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It is my honor and privilege

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. David Wade
  • 437th Maintenance Group superintendent
How do you respond when someone says thank you?

Do you smile and nod your head?

Do you say, "No problem."?

How about, "I am just doing my job."

Perhaps a thank you catches you off guard and you fail to provide a response at all?

I understand all of these reactions. It is easy to feel embarrassed by someone thanking you, especially when it is emotional, genuine and comes from the heart. My response to a thank you has evolved over time and the change started when I was stationed at Travis Air Force Base, California.

I remember my wife waking me up and telling me something was happening on the news. It was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and I was still in bed on the west coast as civilian airliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers. As a flying crew chief on C-5s at the time, I received a call that same day and was put on alert. We flew out the next morning and I spent the next two years living out of a suitcase in support of operations in Southwest Asia. And on this two-year journey, I noticed a change in the way Americans felt about the military. That change would help this young Airman mature.

As I bounced around the world, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for America's military. It was commonplace for people to offer to buy our food and drinks when my aircrew stopped for supplies before flying a mission. Everywhere we went, in the United States or abroad, people would come up to us and thank us for our service.

Those thanks were emotional, genuine and from the heart, but being an inexperienced young man at the time, I failed to show proper acknowledgement and respect to those heartfelt gestures. I would often respond with, "no problem," or just say thank you in return. After all, I was just an aircraft technician. Not feeling like I deserved accolades, I was never really comfortable in these situations. But as time moved on, I would get more practice.

I have had the good fortune of being stationed in areas of the country that are very supportive of the military. From 2008 to 2013, I was assigned to Dyess AFB, Texas. Each year, Air Mobility Command honors the community most supportive of its local Air Force base with an award called the Abilene Trophy. To this day, the people of Abilene will walk up to service members and tell them thank you. Recently, I have found South Carolina to be no different.

Sometimes I catch my son's baseball practice or evening game while I am still in my uniform. One night this past spring, I had five different people come up to me within a span of 30 minutes and thank me for my service. Having been part of this social exchange for many years now, and a bit older and wiser, my reaction is different. I first offer my hand for a handshake. Then, I look straight into the eyes of the person who thanked me and I tell them, "You are welcome. It is my honor and privilege to serve." My response is now emotional, genuine and from the heart, equal to the sincerity of their gesture, just as it should be.

It soon dawned on me there was a strong correlation between my social exchanges with civilians and my exchanges with Airmen. Being an Air Force enlisted leader has put me in a position where I get thanked by Airmen on occasion as well. While happy that my exchange with civilians had improved, I still told Airmen that I was just doing my job when they thanked me. I certainly could do much better than that. An Airman who has the courage to say thank you to a supervisor warrants an appropriate response. So now, when an Airman thanks me, I respond, "You are welcome. It is my honor and privilege to do so." I firmly believe that Airmen who serve our country deserve no less.

Service members should stand tall and be proud of what they do. Wearing the fabric of our nation is significant and absolutely deserves recognition. We sacrifice personal desires to tirelessly defend the Constitution of the United States and fight for freedom around the world. When your efforts are recognized, let people know that you proudly serve them by giving an emotional, genuine and heartfelt reply. Service is our honor and privilege.