The time between someone finding out about my time in Iraq and their first question always seems like an eternity. No matter the bent of their politics or previous interaction with service members or Vets, the wheels always turn in search of what to say next. Some practice restraint and respect my privacy; others poke and prod as if a combat deployment demands a play-by-play of all the sordid moments. Movies and television make it seem like an overseas vacation gone wrong, where troops come home and everything goes back to normal as the credits roll.

Many have spoken about the divide between the military and civilians (a theme that goes back decades since the all volunteer force was established), but it doesn’t end when someone leaves active duty or the reserve component. It becomes tethered to Veterans and has the ability to impact jobs, relationships and education. So what can a civilian do to help bridge the gap? The crux of the issue is civility, situational awareness, and common sense. If civilians keep the following tenets in mind, they can help welcome us home to a world that may seem strange and inhospitable.

Do:  Ask About Our Buddies

My favorite stories involve the guys from my platoon. They’re funny, easy to tell, and offer a glimpse into the personalities of people that are typically seen shooting from rooftops or kicking in doors on CNN. When folks hear about three soldiers dying here, or one Marine seriously wounded there, they become abstract concepts—unrecognizable people laboring under heavy gear and fighting in unpronounceable Afghan hamlets or trash-strewn Iraqi streets. From these stories, civilians can develop a human side of the military that may have been previously undeveloped.

Don’t:  Talk Politics

When Iraq was invaded, I was a senior in high school. I wasn’t even old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes. Years later, even as my unit deployed, my paycheck as an active duty lower enlisted reflected how much clout I had in foreign policy and Congressional circles: none. The military remains under civilian control, and they decide when and where to go to war. The military simply executes. It is incredibly difficult to hear from civilians why the invasion and occupation were either triumphs in democracy or exercises in fascism. Often, an answer to a question is designed to justify their beliefs so they can say, “Well, I know a guy who was in Iraq and. . . .” We were the tip of the spear that jammed into the ribs of nation building and regime change. Talk to the people in the powdered wigs in Washington about the hows and the whys.

Do:  Listen

Most people like to discuss the formative years of their lives. For some it’s college, or their first job or time spent traveling the world. For many Veterans, that time is their military service. But it can be a complex subject and  only parts are open for frank discussion. Instead of firing off a bunch of questions, listen to what a Veteran volunteers to talk about. That can be a handy guide for what they want to discuss, and listening might simply be what some Vets need.

Don’t:  Be Cavalier with Questions

“Did you kill anyone?”

“Did any of your friends die?”

“Do you have PTSD?”

“Do you regret going there?”

The questions above make any Veteran cringe, and I’ve gotten them many times in the past from well-meaning but tragically unaware people. They are the primary reason I keep my service with some people a secret. It should be common sense to stay away from such flippant, offensive questioning, but our blood soaked culture doesn’t always allow for discreet and respectful questions distanced from the gore of combat. Yes, those things are true of some people who leave the service. No, it is not any of your business. If we want to talk about those things, we’ll bring it up. Until then, loud parties, bars and the break room are hardly appropriate venues to discuss violent death and the philosophy of war.

Do:  Try To Learn Something

For the most part, I’m glad many people are curious about the military and my experiences, and I’m certain many Veterans, young and old, share my sentiment. But it seems silly in the information age to think women go to war without bringing a rifle, or that I must have deployed to Iran (as my first boss out of the Army thought). If you want to ask a Veteran about their experiences, start by learning the lingo, geography and history of where they served, be it in Vietnam, Kuwait or a German air base during the Cold War. It’s a little research that goes a long way in building appreciation and respect for your fellow countrymen and women.

Don’t:  Assume Everyone Is Crippled With PTSD

Easily accessible information has a tragic downside: we consume it quickly without understanding complex problems and issues and the media is left to fill in the gaps. When people hear about post-traumatic stress in the news, they instantly believe it happens to everyone. These misguided beliefs don’t just affect personal relationships, but can also adversely impact the ability for Veterans to find employment. Managers who don’t understand PTSD might pass over a résumé with military credentials for the shortsighted concern about post-traumatic stress in the workplace. It’s true that many Veterans face challenges when they come back home, but it doesn’t help to treat Vets like broken souls and melancholic sad sacks. You might be surprised by our resilience.

