GIARDINIERI: Thanking veterans may cause unintended harm, including over-glorifying soldiers

Column: Thoughts from the back of class

So there I was, smack in the middle of the Rutgers Athletic Center trying to find the ticket to my first internship. 

The place was filled with a chaotic din that was fueled by the throngs of eager students ready to join the workforce. This was my first time at the Career & Internship Mega Fair, and probably the last. I waited in line for 40 minutes only to have a 5-minute conversation with a recruiter who would invariably tell me to just apply online. 

Anyways, that is beside the point here. I want to talk about an exchange I heard between two parties at the fair that got me thinking.

This exchange was between a tall, lean Army recruiter and a thin curious student. The student walked up to the soldier and said, “Thank you for your service.” Upon hearing this I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and saw the soldier's face slightly contort. Why would the soldier and I have such reactions to such an innocuous statement? 

Well, because we have both been thanked for our service numerous times over the years and have developed some mixed feelings about it. At least I have.

Most of the veterans I know could do without the overused platitude that is, “Thank you for your service.” Frankly speaking, it makes most veterans feel awkward and uneasy.

Look, I am not speaking for the majority of the military/veteran population. But to a lot of us, it just sounds like a corny cliché. 

I personally feel that most people who thank me are just doing it for themselves. Like they feel the need to thank me in order to be politically correct or something, which is understandable in today's climate. 

Nobody wants to offend anybody or say the wrong thing. The consequences are too severe. Nowadays you say the wrong thing to the wrong person and you run the risk of being crucified on social media.

So I can see where one is coming from when they thank me for my service. But is it not a bit odd to thank someone without really knowing what they have done or what kind of person they are? It might be or it might not be. But what I think is weird is the idea that anyone who puts on a uniform is a hero.

That is just not true. Not all veterans/military members are heroes.

I have always thought of the military as a giant organization. In any organization you have good, average, bad and terrible workers. To put this in context, let us look at our professors here on campus. 

I am sure many of you would agree with me in saying that some of the professors here are incredible, average, bad and downright awful. Some of you reading this right now are most likely dealing with a bad professor, who probably could not teach a fish how to swim if their life depended on it. 

Just because you have the prefix "Dr." in front of your name does not guarantee you will be an efficient educator.

You do not really know who you are thanking when you thank a veteran. That quiet veteran in the corner you thanked could have been in a gruesome firefight of which he was the sole survivor. Maybe he saw all of his friends die and now feels guilty about surviving. 

He does not want any thanks. If anything, he wants his buddies to forgive him for not being able to save them. 

Or you could be thanking a veteran who worked in the administrative side of things. They will feel awkward about getting thanked because most administrative personnel feel like they do not deserve any recognition for their time served. They worked a regular 9-to-5 schedule on basis and were never in harm's way. 

Or you could be thanking a veteran who was sexually assaulted by their superior, and who never reported the assault due to the rank and power that superior held. By thanking a veteran, sometimes you inadvertently cause some memories to be brought up again about their time served.

I am not saying that you should not thank veterans, but I strongly think that it should not be the first choice of words that you say to a veteran when you meet one. Instead, you should ask them what they are doing with their lives, whether they are going to school, etc. 

Personally, I do not really care if you thank me or not. I volunteered to do a job when I enlisted. 

I did not volunteer to get thanks.

Kevin Giardinieri is a School of Engineering sophomore majoring in industrial and systems engineering. His column, “Thoughts from the back of the class,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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