On Veterans Day, thinking of amazing people I served with and say, ‘Thank you for your service’

Thank you for your service.

The first time I heard those words I really wasn’t sure how to respond.  I probably stammered out a “You’re welcome … I guess.” I had already served in the military for more than 20 years – no one had ever thanked me before.  I served six different administrations over the years and it was well after 9/11 that somebody thanked me. It was a little embarrassing at first.

I spend a lot of time thinking about those men and women I served with.

As I reflect on Veterans Day, I spend a lot of time thinking about those men and women I served with.  A thousand thoughts come to mind.  Thoughts of distant places, complex missions, cold wars and hot ones.

But always the people.

I joined the military because Uncle Sam offered to pay for a college degree.  I stayed because of the people.

The day I received my commission, I looked left and I looked right.  My classmates were a great group of people who supported me and went on to do amazing things in and out of the military.

The day I received my Pilot wings, I looked left and I looked right. What a great group of young hair-on-fire intrepid aviators. Several didn’t make it to their 30th birthday.

The day I received my Pilot wings, I looked left and I looked right.  What a great group of young hair-on-fire intrepid aviators. Several didn’t make it to their 30th birthday.

My first trip into combat, crossing from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, I looked left and I looked right.  What an impressive array of combat vehicles … I knew I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of this.  What incredible warriors.

Taking command of a fighter squadron, I looked left and I looked right.  Great people everywhere; I promised myself to take great care of them.

Walking through the grisly scene of an aircraft mishap, the smell of fuel everywhere.  The grim task of recovering the pilot’s remains in the most dignified manner possible.  I looked left and I looked right.  Where did we get such great Americans?

In each of seven death notifications I made to mothers, brothers, fathers, wives … I looked left and I looked right.  The chaplain on one side, a superb sergeant on the other.  They got me through a difficult duty.

Service in far-flung reaches of the world, never alone, but with the greatest military the world has ever seen.  I looked left and I looked right, counting myself lucky to be with such great people.

When I hung up my uniform for the last time, I looked left and I looked right.  So very proud to have served with so many incredible people for more than three decades.

Your country probably will never fully grasp the sacrifice you and your families made.

Today I tip my hat to my fellow warriors.  I’m proud to have served beside each and every one of you.  Your country probably will never fully grasp the sacrifice you and your families made. But you made a difference every day.

Now when someone tells me “Thank you for your service” I smile and tell them “It was worth doing.” And it was worth doing for all of those to the left and to the right.  And I’d do it all over again.