Do:  Have an Open Mind

People join the military to avoid jail, escape a broken home or to take advantage of education benefits. Those are popular misconceptions that usually paint only some of the pictures of a Veteran’s service. The reasons that men and women enlist are as varied as the people who make up the armed forces. Civilians often expect untraveled, uneducated and ignorant country bumpkins to fill the ranks. The reality is far from that tired misconception. Navy Veteran and VA employee Paul Sherbo highlighted other stereotypes that persist in the country. It never hurts to treat Veterans as individuals and not brainwashed clones broken down by groupthink.

Do:  Something

So you’ve learned the survival manual and can’t wait to start communicating with Veterans. Now what do you do? You can start by strolling down to your local VA Medical Center and volunteer your time in support of Vets. Or you could ask the retired Marine down the street if you could mow his lawn for free. You might just tell a Vet you know that you’re around for help, whether it’s to borrow a hammer or to have someone to talk to. It might be as simple as saying “Welcome home.” Be creative when you put some action behind ‘Support the Troops.’ It might be unfamiliar territory for you, but that’s okay. It’s new for us too.

Closing the Gap

Joining the military and serving, both during peace and in war, can have a profound impact on those who rotated through the service. Some of the changes are good and some aren’t. After my unit got home from our fifteen-month tour in Iraq, it took my first conversation with a civilian to realize the difficult path of reintegration that lay before us. The war lasted 443 days for my platoon.  That number is finite. As long as it felt, it had to end someday. But the war doesn’t end when the wheels touch down on home soil. It’s a lifelong process sometimes wrought with difficulty, due to a sizable gap between civilians and the military. Once we become Veterans, it’s up to regular folks to accept us back into the community. How can two groups of people, separated by a canyon, come together?  The answer is simple.  They both build bridges.

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Published on Feb. 14, 2011

Estimated reading time is 6.7 min.

Views to date: 489


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  3. Jill May 24, 2011 at 6:55 am

    I have respectfully read everyones post. I am honored to see that civilians and vets alike are stepping up to the plate about the elephant that is in the room. It has been 10 years since I served. 6 years that I wouldnt trade for anything. It has only been within the last two years that I have been able to really understand how to communicate about it. My “job” didn’t make it any easier. Especially when people would ask questions. Thank you so much for posting. Even the negative ones. For those I answer: “we might agree to disagree, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

  4. Switters May 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

    This is a well-written article. The VA did a good thing in hiring you. I’m a civilian without an ounce of civilian guilt. I’ve spent my entire life in law enforcement, from street cop to fed. Nobody ever thanked me for service to the country, and I don’t want them to. I think what I’m trying to say is that there are lots of ways to serve this country we love. I salute you and every veteran, wartime, or peacetime, volunteer or draftee, and everyone who chose other ways to serve. Bless you, and keep writing!
    //switters out

  5. SSG Randy Witzel USAR ENG May 9, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I have read all of the post on here and agree with the masses. I have 16 years in the USAR and have been deployed to Iraq 2 times (OIF I)2003-2004 and (OIF 08-09). I also have deployed to Central America on 2 – 6 month deployments. In my civilian field I am a Car Salesman (one of the good guys in my opinion and that of many of my customers). Every day I see many Vets and Active members in the military and Coast Guard. Living in Pensacola Florida, being a transisional military town and a great Retirement place for military Members (in my opinion) I thank a Vet every day. I also have the honor to get thanked also. So I guess what my 2 cents are to the heart of this article is when someone thanks you for your service don’t gringe but thank them back. They took the moment, the time, and gave you a bit of Respect to thank you. I had a customer thank me once for my service and then I thanked him for that. A year later one of his friends came in to buy a car from me because he told him of the time a “Soldier thanked him for thanking him of his service” He did not tell him about the deal he got, the car he bought, or even the service he got here, just that I thanked him for thinking of my service. I called him later that day to say thanks for refering me to his friend. He told me that because of me, and me thanking him, he now makes it a point to at least once a day thank a Vet. That is one of the reasons I put on the uniform, to make a differance.

