“Thank you for your service.” Whether you are a current service member or a veteran, you’ve likely been greeted with this sentiment – hopefully many times. I think I can speak for all service members when I say we are grateful for the American public’s thanks and gratitude. While that’s not why we serve, acknowledgment of the significance of military service, not to mention the hardships, is deeply appreciated.
Thankfully, the military today has tremendous support from the public, as well as strong partnerships with federal agencies, commercial partners, and nonprofit organizations. The American military’s strength is certainly a result of this combined support. Yet the defining factor will always be our service members themselves. Whether serving for a few years or a career, in combat or in peacetime, each and every service member has played a role in preserving our freedoms.
It is important we reflect on this fact each and every Veterans Day. The U.S. military and its Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen are unquestionably one of the most important institutions in the history of our country. The successful raid resulting in the death of terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is just the most recent example of our highly skilled and professional military and service members keeping our nation safe and protecting our liberties. Saying thank you to a veteran, while a seemingly simple task, is profoundly important and meaningful.
The origins of Veterans Day point directly to this significance. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 11 November 1918, marked the end of World War I – the “War to end all Wars.” Originally created as “Armistice Day” in 1938 and currently known as “Veterans Day,” Congress has expanded the day to honor the millions of Americans who have served in conflicts that have shaped our nation’s history. What started as a commemoration of “the War to end all Wars” has become a solemn acknowledgment that the need to serve remains a stark reality and Veterans Day is a national commitment to honor those who heed the call.
As we approach Veterans Day 2019, I’d like to highlight the service of those who have volunteered more recently . . . those who raised their right hand and swore an oath since 9/11. Numbering in the millions over almost the last two decades, each and every one of these young men and women volunteered knowing the real probability of deployment and combat. These are exceptional Americans who made the noble choice to join the military ranks and to sacrifice their own freedoms. They are standing guard at the frontlines wherever our nation’s interests are at risk and they are doing so in an unpredictable global environment – where risks are growing and harder to predict.
Veteran’s Day has always been a special day for me to reflect on the importance of service to our nation as part of the military. Like many in my generation, the values of service were instilled in me from birth not only by my father, a career Marine noncommissioned officer who served in both WWII and Korea, but also from my mother who served in WWII as a Navy nurse. Their influence and sacrifices played a huge part in my decision to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and then spend the next 37 years in the Army – 27 years in uniform and 10 more as a senior Department of the Army civilian. Even though I spent a career in the Army and not in a “sea-service,” Dad could not have been prouder – Mom, too.
Across our great society, we need to find every opportunity to demonstrate our recognition and gratitude for this noble choice, as well as demonstrate our steadfast support. In an increasingly complex and dangerous world, thanking our service members for contributing to our safety and security needs to be a reverberating theme because it is important for them to hear and for upcoming generations to witness. Our history shows we will continue to need America’s best and brightest in the ranks. Service matters.
Jerry O’Keefe, a former Army officer and Department of Defense official, is a Director of Operations Transformation with Grant Thornton Public Sector.
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