As our men and women in uniform return from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places around the world, many of us feel a deep sense of gratitude for the sacrifice they have made—and continue to make—by sharing their skills and risking their lives as members of the uniformed services. Just a few weeks ago, while returning from a meeting in Atlanta, I saw the all-too-familiar sight of soldiers, airmen, and sailors in various camouflage uniforms, carrying the world on their backs. Aboard the shuttle that runs between terminals, I kept hearing clapping of hands and the phrase, “Thank you for your service,” repeated over and over as total strangers expressed their gratitude to these men and women in transit.
Many of them are our colleagues. Data from 2010 (see table) show that more than 5,000 of our PA colleagues are serving in various capacities—both in and out of uniform.
I am sure that many of my nurse practitioner colleagues are serving in uniform or in the federal service as well. I was unable to track down accurate numbers because NPs are not usually singled out in the nursing corps. May all such NPs consider my comments addressed to them as well.
I remember the first time I was thanked by a stranger for my military service. It was April 1991, and I was on the way home following Operation Desert Storm, with a planeload of other troops from Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Our plane stopped in North Carolina, like hundreds of similar flights before and after ours. One by one, garbed in dusty camouflage, we walked into the terminal very early one weekday morning. I was expecting an empty airport, but instead we were met by a platoon of older volunteers decked out in red-white-and-blue, welcoming us home with cookies and yellow ribbons. One by one, the smiling volunteers thanked us, shaking our hands or hugging us.
This display of patriotism and gratitude surprised me, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. Just a few days before, I had been living with my team in a tent city not far from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Now, I was in a comfortable suburban airport, being handed treats by somebody’s grandparents and treated like a returning hero. I couldn’t understand why they were thanking me. I stuffed those feelings away, though, muttered something to myself about focusing on getting home, and quickly found a corner of the airport where I could wait with other soldiers for our flight to resume its journey to Phoenix.
Recently, I went to the routine Wednesday night “Big Band” evening at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post I belong to in Scottsdale, Arizona. The first number they always play is an “Armed Forces Salute,” a medley of the songs of each of the services—starting with the Army, which is the oldest. As each service song was played, veterans in attendance stood up at attention in response to their own service’s familiar tune.
Just before the hymn for the Marine Corps, an elderly gentleman, easily an octogenarian, struggled to his feet and, bent over his walker, made his way to an area just in front of the band. As “The Marines’ Hymn” began, he stood erect and saluted the flag—holding his stance throughout the hymn. Then, with great difficulty, he bent back down and slowly made his way back to his seat. That really moved me!
So as we take time this month in particular to thank our military and federal service personnel who are currently serving, let us not forget those who served so gallantly in previous wars and conflicts and who often return to our VFW and American Legion posts to spend time with like-minded individuals.
Many nonmilitary folks may not understand the important role both these organizations play in our country. The American Legion, the nation’s largest nonpartisan, nonprofit veteran service organization, was chartered by Congress in 1919.
The VFW traces its roots back to 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for members of their service. Because there was no medical care or veterans’ pension for the many who had arrived home wounded or sick, they were left to care for themselves. In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations that would eventually become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
Both organizations are committed to mentoring youth and sponsoring wholesome programs in our communities, advocating patriotism and honor, promoting strong national security, and fostering devotion to service members and veterans. They also represent great political grass roots in the legislative process. These organizations belong to the people they serve and the communities in which they thrive. Recently, both the VFW and the American Legion have fought to improve VA medical centers’ services for women veterans and all those returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let me also extend special thanks to the USO. As you know, hundreds of times each year, at locations all over the world, the USO lifts the spirits of US troops and their families. The USO is a nonprofit, congressionally chartered, private organization that relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations, and corporations to support its activities. While not part of the government, the USO is recognized by the Department of Defense, Congress, and the President of the United States, who serves as Honorary Chairman.
This editorial is not intended to ignore or diminish others who also deserve our thanks (such as law enforcement officials, firefighters, and paramedics), but rather to take a moment in the month of May to remember those in the military and federal branches who have served us.
To all my brothers and sisters, to all the fathers, mothers, and grandparents who have served in the military so that I am free today—thank you for your service, and welcome home.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments about this editorial or anything in general. You can reach me at PAeditor@qhc.com.