  6. D. Walsh March 8, 2011 at 7:49 am


    I have a question regarding your article – which is terrific by the way!
    When you have a free moment, would you contact me directly by using the email address that I have provided in your submission fields?

    With appreciation,

    D. Walsh

    • Alex Horton March 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      D, I’m happy to answer your question here.

  7. Jack Kelley February 27, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I’m beginnning to think I was the only Vet who came back from Nam without getting spit upon.

  8. Paul Roy February 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I would like to repost this on our site. Please, let me know if that would be acceptable.

    Thank you for writing this.

  9. freakydeak February 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Just don’t get a job at the VA and then find out how bad they treat veteran employees…………..they’re all talk about support the vets, blah, blah, blah and then turn around and treat them like sh*t.

  10. james February 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I came home from Vietnam with both feet in terrible condition. I worked for 35 years , never asked my country for anything. i was suddenly in my late 50,s and very disabled from my injuries in service. It was only then i asked for VA to help. They came through!, but only after years of fighting the system. The actual veterns that need and deserve help should not have to go through the battles for benefits they deserve.

  11. Joshua Sumitta Hudson February 18, 2011 at 11:26 am

    This is a really good blog post. When I was in the service and went out in public when I was in uniform, I received a lot of “thank you for your service” comments. As a veteran, I don’t hear it that often, but I never minded. I did not serve for anyone else other than my desire to serve. I do not expect thanks for doing what I loved to do.

    The only time I am bothered, is when (and it was addressed in this blog) people place all their social philosophy on a single Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine. I have had parents at my daughter’s soccer games come up to me and start telling me what they dislike about military policy (conservative and liberal). They have been pretty excited.

    But I always take a deep breath and remind myself that they have had these feelings for awhile and they have not had anyone to tell them too. As a veteran or a service member, we represent our military to many people. I fought for their right to disagree and if I can be a pressure valve on their emotional pressure cooker– it is a small price to pay to listen. I don’t have to agree– I just have to respect their rights.

    With the rights of a Veteran go the responsibilities as well.

  12. Corie Robe February 18, 2011 at 11:06 am

    You all need to realize people are thanking you because they are THANKFUL for what you do. You (WE) protect our Nation, it’s parent’s, and children. When someone comes and thanks you they don’t expect a “you’re welcome” they just want to express how they feel. I serve, but I am also thankful for everyone else. If I want to thank another service member do you think it’s only because I’m glad it wasn’t me?

  13. Yamila Irizarry-Gerould February 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    These are great comments for civilians to take heed of. I’m a civilian who is part of a group at my school (Tufts University) that seeks to bridge the civilian-military divide by interacting with the military academies, having discussions, organizing simulations, etc. My boyfriend is a former US Marine Sergeant with two tours in Iraq. I am commenting here so that you know that not ALL civilians are ignorant of and detached from the military world. There are efforts being made. I ask that there be understanding and patience from the military side as well. This is not a one-sided street, too – so the listening and doing has to come from both sides!

    I sincerely appreciate everyone’s service and comments here – thank you.


  14. Nannie G February 17, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Alex, Thank you for a timely article…My Grandson is returning to civilian life arriving home this week-end…This article has helped since it was my worry how and what we should talk about…We cannot ignore the fact that he has given this country 4years and 9 months of his life …27 months being in Afghanistan…We have a greater appreciation of what our Vets have done for us since his time with the Army…We will continue to watch and support what is being done for our returning Vets…They should have whatever they need in appreciation for all they have done. I will try to keep in mind what you had to say and will use WELCOME HOME as my first words to him along with a silent “Thank you God” for his safe return and prayers for those who did not and those who are suffering the injuries of combat…Thank you to all of you.
    Nannie G.

  15. Sally Caspers February 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm


    Excellent post! You’ve nailed it here. From my perspective, all of this goes double on a college campus. We’ve got to learn how to talk AND to listen well to each other. Great solutions, healing, and advancement come from open discussion.

    Thank you for writing an article I am eager to share with colleagues!


  16. alexander lerman February 16, 2011 at 11:21 am

    What a great piece – especially the focus on practical advice, starting with “listen”, and ending with “do something”.

