Please don't thank me for my service

Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Hughes, 437th Airlift Wing command chief

Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Hughes, 437th Airlift Wing command chief

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The other day a good friend and mentor, a retired AF Master Sergeant, sent me a message made up of a few simple words. Words that we, folks who wear a military uniform, may be accustomed to ... "Thank you for your service." I don't know about you, but I am very uncomfortable when people thank me for my service. Usually, when it is a face to face interaction, I simply reply, "you're welcome" or "it is my privilege to serve." When it is a message (Facebook or e-mail), I typically do not respond directly. I understand my lack of response may seem unappreciative but that is certainly not the case. In this instance, I thought about my friend's message for a few minutes. Then I did something I don't normally do. I responded, "Please don't thank me for my service." That comment sparked an interesting, worthwhile conversation.

My friend suggested that I was being short sighted. He made several points about how few people volunteer to serve in the military and how everyone who lives in the United States owes us a debt of gratitude because we support and defend the Constitution. We provide the blanket of security and freedom which allows U.S. citizens to chase their dreams of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He suggested that one day, sometime after I retire, I would understand.

While I agree with what military service provides this great nation, I have a hard time with the concept of being "owed" a debt of gratitude. Thanking me for my service just does not sit right with me. I made a very conscious decision to join the military and did so of my own free will. I choose to serve for very selfish reasons ... did I say that out loud? Every four years I have had the opportunity to choose a different life. Each time I had the opportunity to walk away I weighed the risks and rewards and chose to re-enlist because it was in my best interest. Military service is how I have chosen to exercise my Constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In return for my service, I am well compensated. I receive "three hots and a cot," medical care for me and my family, job skill training and professional development throughout my career, world travel opportunities, a college education and 30 days of paid vacation per year. The military taught me everything I need to know to be successful in life. I learned discipline, courage, sacrifice and self-confidence. I learned how to adapt to any situation, embrace change, get along with people from every walk-of-life, make very tough decisions with very little information, keep a level head while under duress, solve complex problems, excel in stressful environments, live in austere conditions and how to make the impossible happen with little or no resources. In short, I've been blessed with incredible opportunities, have benefited from unfathomable experiences and have a lifetime of memories.

Maybe I am short sighted but I don't believe I am owed anything. I have taken more from the military than I believe I have given. If anything, I believe I should be thankful for the opportunity to serve a whole lot more often than I should be thanked for my service.