Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Veteran's Day ... Now What?

How do you thank veterans for their service in a meaningful way that doesn't patronize them or their service? 

This is a great question.  On Veterans Day, institutions and individuals are going to make some form of attempt to honor veterans for their service.  Some will be well received, others will cause great pain.  As a veteran, I have been asked only a few times over the years questions concerning how to appropriately acknowledge a veteran without crossing lines.  This being one of the most awkward days of the year for so many of us, I felt this would be a good post topic.

What differs between those who are well received and those who cause pain?  I say it probably comes down to two motivations: agenda and intent.

For me, and many of my brothers and sisters, we appreciate the notion ... but all too often we get selected out ... and most of us hate to be put on pedestals ... the spotlight belongs on those who can't make it to the parties, celebrations, and recognition events. Making a big to do for the sake of making a big to do has a negative and hurtful effect.

I remember my church, years ago, celebrating Veteran's Day with a presentation from the drama team.  In the presentation, the drama team acted as if they were all in a battle and killed holding their post.  The drama was very graphic ... it was awful.  Most servicemen and women who have spent one minute in a combat or hostile fire zone have no desire to ever relive those experiences again .. yet are forced to in our mind.

The truth is, that drama was all about the people on stage getting their chance to be in a combat-like situation ... it had nothing to do with us.  The truth is, most of the Veteran's Day events I have ever been to have mostly been about the organization holding them ... very few have been for the sakes of the veterans as I have seen.  One such example of a wonderful Veteran's Day program was held in Lake Charles, LA at the River Front.  There is a Garrison Flag that flies on the boardwalk ... they held a community gathering at the flag ... had a great speaker ... and made a general thanks to all who had served.  We were there standing among those we served to protect ... and no one knew the difference for the most part.  Other Veteran's Day recognitions that are appreciated include services of thanks, the restaurants that offer free meals for vets ... cards ... and the very simple act of thanking a vet for his or her service ... but don't drag that out.  There is rarely a conversation that can follow it up.  The expression of appreciation is well received ... leave it at that.

It is hard enough try to fit in to the civilian world ... which for most servicepersons will never fully happen ... it becomes even harder when we are singled out when many of the people we work with have a general dislike towards us.  If you don't believe me ... well ... For many of us, the greatest pain is the fact that most people have no idea what we did or what it cost us and what it purchased others knowing that if we "flip out" or "lose it" we will be quickly and immediately thrown aside and cast away like a broken tool.

I get thanked a lot ... but I have heard comments for years about how I need to realize that I am now in the real world ... and get over the soldier thing.  I don't just tell people I'm a vet ... I've learned that lesson, but people always find out ... the bosses often tell and I do put it on my resume.  I have wounds that have adversely affected my body.  I need constant medical intervention just to walk.  I need to be able to get medical treatment instantly sometimes, just to keep a nominal standard of living.  Yet I get flack from coworkers and peripheral staff for leaving a few minutes early to make those appointments.  It doesn't matter that I am there usually long before I am supposed to be there.  It doesn't matter that I have already arranged for someone to cover me in my absence.  It doesn't matter that I have already finished my tasks for the day.

All that matters in that moment is the fact that people will complain about how we should get no special privileges they don't get.  Nothing is said of the difference between provision vs privilege.  Nothing is thought about how we would trade our needs for those provisions in a minute to have our bodies and health back. Yet those same people once a year want to feel good about themselves by pulling us out of our elements, along with the handful of the other vets (who all know what's going on) and stick us in a small room with some cheap cake and cold coffee ... maybe even a certificate and a small disposable flag.  We then get handshakes and "thank yous" from people that are only trying to feel good about themselves and mean little of what they say.  So, if we are in a hostile environment, what good is any of the Veteran's Day fluff?

Please ... please ... don't ask for combat stories or seek to know who's killed people, taken lives, or what it felt like to lose a fellow soldier ... those are selfish questions and completely unfair for the soldier.  Stay away from anything that would cause the soldier to relive painful experiences.

So what would be helpful?

First, know who your vets are ... and what their needs are ... and provide them the provisions they may need to meet them.  None of us want handouts or special treatment ... especially special attention.  But we have no choice but to ask if we are not granted what we obviously need.  Why should I have to ask for special parking when I walk with a cane?  It should be obvious.  Why should I have to remind my boss, again, that I can't lift that heavy object or make that long walk only to see the looks on faces ... here the jeers ... the accusations of "milking it" followed by "just kidding."  If you hire vets, don't put us in positions to be humiliated.  If you will do this alone, then we don't need a day in a year ... you've granted us a working environment that lets us keep our dignity.

Second, make your events inclusive.  I encourage groups who desire to acknowledge their veterans to do so by making it an all inclusive event allowing the veterans to be among their peers and coworkers.  We don't all like to feel "special" ... what we did was out of duty ... one of the leadership principles of the military is Selfless Service.  If you are going to bring in a speaker or host a special event, make it available for the whole company.  That leads to my third idea.

Third, provide opportunities for VA issue education for your employees, especially those in leadership or who work alongside vets, who did not serve in the military.  We are not wounded children ... but we have experiences ... and many of us reflex reactions for what are typically well protected switches ... but the switches are there.  If you are going to specifically hire veterans, it would be good to know what and where those switches may be and stay clear from them.  Recent history shows that when a war weary soldier loses the control of his mind, his or her response system and options are much different than a typical person. Though each person is always responsible for his or her own actions, there is a lot that can be done to help those trying to keep things in balance.