    Like many others, I think there’s something terribly wrong with the way our nation is handling this war – heaping the sometimes-devastating burdens on the few, lucrative profits on another few, and borrowing the cash for it all from China.

    Listening to vets has changed my perception of this war, and all wars. We all have alot to learn from each other. Thanks for your service + thanks for reminding me.


  17. George Schryer February 16, 2011 at 9:16 am

    As a Viet Nam vet and 24 yr retiree I have a standard answer when someone thanks me for my service to our country. I tell them that I considered my service an honor and a privilege.

  18. Charles D. Bunner (Doc Bunner) February 16, 2011 at 7:09 am

    I just recently thank a young man who just graduated from High School midyear for enlisting in the Service (Marines) He too felt just like you do until I explained to him that I was thanking him for wanting to serve his country and not be just a taker. When people thank you, just say, I’m honored to be able to do so for my country.”
    As a retired Navy Hospital Corpsman (Medically due to wounds received in Vietnam), I was cursed and spat on by our citizens who had turned their backs on us serving. I took a vow that never again would I allow any one to do so but to go out of my way to thank them and welcome them home. You go and serve and I’ll thank you too for doing so. Be proud and Honorable while serving. It is Noble of you to want to do so.
    Doc Bunner VN 1968

  19. MSG (RET) USA February 15, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    Alex – thanks for this post. As a veteran of over 27 years in service, I can say that I saw a broad spectrum of community reaction to the military, from breaking windows and blowing up cars at our recruiting station in the 80s to highways lined with people welcoming their Guard unit home after Desert Storm. I was never in combat, but like so many, I have my share of really bad memories (Casualty Assistance will do that to you.) I have been very fortunate to be served by one of the best VAMCs in the network (Carl T Hayden VAMC) and I thank God every day for the medical professionals and staff. Keep up these posts — I just shared this with my intern who’s fiance just graduated from USMC Boot Camp.

  20. Lionel February 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    While my nephew was serving in Afghanistan, I had one of those 82nd Airborne magnetic yellow ribbons on the back of my car. I innocently believed it would kept my nephew (and his comrades) in the public mind, and maybe someone would say a prayer for his safety. I didn’t realize I was being an asshole.

    • Alex Horton February 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm

      I don’t think you’re an asshole, because I bet you did more for your nephew than just the magnet.

  21. A patriot February 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you a very thoughtful article. I just retired. I served in a support job. The first thing people ask is if I went overseas. When I respond no, they walk away or make a statment that my job was not that important. Unfortunately they get their information about the militray from the TV. I no longer tell anyone that Iam a vet.

    • Cameron February 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      That sucks. The amount of manpower required to keep one boot on the ground should be common knowledge. Regardless of your travels, I appreciate the job you’ve done.

  22. Chris Wise February 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

    The vet to civilian ratio is wildly out of whack and is going to stay that way. So the need for these kinds of articles isn’t going away either.

    Nice job, Alex. Speaks to several generations of vets. Keep it up.

    US Army, 1965-1990

    • Mike February 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      I did some research the othr day. There are 311 million people in this country of which 21.9 million are veterans. So something like 93% have not served directly. Of course there are families, friends and good folks that are pro-veteran, but still, you are right that the ratio is really skewed. I think it is really important that the majority is not allowed to stereotype such a small portion of our population as being “dangerous, psycho”, etc. The recent Penn State video comes to mind.

  23. Snead February 15, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Good stuff, Alex. I hope this gets some traction so many more folks see it.

  24. Paul Lloyd February 15, 2011 at 11:14 am


    Great article. Thank you.

    Paul Lloyd, NH VFW Sr. Vice Commander

  25. FJohnson February 15, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Tammy Duckworth as I recall has a good speech titled, “Thank You For Your Service — Is Not Enough.” I tend to agree – “Thank you for your service” is a cliché at this point. And “liking” the USMC / US Army, etc. on Facebook and leaving your “support” at that, is about the same. And then there’s putting a Yellow Ribbon on your car, which may make you feel good about yourself, but I’m not sure it means much to Vets.

    What works?

