Thank a Veteran Every Day, Not Just on Veterans Day

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“On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as ‘the Great War.’ Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.”

– History.com

Veterans Day is only one day a year we designate to thank service members for taking the oath to sacrifice and serve our country. Thank them every day by being a good coworker.

A few months ago I was driving home from my drill weekend, in uniform and a little tired from working all weekend. I stopped at a burrito chain to order food for my family. There weren’t a lot of people in there on a Sunday at 6:30 p.m., but there was a woman and her teenage daughter ahead of me acting a little strange. The staff was also acting a little strange. They finished making my order, passed the order up the line so the woman can pay for it, almost covertly.  She just wanted to thank me for my service in her own way and didn’t want to make a big scene. However, I graciously thanked her and let her know her kind gesture really gave me a boost for the end of my weekend.

These types of experiences can occasionally happen to service members. It is a very nice gesture for people to do, but I often times feel guilty for not returning the favor. After this incident, if this happens to me again, I told myself I find a way to pay it forward by either donating to charity or doing another good deed. However, the best way to recognize a service member is a simple handshake and a thank you. Overall any recognition given to a veteran is very not expected and humbling.

Since 9/11 there are plenty of veterans who have left the service and have gone into government service. Veterans can be your best employees and coworkers, if you let them. They may not have the years of institutional experience you have, but they will make up for it with desire and willingness to learn. All they ask is for a little direction so they can take it and run with it. Fellow guest blogger Eva Fulton wrote an excellent article on how to manage veterans titled: “Pointers on Managing Veterans.”

On a different note, I have seen organizations only embrace veterans because they are mandated, not because they actually believe it or want it. Most government agencies have hiring practices giving veterans a preference. This preference can create some animosity to the current staff because they may feel the veteran by-passed the system and didn’t earn their place. Veterans don’t want to compete against you they want to work with you. Like you, they are just trying to make a living for their family. Whether they were junior enlisted, a non-commissioned officer, or an officer they have gone through a number of basic and advanced training courses that taught both job specific skills and leadership. This is in addition to their daily duties and experiences. It is a good thing to have veterans working with and for you because they can bring a lot of valuable skills to the workplace not found with non-military candidates.

It will vary from organization to organization on how veterans are treated. You don’t need to be scared or intimidated by them. They probably have many unusual experiences and can speak an entirely different language in acronyms. They just want to do their jobs and feel part of the team. But they do expect the best out of you and for you to communicate with them.

For this Veterans Day, thank your coworkers, managers and subordinates for their service. They would appreciate your graciousness, but getting a free lunch won’t hurt either.

Happy Veterans Day!

Matt Nowak is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Joe Raasch

Hi Matt, thanks for your service! If you’re ever in the Saint Paul, MN area, let’s have that lunch. Great point about veterans, “desire and willingness to learn” – it is difficult to train someone for that! It is much easier to train someone on the specific tactical parts of a job, yet that’s what we seem to hire for. I want to hire the desire and train the rest.

Profile Photo Stephanie Alley

Matt, this is a good article. Many (OIF/OEF/OND) veterans I know are less comfortable with the “thank you for your service” & would likely prefer a ‘covert burrito.’ 😉 I also appreciate your openness in recognizing & addressing the tension felt by co-workers of veterans who may not have the same degree or background, feel frustrated, etc.
Veterans provide unique skills and face unique challenges; I enjoy helping them out as they become part of the fed organization I served. Certainly each federal organization and individual department has its own unique culture, not unlike that of each unique military branch and MOS. For example, I notice newbies (transitioning from military into some federal jobs) can experience real difficulty navigating this new professional culture regardless of job performance ability. Being a friendly mentor or providing gentle insight is another way we can be of service to our veterans on a daily (professional/collegial) basis. Thank you for your article…and your service.

Profile Photo Matt Nowak

I agree 100%. Two very different environments. Some adjust well and some don’t. If an organization cares about veterans they will help them if not veterans will find a home. Getting a free lunch is good but I would rather see it go to my junior Soldiers. Thanks!

Eva Fulton

Matt, I just saw your posting! not sure how I missed it but thank you so very much for the mention and God Bless you for your service!