We appreciate the thanks ... we appreciate that the fact we served is remembered.  If you have no agenda and your intent is good, then most likely you will not cross lines and your acknowledgment will be well received.  If you hire veterans so you can get more customers, or you are holding these recognitions so you can improve your standing in the office or community .. do us all a favor and ignore the day.  Alternative agendas always show through.  Most veterans have more leadership training than just about anybody in the office or management system ... we work quietly and understand how to follow .. but we always know ... and we always compare you to the great (and awful) leaders we served and fought under.  Where will you stand in that comparison?

As a final thought, keep in mind that regardless of your ability and mannerism, your veteran employees are probably among the most loyal and faithful of your employees ... though they see you for your strengths and weaknesses ... and see straight through any presentation you may make of yourself ... and still yet choose to serve.  Think about that.  Be the leader that strives to earn that respect.

That's my take anyways. Happy Veteran's Day!!

Don't be confused.  LEARN STUFF!!!
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  1. First, let me express my gratitude to you and the countless veterans out there by saying, “Thank you.”

    Next, I speak for many when I say that you are a ‘hero’, you and everyone else who has sacrificed their lives to allow us our continued freedom. Perhaps it may be uncomfortable (for you and others) but it’s how we perceive our veterans, as well as active members of the military. It’s because of people such as yourself that I can sit at this computer and respond to this post, go to work in the morning, worship at the church of my choice on Sundays Wednesdays and any other day of the week that I choose to do so. And I thank you for that.

    Also, in regards to celebrations with ‘cold coffee and cake’ I think people are just trying their best to express their sincere gratitude. Heaven knows that no one will ever be able to fully repay, or fully express their gratitude.

    Finally, I would like to discuss the word ‘respect’.

    The public should have enough respect as well as courtesy to NOT ask questions. As you have stated somewhere above, (paraphrasing) say thanks and leave it at that. No conversations needed.

    On any ordinary day , one should not question individuals and ask them to re-live or give an account of a traumatic experience. Veteran’s Day should have the same courtesy.

    Also, co-workers could use a lesson on respect. Leaving a few minutes early should not be of anyone’s concern; how awful of them to even snicker the slightest at the idea. Sometimes we need to dust off our shoulders and keep on walking, not looking back. I will apologize in advance when I say that I have a ‘zero’ tolerance for ignorance.

    Thank you for this well written post. It has brought to light a number of issues (to the attention of people, such as myself), that we had no idea even existed, amongst our peers.

    Again, thank you for all you have done and continue to do, to serve others. God has blessed you tremendously.

    1. I am glad then that I posted it. I have been wondering if I should have been so strong.

      When I refer to the "old cake and cold coffee" ... I am not referring to the good hearted attempts at people to host a thank you ... I am specifically referring to the people who use this day to their own advantage ... to those that act as if by holding a yearly event, the countless mishandling of situations is dissolved.

      If it is done in the right heart, it can be the stalest and oldest of foods and it won't matter.

      Thank you for your kind words. I am no hero ... we honor them on Memorial Day.

  2. I got to admit, yesterday seeing all the post about Veterans made me thinking. Why do people only recognize people that serve the country with uniforms or serve the county with the team of other force? There are many Heroes among us and I mean Real Heroes who will protect and serve to keep you alive but yet No one recognizes them. Why? Is it because they never wear the uniforms or serve with other government force. Everyone is a Hero in someone else's eyes. I think Veterans Day should recognize all the "Real Heroes" and not only those who serve.

    And you are absolutely right Patrick, Most people will give their what they call "Gratitude" to those veterans not knowing all what it really means to be a Hero to someone. And try to make themselves look good for having gratitude of what they don't have any idea what it is that made them a good soldiers, hero, veterans or what it is that they actually stand for. You are absolutely right...there are many who would use this day for their own selfish advantage. But this is the world we live in. Good thing that there are still Real Heroes and Good Hearted people left in this crazy world:D

    Also why should we only recognize all these heroes on one specific day and thanking them on one specific day of the year? If we are truly grateful and recognize all the Heroes in this world, then we should acknowledge and Thank them sincerely every time we can.

    Now, I hope I didn't offend you in any ways Patrick. I am bless and very honored to have found you here. Not only you serve a great purpose for God's will, you are also a very humble hero who has done a lot for others. And being a God's Soldier is One of the Greatest thing to Be and that makes you ONE GREAT HERO.

    1. Thank you for your comments ... no offense taken. I agree that we should always be taking time to notice and thank those who serve. I often remind ppl who express remorse for not being able to serve in the military that other services are just as needed and important to keeping the nation running and secure. I sure wish more people knew at least a basic understanding of what civil duties we are to have. So much would be different if Americans would take responsibility for their own well being.

      Veteran's Day was formed to specifically recognize the veterans of the military ... there are civilian days out there, but they are not nearly as celebrated ... though they should be.

      I take the Christmas Holidays to honor cops, firefighters, and EMSers that I know or see ... that's a real hard time for them. Maybe we could start a movement ...