    Well, I like it when speakers ask all the Veterans in the audience to stand up and then they receive a round of applause. I like seeing military in music videos – usually country artists – Zac Brown Band, Trace Adkins, etc. – a nice tribute and reminder.

    What would REALLY work for me – and I’m not sure liberal Hollywood is up for this – would be a remake of the brilliant film, “The Best Years of Our Lives” which explores the WWII generation coming home from war and all the obstacles they faced, from the civilians and sometimes fellow vets.

    • Cameron February 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm

      I’m not a veteran yet, still have 2 months before BCT, but I have already had people thanking me for my service when they learn I’ve joined the Army and it makes me feel very awkward. Part of the feeling is because I haven’t done anything yet except enlist, so I feel their thanks is undeserved. It also makes me wonder if I’ll always feel awkward when being thanked for my service. I’m not much for being in the spotlight. As for the Hollywood thing, “Restrepo” is the best movie I’ve seen on the Afghanistan war. Sebastian Junger did an outstanding job and his book WAR, is just as good. As time goes on, there will inevitably be more movies made about the war.

  26. Tia Christopher February 15, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Great piece Alex! Check out this piece I wrote a few years back that deals with the same thing:

  27. Mary Downes February 15, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Thank you for this excellent guide. Personally, having served during peacetime, I was never on the receiving side of this understandable awkwardness – until the last several years, when it seems that the validity of one’s political views hinges on whether one has served their country. When I say I have, I get a stunned “Thank you for your service” and cool respect. I don’t want or need the thanks. And I’d prefer the respect from the outset. Having worn the uniform doesn’t make us any more right or wrong than anyone else.

  28. Nicolaj Holm February 15, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Here’s another point, STOP FIGHTING, you fight for a shatterd value system.
    What is taking people so long to realiase, war is not in ANYWAY for the greater “good”.
    And to thank you for agree on that some people just didnt deserve to live, so you went to war, to get rid of them. Thanking you?… Last thing on my mind, you rather shoot me first.
    Not thanking anyone for bringing more destruction to this world, i hope the millitary would bomb it self some day.

    • ChelseaTaf February 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Shame on you.

    • Mike February 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm

      Well, Nicolaj, whatever system you live under may be shattered, but ours is working just fine, thanks. A little tweak here and there and its running in tip top form.
      I’m sorry that your society is broken. I really am. That must suck for you to live like that.

    • Rosey February 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      Nicoloa, I, as a Veteran just want to say: Your welcome. I did not mind serving, and doing the things my country asked me to do, because it gave an ingrate like you the freedom to be an ingrate. My service gave you the freedom to hate me for having served our country. My service gave you the right to vote in a free election to vote for whoever you want. My service has allowed you to raise your children in any manner you see fit (even if you raise them to hate me for serving our country). My time in the service has given you many more freedoms than you understand, that you take for granted. So you are welcome.
      A Veteran

    • Donna February 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Nicolaj — a value system is what YOU make it. What effort have you made?

      • ell February 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm

        beautifully put Donna and Rosey
        I too, am a woman veteran. I also study value systems. Maybe this war isn’t entirely what we believe in, but serving our nation unselfishly was part of our job.
        Nicolaj– you are welcome. Perhaps with more life experience and reality, someday you will have a new perspective. and in the meantime enjoy the freedom our military and veterans’ services have allowed for you.
        Thank you to all those who have served. Even for those who have no concept of the reason we have…

    • Russ February 17, 2011 at 10:50 am

      You must of skipped out on U.S. history class in school, we were not given our freedom, it didn’t just happen it is under constant attack from outside and inside this country and the world, it has to be protected and defended constantly no matter where the threat is. it has to prevail for our security and way of life! People like you should live in a communist/socialist country and see which system is broken its certainly not ours. I volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1971 to stop the spread of communism in the world, I believe in this country and what it stands for…I was ready to give my life for it and I will do what it takes to preserve our freedom then as I will today…what are you willing to do to keep what you have here in this country, live it love it defend it! or get the hell out!

    • Judy Schiavone February 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

      Nicolaj…you are right. And when we stop fighting and let the bad guys take over, as they invariably will, it will be the naive puppets like you who will have given freedom away willingly. Familiar with history, are you?
      War never solved anything..except for slavery, Facism, etc.

