Update: This post originally appeared on the AMACOM Books Blog in 2011.
The following is a guest post from Emily King, author of Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans, about how we can thank our veterans and active duty military personnel.
What is Veterans Day to you? A day of solemn reflection? A paid holiday? Just another day passing without notice? I can’t say it ever had much meaning to me growing up, since I was not raised in a military family. In fact, it has only been in the last 15 years that I began to take notice of it. I remember exactly where I was at the moment of recognition: working for a defense contracting company in Washington, DC. My assignment was to increase retention among former military officers, which required me to get to know them as a group and understand their challenges transitioning into civilian leadership. In the course of this project I met a lot of veterans and heard a lot of stories about military life, combat experience, personal sacrifice and the anatomy of honor.
It was in the midst of this work that I came to notice Veterans Day. I wondered what the company was going to do to recognize it and found that nothing was planned, in spite of the large number of veterans working there. This struck me as wrong, so I scribbled an email to a name way above my pay grade and, by the end of the day, was pleased to see a flurry of communication resulting in a plan to formally acknowledge the holiday. It was the easiest sell in the world, but no one had thought to make it up to that point. Once the obvious was stated, all energies came together in support.
Veterans Day was initially established by President Wilson after the end of World War I, to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. This sentiment seems especially poignant these days, as increasing numbers of veterans enter the slow civilian job market. Many more will soon return from duty overseas, many with war injuries that brought their military careers to a premature end. I believe the nation greets them with open arms and the best of intentions but, at the same time, jobs may be scarce for awhile yet.
In light of that, I’d like to issue an invitation/challenge to readers this November 11th. Say thank you. It may be uncomfortable at first – it was for me – but compare the risk of stepping out of your comfort zone to the risks graciously taken on by those you would thank. My first time, I was in a mall near the Pentagon, which presented abundant opportunities to see people in uniform. On my first attempt, I said thank you to someone approaching but I was too quiet and she didn’t hear me. The second time, the guy was mostly past me by the time I said it, and I just hurried on. Finally, I got my timing and volume right, made direct eye contact and said the words “thank you,” and was received with a smile and pleasant “you’re welcome, ma’am.” With practice, it came more easily, to the point where I simply waved to a group of uniformed men and women in a restaurant and mouthed “thank you,” and they smiled and waved back! My surprised companion asked if I knew them and I said, “No, just saying thanks.”
Here are two suggestions for getting started: one is for the veteran you know and the second is for the stranger in uniform. For the known veteran, I would suggest something simple like, “Happy Veterans Day and thank you for your service.” The response will likely be a brief thank you, but the meaning will run much deeper for the veteran. For the active duty service member you don’t know but encounter on the street or in an airport, I would suggest simply saying “thank you” in passing. Don’t worry – they’ll know what you mean. And they’ll appreciate it. It can make for a powerful moment in time; a personal connection between you and those who live what we only see in the news. It will make you both feel great! And it will give you courage to try it again. Veterans Day is a great occasion to experiment with saying thank you, because it makes sense. But imagine how it would feel to say those words every day, or any day? I promise it will enrich your life and mean as much to you as it will to the one you say it to.
Happy Veterans Day!
Emily King is a nationally recognized expert on the transition from military service to civilian employment. She has worked extensively with veterans and civilian hiring organizations, and is a frequent speaker at industry events including SHRM and ASTD. She is the founder of Military Transitions, an online resource for hiring veterans in the civilian workforce. Prior to founding Military Transitions , Emily spent 10 high-impact years as an internal consultant and coach at the firm of Booz Allen Hamilton, leading People Strategy. It was here that Emily conceived and designed the very first military transition training program for civilian business professionals, nearly 12 years ago.
See previously: AMACOM Books for Veterans Day