HUNTER GARTH was in a gunfight for his life — and about to lose.
He and seven other Marines were huddled in a mud hut, their only refuge after they walked into an ambush in Trek Nawa, a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan. Down to his last 15 bullets, one buddy already terribly wounded, Mr. Garth pulled off his helmet, smoked a cheap Afghan cigarette, and “came to terms with what was happening.”
“I’m going to die here with my best friends,” he recalled thinking.
I didn’t know any of this — nor the remarkable story of his survival that day — when I met him two months ago in Colorado while reporting for an article about the marijuana industry, for which Mr. Garth and his company provide security. But I did know he was a vet and so I did what seemed natural: I thanked him for his service.
“No problem,” he said.
It wasn’t true. There was a problem. I could see it from the way he looked down. And I could see it on the faces of some of the other vets who work with Mr. Garth when I thanked them too. What gives, I asked? Who doesn’t want to be thanked for their military service?
I read this and had multiple responses, based on personal experience, both as the one giving thanks and the one being thanked. First, let’s establish that these “thank you” experiences are an uncomfortable exchange for both parties.
When I read the title of this article, I thought the guy (who was thanked), was just being a dick.
When I read the article, I realized that his words on the matter, were the result of being questioned by the reporter. Being a big supporter of speaking one’s mind, I’m glad to have read this.
The topic brings up some interesting thoughts on the matter. Whenever someone tells me “thank you for your service”, I just awkwardly nod and try to brush it aside, quickly changing the subject. After realizing that I felt this way, I quit thanking other vets my age, unless we have established that we share this common bond.
I now tell the older vets (Vietnam, Korea, WWII) “I’m glad you made it home, brother.”
This usually leads to a genuine “thank you” and recognizable appreciation from the recipient. The older guys, I find, really appreciate younger folks who are thankful. So, what gives? Why do the younger vets not want to hear it, but the older ones do? Is there a generational gap, or is today’s war still just too fresh for us?
The article touches on the “why” of the “thank you for your service” crowd, as well. What is their motivation? Are they genuinely wanting to show support for our warriors or just caught up in modern day hero-worship? Is it possible that they are doing so to assuage their guilt for sending others to fight on their behalf? For going on with life without more than a moment’s consideration of the sacrifice made by these men and women?
My oldest friend in the world spent a couple years in the turret of a Humvee, in Baghdad. The entire time he was there, his status on social media remained the same “We are at war. America is not at war. America is at the mall.”
This sentiment, I think, betrays the real reason that these platitudes are so uncomfortable. When you sacrifice and witness others doing the same, while everyone else just goes on with life, it can make a “thank you” – no matter how well intentioned – seem disingenuous.
I’m interested in what you folks have to say on the matter. What are the reasons and are the thoughts of the vets in the article in the wrong?
Whatever your views on the matter, I think the best response is always humility. Don’t read into their thank you, just accept it and move on.