      May you choke on the freedoms that I swore I’d uphold for you.

      Jumpmaster Judy

    • agares51 February 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm

      here’s something for you to think about.

      The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
      I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
      My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
      My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
      Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
      Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
      The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
      Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
      My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
      Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
      In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
      So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

      The sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near,
      But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
      Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know, Then the
      sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
      My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
      And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
      Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
      A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

      A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
      Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
      Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
      Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
      “What are you doing?” I asked without fear,
      “Come in this moment, it’s freezing out here!
      Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
      You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!”

      For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
      Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..
      To the window that danced with a warm fire’s light
      Then he sighed and he said “Its really all right,
      I’m out here by choice. I’m here every night.” “It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line,
      That separates you from the darkest of times.
      No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
      I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
      My Gramps died at ‘Pearl on a day in December,”
      Then he sighed, “That’s a Christmas ‘Gram always remembers.”
      My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ‘Nam’,
      And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
      I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while,
      But my wife sends me pictures, he’s sure got her smile.

      Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
      The red, white, and blue… an American flag.
      I can live through the cold and the being alone,
      Away from my family, my house and my home.
      I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
      I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
      I can carry the weight of killing another,
      Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
      Who stand at the front against any and all,
      To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.”

      “So go back inside,” he said, “harbor no fright,
      Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.”
      “But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
      “Give you money,” I asked, “or prepare you a feast?
      It seems all too little for all that you’ve done,
      For being away from your wife and your son.”
      Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
      “Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
      To fight for our rights back at home while we’re gone,
      To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
      For when we come home, either standing or dead,
      To know you remember we fought and we bled.
      Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
      That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.”

  29. Sara February 15, 2011 at 8:26 am

    as a civilian who stumbled upon this blog through a friend’s facebook post, i really appreciate you writing this. in an age full of instant news reports and live footage of war, we lose track of the people in the war. we forget that the pictures and videos are of real people, not as foreign or fictional as the other stuff on tv. none of this excuses why people feel the need to ask such intimate questions. but i think part of it is an attempt to make it more real. maybe it’s also a bit of guilt, seeing a glimpse of what goes on over there and knowing we’re not putting our own lives on the line for others the way our vets do.

    whatever he reasoning is, i hope people begin to realize that our vets deserve our appreciation, regardless of all else. so, while i see that “thank you” is not always the most well received, i will just say, thank you for your post and letting this civilian see things from a very different perspective.


  30. Rick Wheaton February 15, 2011 at 6:46 am

    For ten years after I served in Vietnam, I rarely talked at all about my service and most people had no clue I’d been there.

    The mood of the general population was quite different then. A “thank you” beats the hell out of spittle in your face and unfounded accusations by ignorant people.

    Living now in a military town with a lot of vets because of the VA hospital, I hear “Thank you” quite often. I appreciate the gratitude but still don’t talk much about experiences that civilians simply can’t understand.

    I’m grateful for each one who returned home. Well done.

  31. Mike February 15, 2011 at 6:40 am

    The thing about those questions, it seems to me, is that I heave recently taken to asking in reply “why in hell would you want to know that?” Usually, they change the subject, which is just fine with me.

  32. Brandon February 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I think this post should be a news story, I am tired of being continuously questioned about what the “coolest” combat situation was in Iraq or how many guys did we lose. It’s absent minded questioning that will not fade without education.

    My only other note is that none of us served for a thank you or a pat on the back, we served because we believe in our countries freedom and among that freedom is the right to neglect acknowledgment of our service for whatever reason. As veterans or current service members we need to remember that the reasons why we do what we do isnt for praise and glory.

  33. Rose February 14, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    I’m a Vietnam Era Vet, didn’t have to go there, though…but I am always thanking those I see who served from any era. It isn’t a matter of not having to go because its a volunteer force. That is a cynical view. I thank people because I love freedom, and the bottom line is we still have freedom today because of those who do serve. The country is far from perfect, but there are people who are willing to give their time away from loved ones, risk their lives and give all for this country, and that I appreciate. Whether you were drafted or you volunteered does not matter. You served. Thank you! And God bless you!

