Independence Day: The Struggle with "Thank You for Your Service"

Saying thank you is polite.

It's a nice way to show someone you appreciate what they've done.

But when it comes to serving in the military, that thanks becomes … nuanced.

As a military spouse, I'm insanely proud of my husband and his professional growth. Do I tell him that? Absolutely. Do I tell him thank you? I tell him thank you for chores, or being a good Dad or a gift he might've gotten me. But for serving in the military? Never.

It's a precedent he set early on in our courtship. He does NOT want to be thanked for serving. Mainly because that's not why he did it. The recognition takes away from his focus. It reminds him of violence, of deployments, of other countries that are worse off than the U.S., of tasks he took on or trainings he never wanted to use.

Hearing, "Thank you for your service," is a constant reminder of the things his service brought him to do or see. It's not regret, but simply a push of a bruise.

But how do you tell someone you don't want them to say thank you, especially as Independence Day approaches, the holiday for celebrating that very freedom they are thanking him for? You don't. He lets it slide and stews about it later, or he ignores it completely; we no longer discuss it.

Then there are people who thank me. When I talk to the bank or the insurance company, their standard sign off is "Thank you for your service." And I think it's a nice thing they do for customer service. I never think it's directed at me personally, but rather all service members and their families. In any case, it's tidy and I enjoy hearing it.

When someone does make a point to thank me, I feel undeserving. I'm not in the service. Shouldn't they be out thanking actual service men and women? The ones who are deployed or moms with five kids who are going on their sixth deployment? Surely they're more worthy of  thanks, right?

What about the people offering the thank you?

Often I feel it's from those who wish they could say or do more. They truly are appreciative of service members and simply don't know what else to say or do. They want to express their thanks, show they love what others have done for this country. What could be wrong with expressing that, right?

There are those who wish they would have joined the military themselves and they want to show how a service person’s sacrifice is cherished. Meanwhile, their words either fall flat or simply don't want to be heard.

And that brings us back to the nuance.

There are some vets who love being thanked. Others don't want to be reminded of their jobs. Reminded of what they had to do at said job. When thanks doesn't feel like thanks, it feels like a crappy burden.

It's a tricky line to walk along, especially when most don’t even know it exists.

Instead, let’s look at intentions and understand that social norms aren't always preferred, even when folks are being genuine. Even if they aren't being genuine, great intentions should still be taken as a compliment.

Enjoy July 4!