Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t handle compliments well. A self-deprecating or non-committal dismissal is usually what you’d get. Sometimes I can respond with a funny quip, very rarely a simple thank you. That sort of reaction is a mix of a lack of confidence and humility on my part, and maybe the slightest distrust of most people.
In the civilian world I’m just beginning to learn how rare military service is, and even more so prolonged military service. Most people I met don’t guess that I was in the Navy for 13.5 years, which I mostly chalk up to I’m female, and I don’t wear a Navy bump sticker on my forehead 24/7. Anyway, when it comes up in conversation most people will say, “Thank you for your service.” To which I reply…. “Thanks for paying your taxes!”
Which is a true, tax payers paid my salary for the majority of my adult life. But the more I think about it, isn’t a smarmy response disrespectful for a display of gratitude? And maybe a flippant response more than a little disrespectful of the sacrifice of so many in uniform?
When someone says TYFYS (we’re abbreviating it now, keep up), sometimes I’ll think, “It’s not like I was in the trenches of WWI. I took pictures on a ship, took video at the White House, and worked in a cubicle in the Pentagon. No sacrifice on my part.”
My opinion was thus, no one was shooting at me, ergo little sacrifice or hardship on my part. Plus, it’s not like I was drafted, I signed up three times to do these jobs. I volunteered, and I got paid. I finished my bachelors’ degree with 100% tuition paid. I have the post 9/11 GI Bill now. I got my eyes lazered, and medical/dental for the entire time. I’ll continue to receive benefits from the VA, including some medical and a low interest rate on my mortgage. So, thank you Mr/Mrs Taxpayer, I got a pretty good deal.
Services, Payment for Services. Even trade, right?
Maybe not, there may not black and white valuation of one person’s military service over another. Just because I wasn’t the one holding the rifle, boots on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq or Djibouti does that mean my military service is less valuable than those who were in those positions?
As an E-nothing in any service you get assigned undesirable tasks. A great example is FSA duty. In 2003, the Food Service Assistants on the USS Iwo Jima wore a t-shirt and a paper hat. They were assigned for 90 days (but I think I only did… 41. Not that I was counting). They worked from breakfast prep to dinner cleanup (let’s say 0530-2000) every day underway. Among your duties as an FSA: meal prep for breakfast lunch and dinner, dishes for each of those meals, cleaning up the galley, sorting the garbage, and taking care of the berthing & laundry for the chiefs and the officers, were they assigned to those separate galley quarters.
Being an 18 year old female sailor, I was often told I’d be assigned to the Chief’s Mess. And I was. And for 41 days I worked all day, every day, in all manners of servile verbs: chopping, scrubbing, serving, wiping, sorting, carrying, washing, drying (probably crying more than once). My hair smelled like garbage, my clothes always had musty French fry smell. My shipmates in my shop asked me kindly not to visit so often. It was not ideal, you definitely don’t see FSA duty featured on recruiting advertisements.
*side bar complete*
So this sidebar sea story, and what’s the point of being an FSA? The point is that shit has to get done, and someone has to do it, in order to make the ship work. And that everyone has to do the shitty jobs before they can be in charge. And that three hot meals on a clean table on a ship in the middle of the ocean takes lots of people lots of work, so maybe don’t bitch about the food- at least not within earshot of the cooks.
On that deployment our ship delivered ~1500 Marines to Northern Iraq, less than one year after 9/11. And those Marines were boots on the ground, carrying weapons in a literal warzone. Those Marines got there by way of the USS Iwo Jima. The Iwo is manned by people, those people have to eat. Cooks have to cook, FSA’s have to clean. It’s how it works, how jets drop bombs and Marines do Marine things.
Later on in my ship life, I took pictures. Again, not killing any terrorists myself. But the pictures I took, the portraits of sailors and marines are the same kind of portraits you see on the news when a service member is killed during a deployment. It might be the last picture the family sees of their loved one. So yeah, probably more important than I gave it credit for.
The military is its own ecosystem. Each service member is teeny cog in a machine that accomplishes the mission. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re serving. The big picture becomes foggier and faded the longer you’re out of uniform.
So to my fellow non-combat veterans, and to myself. If you loaded vending machines, proofread paperwork, cut Sailors’ hair and did their laundry, maintained ship’s email, worked in an engine room, helped chalk and chain planes on the flight deck… it all matters. It all counts. You could have done those jobs in the civilian world, sleeping in your home, seeing your family and friends all the time. Maybe there’s no movies about your service (or food service), no tell all books of the boredom of ship life (idea for a book “The Last Butterfinger”… or not). What matters now is you got home safe, so you could continue to serve the world in your own ways. It also matters that there are people out there who despite knowing little about what most military service is, long stretches of boredom and menial tasks, want to take a moment to genuinely thank you for yours.
Most people probably don’t need me or anyone else to say that, or anything. But I forget sometimes, and it’s good to reflect on the reality of my past Sailor life.
All that being said, if someone thanks me for my service, I will resist the urge to be funny (which is really about me) and say, “hey, thanks.”