  34. Combat Veteran February 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Great post. I personally have always had a problem with people thanking me, I felt very akward saying your welcome. For a while when I first got out I quit wearing my hats or shirts or anything military related because I got sick of them coming up to thank me. I could see them coming from across a parking lot. And every time I would be like damn here comes some one. Mainly because it made me feel like I was fishing for complements or something. Instead of just doing what I was showing pride in doing something that I believed in. And still do! Lately I have noticed people seem to be getting the point as I can wear my hats and such now a days and rarely get aproached. perhaps they are getting tired of thanking Vets all the time or maybe they are figuring out that alot of us just want nothing more than simple respect that we feel we have earned and thats all the thanks needed. But thats my opinion and you know what they say about opinions right! ha ha any how good post, and just for the record I dont need my damn lawn mowed and I have my own hammers too, so dont come knocking on my door LOL. Semper Fi.

    • Binowest February 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

      Got it. Thanks for sharing this with everyone. I think it helps to hear it. My son is on OIF Vet (USMC) and has said many of the same things. We hear you. Semper Fi from an old USMC Vet.

  35. The Red Animal Project February 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Excellent post. Hope plenty of civilians (like me) are reading this blog to see it.

    • Alex Horton February 15, 2011 at 12:39 am

      I was going to send it to you after seeing some of the same thoughts covered in the JD Salinger post, but I see my work is done! Thanks for reading.

  36. Tim usmc February 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Why does it seem like we veterans have to fight harder for what we have earned and deserve here at home?

    • r.musser February 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      The last few days have taught me (61 year old g ma )alot, my husband was a v.v. sent to korea 67 . we use va hospital because he was sick alot. We just found out it is connected to posins used during his service . I formally worked in civilian med. world the va needs to adapt to the real world .To serve the public there needs to be honesty and quality our vets. don’t seem to be getting either at va establishments.

  37. BGinKC February 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    I dunno. The “you’re welcome’s” get harder for some of us.

    My theory? (for today, anyway — and I’m in something of a mood) They’re just thankful it’s an all-volunteer force and they don’t have to.

    • Alex Horton February 15, 2011 at 12:34 am

      I think there’s some truth to that, Tammy.

    • Judy Schiavone February 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm


  38. Bob February 14, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I’ve been retired 28 years and this is the first year that I have had people come to me and thank me for serving our country. I wear a ball cap with Retired from US Coast Guard. It took 28 years for someone to thank me for my service. About time.

    Bob BMC Retired

    • Alex Horton February 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Bob, glad to hear it. Maybe getting a “thank you” is easier down the line. I always reply with, “you’re welcome,” but it still makes me feel uncomfortable.

      • Brenda Hayes February 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm


        I was wondering when and what your next commentary would be.

        I look forward to them. This was especially to the point. Thanks for another excellent post.

        Not sure what else you do; but please do more commentaries; I like hearing from a younger perspective and the Director is very fortunate to have you in his employ.


        Vetwife Advocate

        • Alex Horton February 15, 2011 at 12:36 am

          Thanks Brenda, I appreciate it. Unfortunately I get all my best writing done off hours and at home, not in the office. So Mondays are usually a good time for an update!

      • Martin Tidd February 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

        Thanks for this outstanding summation of what a lot of us have wanted to say for a long time. I know it was so awkward for me when I first came home in ’06. It seemed like everyone wanted to hear a “war story.” And it was never the “we had a guy that was a plumber in his civilian life who fixed a leaking watermain that had been broken for years” kind of story. I don’t think most people ask or say something stupid or callous because they are that way, I honestly think many just don’t get it. Keep these articles coming.

      • Ryan Carlson February 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm

        Like many veterans, I too always felt somewhat uncomfortable and searching for the proper response to this show of appreciation. A friend of mine gave the perfect response that I feel takes away all of the apprehension; say,”It was an honor.” Nuff Said.

    • Lara February 15, 2011 at 2:42 am

      Veteran HM2 FMF OEF/OIF


      Thank You so very much for your service and for defending our country. Thank you for your sacrifices that you made; and for the honor, courage and commitment you still maintain today.

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