The Platform

Korean War veteran pictured at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington. (Miki Jourdan)

Show America’s veterans that you care and thank them for their service.

In the past several years, many who have served in the military have started to hear “thank you for your service” from people who finally started to come around and appreciate those who served in the military in various capacities.

By and large, that was not the case after the Vietnam War. No one thanked returning soldiers for stopping their lives, their education or their careers to serve in the military. With a draft that yanked people out of their daily lives and sent them off to Indochina, it was a government lottery that few wanted to participate in, let alone win.

Hearing “thank you for your service” for the first time caught me off-guard. I did not feel it was a genuine statement from the person who said it to me. In fact, I thought it was a politically correct phrase to appease those who truly sacrificed so much to serve their country.

“Thank you for your service” is five words and it takes about three seconds to say. Personally, my assessment is that this brief acknowledgment does not come close to displaying the real gratitude which should be shown to all veterans, not just those who fought in Vietnam.

Whether they served in a combat zone, on a base in a foreign country, or just within the United States, adding three more words of recognition would be more meaningful.

“Thank you for your sacrifice and your service” would be much more appropriate to say and only adds two more seconds of time to do it. Those three extra words will mean a lot to the people who spent a year in a jungle with 120-degree heat and 100 percent humidity with living conditions most would want to leave after the first week, if not the first day.

Imagine, not having a hot meal for three months, sleeping on the ground with foot-long centipedes that are poisonous, or 26 types of snakes, where 24 of them are poisonous. They sacrificed physically and mentally and many still suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to this day.

A small group of Vietnam-era veterans spoke to a class at a major midwestern university, and they were there to answer questions about how it was in Vietnam and what happened before and after their stint in Vietnam. It was very educational for the students and very therapeutic for some who served in a combat zone for a year. Besides the heat and the snakes, they also dealt with the heavy rains (monsoons) above-and-beyond the actual fighting. Some were also shot and wounded. One vet suffered several bullet wounds to the legs and also had a plastic shoulder put in to replace his shattered bones.

The students did not understand the draft. How could you just be “selected” to go? In one case, the veteran was already married for three years. He went. Others got drafted right after turning eighteen. Only one enlisted and that was because he could have more choice if he enlisted, instead of being drafted.

“Thank you for your sacrifice and your service” would mean a lot more to those who served in Iraq and Kuwait as well. They endured sandstorms and thick black smoke as a constant fog on the battlefield, not to mention the desert temperatures. The same goes for those who served in Afghanistan and on bases around the world.

In today’s smartphone society, where most young people have their heads constantly buried in their phones or playing video games on their laptops and TVs, imagine taking someone like that and putting them into the military. I am not even talking about a combat zone, just the everyday life of someone on a military base. Imagine the culture shock of not being able to just “do what you want” daily.

They would be lost. They would also be confused as to what the daily routine was going to be. Military life is not routine. You can get orders to deploy to a different country or continent at a moment’s notice. Everything you need to take needs to fit in a duffle bag. You won’t be getting any five-star accommodations when you get there either.

One of the Vietnam veterans said he was one year into his Army enlistment, and he was working at a military base in the United States. One day an officer comes up to him and puts his arm around his shoulder and says: “You have been requested to go to Vietnam. Pack your bag you leave tomorrow.”

“Thank you for your sacrifice and your service” would go a long way to those who sacrificed the comfort of home, family, and friends. They endured physical, emotional, and spiritual distress that haunts them to this day. But they all say everyone should be grateful for living in the best country in the world and they are proud of what they did for the country. Thank them for sacrificing what you take for granted.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.