The high school seniors walked behind me as we left the pool. I knew those boys. They were the swimmers everyone watched. They were the ones with bodies made to butterfly, made to soar and plunge through water--all back and arm and chest. Miraculous, really.
And now they wanted to go into the military. I heard them trading what scraps of information they had gleaned—what was OCS and when did people go to bootcamp and what was the best way to get to be a Navy SEAL?
So I turned to look at the two of them. You know what I saw. I saw that they were so young. Babies, really. Wet haired and pink with the cold, they looked like they shaved on Tuesday whether they needed it or not.
And in that moment I felt terribly grateful. I felt thankful in a way that I forget to feel thankful most of the time. I felt thankful the way those 31 Days of Thankfulness projects on Facebook are supposed to make you feel.
In this time where the government is sending strong messages that the military will be cut, that year-groups will be slashed, that every benefit including the commissary is “on the table,” I hope the troops past, present and future know how grateful we are for all them.
I hope they know we are grateful that these young people would consider the military as their next challenge, worthy of their efforts.
I hope those in bootcamp know how we appreciate every oh-dark-thirty run, every lung bursting for air, every ache and pain in every shin and knee and hip joint that will never really go away.
I hope those who are currently deployed realize how we appreciate that they are willing to be the ones who are gone this holiday. I hope they understand that we really do know how they have the duty when they are sick, that they work when they are heartbroken, that they keep going when they are bored and irritated and exhausted to the point they cannot sleep.
I hope our sailors and soldiers and airmen and Coasties and Marines know how thankful we are for their competence. I hope they realize that every hour they spend repairing an aircraft or caring for weapons or studying for their nursing exams or training their troops are hours we value.
I hope those who command a squad, a platoon, a battalion, a division, a department, a ship understand how much we trust them to do the right thing and how grateful we are when they do.
I hope when our wounded warriors sense our eyes upon them that they feel it is a gaze of respect, of gratitude, of awe.
I hope our servicemembers know that when we think of them we are thankful for every minute of their lives they gave in the service of their nation and how we cannot forget what we owe their brothers and sisters in arms who died in uniform.
We are a country that decided we needed a day of national Thanksgiving. That is fitting, surely. But when it comes to our military and all those in professions that stand ready to serve, one day is not enough. And 31 days of thankfulness doesn’t begin to cover it.