of recent vintage (i.e., since the 1991 Gulf War). I can assure you that as a Viet Nam vet,  I was never thanked over a 25-year service career. That's OK; when I raised my right hand to take my oath I never thought I would be "thanked." Our biggest concern, those serving and us vets, is that the military is at war; but the country IS NOT. We have been at war in some form since 1950. Korea (still there, folks!!), Cold, South-East Asia/Viet Nam, more Cold, the Pueblo Incident (great word BTW), the "Tree-Cutting Incident (both Korea, again), Lebanon, and others. Then around 1990, we crank up again big time. The Gulf, The Balkans, Somalia, Northern/Southern Watch, Gulf Two, Irag/Afghanistan, now ISIS. The military has been at constant war for 25 years now. Men and women have spent their entire career at war!! But our country hasn't. Back when European history was taught, somewhere along the way, The Thirty Years War and the Hundred Years War were reviewed. I never thought I would live to see this nation involved in its own such wars. But we are, or at least the military is :( FWIW FTRPLT
 

Dottleman

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I understand the sentiment, but has the "me" generation arrived at the point where they can look at someone who freely gave them their thanks and tell them it wasn't sincere enough for them? It seems the author may want to remember the the people he represented, while not pretending to understand what vets went through, may not know what else to say, so they follow convention. I think a pipeful of humility might be efficacious in this instance. I signed up, and while I was fortunate not to have had to go to war during my stint. I did it because I felt service was my duty. Any thanks I've received were graciously accepted. Numerous people during my time showed their appreciation in various ways - sometimes a verbal thank you, other times a cup of coffee while I languished in some distant airport waiting to get home on leave. I never once looked at any of these people and said, "You don't know what I've been through. Keep your thanks."

Sorry, but this kind of hits a nerve with me.
 

Puffer Mark

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Don't know if this is relevant but I serve in the South African Police Service, an organization with more than it's fair share of problems in trying to deal with violent crime in situations not entirely unlike a war zone. I am no longer operational BTW, now strictly a desk jockey whose greatest threat is the possibility of a paper cut.

Still it's interesting when I'm in company who are unaware of my employment and the topic turns, as it so often does, to the high levels of crime how useless the police are. I listen quietly to their largely uninformed armchair critic opinions, knowing the realities and difficulties of the task we face, and similarly aware of our undeniable failures.

Of course sooner or later, the "so what do you do?" question arises. It is just amazing at the general hypocrisy of the turnaround when they hear I'm a cop. I am invariable assailed with commiserations about how difficult it must be for "someone like you (me)" (whatever that means) to be in the police and what a shame for all the "good eggs" in the police, platitudes about a few "rotten apples", and what a tough job it must be etc. etc. etc.

I just think to myself "You don't understand the complexities of what you were saying a while ago any more than what you are saying now"

I suppose they're just trying to cover their embarrassment but still, it does kinda tend to piss one off.

Anyway, on lighter note: My grandfather had his tongue shot off in WW1. Apparently, though he never spoke about it much. . .
 

Stick

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An interesting read Mark. I've been following this thread with interest and here's my thoughts...

If you're in the business of providing a service for others, most especially public services be it combatant or not, you are open for constant scrutiny from the lay man who doesn't fully understand the context. The NHS in the UK is a fine example. It's constantly in the media in Blighty for it's apparent failings, yet it is one of the most celebrated and effective Health Services in the world (featuring heavily in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics). Whatever your vocation, there'll always be those who are quick off the mark to criticise from an uninformed position; heck, I know I've done it myself.

Nice gag by the way. It really tickled me! :D
 

RSteve

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This has been discussed in a more recent thread. I just fell upon this one.
I ETSed out of Vietnam in 1969 after a somewhat unpleasant fifteen month tour. 52 years have passed. During these past 52 years, I'd wager I've heard, "Thank you for your service," less than a dozen times. It's, frankly, only when I've shown my V.A. Health I.D. card to get a discount on a purchase. At this time of my life, I realize the phrase is one the cashier has been instructed to say instead of, "Thank-you for shopping at Home Depot." It takes a lot to currently insult me, personally. I'm not at all insulted by a 16-year-old saying, Thank you for your service and please insert your credit card."
I confess that I avoid veteran's groups and clubs for many reasons, but the most significant one, when I was young, was catching a poser in a lie about his actual service. Now, I just avoid the situation.
 

pepesdad1

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"Our way of life had a price to them." My opinion is that the Draft should have never been dropped....just my opinion.
 

RSteve

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My opinion is that the Draft should have never been dropped....just my opinion.
Only if there are no exceptions; universal service. If a person is ruled unfit for combat, give 'em desk duty. If they have heel spurs, one leg, 100 lbs. overweight, monstrous hemorrhoids, no matter, there's a job they can perform. If they have three kids under age four, provide daycare and a military service position locally.
 
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