Military folks – current, former, and family members – get thanked a lot for their service lately. This is nice, as some previous eras did not get appropriate thanks or recognition for their sacrifice. It causes me to wonder, has the level of acknowledgement swung too far in the opposite direction? At what point does “thank you for your service” become trite, or meaningless? Do folks offering “thanks” actually understand why they are thanking service members? Are military members coming to expect special treatment for their service when it isn’t warranted?
Absent a formal congressional declaration of war, we are in the longest period of sustained military conflict in our country’s history. (We first sent troops to Afghanistan in October 2001, and we still have ongoing operations there.) Our forces are all volunteer, and while no one celebrates the loss of any service member we have had far fewer deaths during this period (including operations beyond Afghanistan) than in previous major military operations. At the same time, citizens have experienced lower taxes and felt no existential threat from the enemies our military members face abroad. It is fair to say that if you are not a military member or family of a military member, you have likely not felt any personal impact from the last 15 years of sustained armed conflict. (There are federal civilian casualties as well, and these losses are similarly confined to the small group of men and women who directly experience them.) The citizenry at large has not shared the sacrifice or felt the impact of operations abroad as previous generations have. How can they truly understand the sacrifice service members and their families make? With no actual threat to the homeland to be feared, the thanks for service seems to be more for the benefit of the person giving thanks – to be perceived as supporting the troops – than actual gratitude for any service performed by those sent abroad. (The “troops” are frequently used as props for political campaigns or in advertising, further diving home the point that the “thanks” are not always sincere.)
As for service members expecting things to which they have no entitlement, I have only anecdotes and observations from which to make an assessment. My personal observations are that some of my military compatriots have come to expect discounts and special treatment just about everywhere they go. They routinely ask if a store has a military discount, and occasionally get offended when one isn’t offered. I think it is a very nice gesture if an establishment chooses to provide a discount of some sort to a veteran, but this isn’t an entitlement. Our military members currently serving are better paid than any time in history (in constant dollars) and get several benefits that no other job provides. They do not actually need discounts, in most cases. They do not require special parking spots (unless they are handicapped, in which case there are already special spaces required), or better seating, or line privileges just because of their military service. This creates the idea in some young military members that they are a special class of citizen on the basis because of their affiliation; that their service is somehow superior to any other form of service. It isn’t. There are many ways to be a public servant, most of which have a more direct impact on local communities than military service. These include fire, police, paramedics, sanitation, construction, logistics, and communications, just to name a few broad categories. Certainly we don’t want to make service members into a lower caste than the rest of the public, but they do not need to be set above either. The sacrifices that some service members make should be appreciated, but not to the exclusion of others’ sacrifices and contributions.
If anyone wants to better “support the troops” – especially large-scale retail establishments – then instead of offering discounts on good or services as a cynical public relations tool, contact your legislators and ask for increases in your corporate tax rates to support increased spending. More money in the coffers allows us to better budget for military acquisitions and training, and to better support programs for veterans’ care (VA) without having to cut into benefits for other populations in need. We shouldn’t pit the needs of our service members against the needs of the people they volunteered to defend. And service members – please keep in mind that you are not superior to the people you serve, and you are well-paid for your service. Be appreciative of the thanks you get, and do not demand it.
And thank you for your service and sacrifice.