By Samara Crawford Herrera
For many, this time of year is a sprint: full speed from Halloween, speed bumping through Thanksgiving on a headlong path to the Holidays and the end of the year. We pack in Star Wars costumes, overeating, travel, wrapping paper and revelry into the smallest window possible. However, for me, my entire immediate family and around 19 million other U.S. veterans, we also sneak in celebration of a holiday that should be ripe for pause and reflection for all of us.
Generally, when most people learn about my four and a half years serving as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy, they immediately say, “Thank you for your service.” As a young single mother in October 2008, I never knew how to respond. I’d nervously say thank you or downplay the commitment that came with the job. It felt awkward to be celebrated for something that came with a measure of finality. Was I really done serving? Had closing that chapter in my life meant that I’d never be considered a member of a body committed to the service of others? It didn’t sit well with me that only a small sliver of my life should entitle me (or anyone) to that gratitude and an annual free helping of Red, White and Blue pancakes at iHOP. It wasn’t enough.
I did not join the military for the discounts (although I’d be lying if I said that the 10% off hasn’t saved my hind during an impulsive shopping trip or two). I joined because I’d been raised and educated in the tradition that, as Gandhi notes, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” By serving in the military, I’d found myself and even though I no longer wore a uniform, it was a feeling I was determined to never lose.
Since then, the trajectory of my life has always been a relentless pursuit to discover more of myself in the service of others and the greatest good. Along the way I’ve found colleagues in service in the classroom, working as a social worker, volunteering in the community, my church and in board service – in different “uniforms” but all committed to the idea that the world might be made just a little better for someone else because we showed up. It would be amazing if our country chose to celebrate that dedication with more federal holidays (I mean, c’mon). But in lieu of that, we can make a choice to honor those who serve in and out of uniform in a variety of ways right here at home: how about increased teacher pay in Missouri (we’re 49th out of 50 by the way), increasing state investment in prekindergarten, or protecting public education from the intrusion of polarizing politics? It doesn’t have to be big sweeping grandiose displays. It’s as simple as committing to remove those systemic, structural barriers that make serving others so very difficult, or using your time, talent and treasures to advocate, or better, rolling up your sleeves and going to work alongside us.
No experience necessary.
This year, I celebrated Veteran’s Day in much the same way that I have the last few year (COVID notwithstanding); a family call in the morning where we each share a crazy story from our years in uniform, scarfing down those free iHOP pancakes (kryptonite, I tell you), performing a service project and then taking a friend, colleague, currently serving our community out for dinner or drinks. Now, when someone says, ‘thank you for your service’, I don’t smile and look at the floor, I meet it with “and how should I thank you for yours?”