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If you’re often in uniform in the civilian community — whether at the coffee shop outside the gate, the airport or your child’s soccer game — you may have been approached by strangers thanking you for your service.
Many troops are humble about such praise — and may even be embarrassed by the attention. More often than not, their response will be a polite thank you and a murmured, “I’m just doing my job.”
May is National Military Appreciation Month, so it’s a good time to think about other ways to show appreciation — starting, perhaps, with widening our focus. Consider thanking others in the military community who you believe don’t get enough recognition, such as veterans, including veterans from previous eras. The gestures don’t have to be elaborate or expensive — just genuine.
“There is no inopportune time to thank a military member or veteran for their service and sacrifice,” said Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
1. Start with people you know. If your mother, grandfather or uncle is a veteran, ask if they’d be willing to participate in an event with family and close friends to celebrate their service. They can pull out their old uniforms, pictures and other artifacts from the trunk in the attic, and talk about their experiences. “A lot of children and grandchildren don’t know what their relatives have done in the military,” said Marty Callaghan, an American Legion spokesman.
2. Check out needs in your local area. Are there families of deployed troops in your neighborhood? Are there older veterans? Offer to mow the lawn (or just do it), or bake some cookies. If you’re part of a community or religious organization, ask whether there are any veterans who are members, and explore their needs. You could lend a hand just by offering to drive an older veteran or family member to the grocery store on the weekend.
3. Hook up with an organization. Check out your local VFW or American Legion post, or other local veterans organizations — and while you’re there, buy a cup of coffee or a meal for a veteran or two. Maybe there’s a volunteer activity that could fit into your schedule. Explore national organizations like Operation Gratitude, which has expanded from its initial mission of sending packages to deployed troops to include care packages for families and veterans. That includes hospitalized veterans, and now, care packages for new recruits. You can donate items to packages, or volunteer to distribute them to local troops on behalf of the organization.
4. Make it personal. Spend some time with a veteran and exchange stories, perhaps at a local Veterans Affairs Department hospital. Write letters to veterans expressing your appreciation for their service. If you’re a veteran, consider writing to deplyed troops of today’s military; deployed troops love the letters from veterans as part of care packages, said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude. And it works both ways; for the care packages that the organization sends to veterans in hospitals, or coming home from Honor Flights, or a variety of other events around the country, “letters would be very special coming from [those] currently serving,” Blashek said. Handmade items such as scarves also are always a big hit in the group’s care packages to veterans.
5. Don’t forget the family. If you’re thanking a service member or veteran, don’t forget their family members — including children, “because they served and sacrificed, too,” VFW’s Davis said.
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