Friday, November 11, 2011
Veterans' Day-- What to Say?
So, it's Veterans' Day, and I love all of the "thank you" and "honor a vet" kinds of things I'm seeing on Facebook and elsewhere. I know there are people who don't think once about a Soldier or a vet until this day rolls around, and I know those whose hearts are touched every moment by the true meaning behind being a veteran or current military member.
It's all good.
The free meals, discounts, and other "we appreciate you" gestures that have popped up from certain businesses are nice. I try not to be cynical and just try to think the best of the businesses that offer them. But I digress.
My friend Kat is in the beginning stages of setting up an equine therapy program, and she told me that most of the clients will be wounded warriors-- those vets who didn't come home from combat unscathed. I don't know the details, exactly. I have heard great things about equine therapy with lots of different groups, and I think that there is a little bit of magic to be made in the saddle.
Somehow, horses don't have to be told what we need. They don't need to know what to say, what to do, or how to avoid those awkward conversation topics. They just are.
However, the therapists and handlers are very human. And, like many people, Kat said she wasn't sure exactly what to say. Or, perhaps more importantly, what not to say.
We'll start with a little bit of "what to say" to get the ball rolling. Easy stuff first.
My own beloved Soldier told me "talk about sports". No politics, no "are we STILL in name-that-distant-country", no hot topics.
Ask where a Soldier (or family member) has been. Ask where they're from originally. Let them know "hey, I've been there!" or "Gee, I always wanted to go."
Talk about hobbies, talk about interests...heck, just ask them about themselves. And if they don't seem like they want to open up, let the silence be an easy one.
Let them know if a loved one is in the military, or is/was a vet. You don't need to get into details, especially difficult ones (no talk of "Uncle Jeff was never the same after Vietnam" or "Grandma really suffered after Grandpa died in the Battle of the Bulge"). If you're proud of their service, great! But keep it easy, keep it light.
Build some trust.
Going to be working with the military and you're not sure about acronyms?
Look them up. :)
Want to learn about bases/posts/installations? This site isn't official but it is a good general overview.
Now that you have the conversation started, here are some tips about what not to say. Some of these are my own, many are supplied from other spouses. I am deeply grateful for the spouse of a wounded warrior who gave me some good advice.
Kat, please don't be insulted. All of these are things people have said to Soldiers and/or spouses.
First and foremost, you do NOT know how they feel. (Unless, of course, you are also a wounded warrior or a spouse of one. Even then it's a pretty bald assumption.)
Frequent travel for work is not the same as a deployment. Being deployed is not "like any other job" and please don't say it is.
I personally don't really care for "I don't know how you handle him being gone so often/so long". Heck, most of the time I don't know how I handle it either. Thanks for pointing that out.
Not all military members like to be thanked "for their service." My Soldier is always touched when a vet pays for his meal, or shakes his hand with a certain "I understand" expression.
But "hey, thanks for your service!" is sometimes awkward. There is a fine line between appreciating the sacrifice that these men and women make, and sounding like you're saying "thanks for doing it so I don't have to think about it".
Please, don't ever say "you know what you signed up for". "You knew what the risks were." We are neither psychic nor omniscient.
ASK before you photograph. My fellow spouse, whose husband was wounded, has said "no photographs".
She has also said that people should ask her husband what happened to him-- it is his story, after all. Perhaps ask the family members how they're doing. How are they holding up, how can you help. But for details on what happened-- ask the Soldier.
And knowing a wounded warrior (your uncle, your niece, your friend from college) is not the same as being married to one. Not even if it's your own child. It's nowhere close.
Don't ask intrusive details beyond that which you must know to help them. If you can't see the wounds, ask if they will need help in some way that you can't predict. If you can see the wounds, don't assume they are unable to do things for themselves.
Especially don't ask those intrusive details of the spouse or other family member. If they need to talk, let them take the lead.
I hope this has been helpful. Let's recognize and honor our Veterans and Service members today-- and all year long.
Need more? Check out these links.
What not to say/do to the spouse of a deployed soldier.
What not to say to a Soldier's spouse. (I don't agree with all of these but you'd still be surprised what we get told. I'm told that the original post was on The War Report, which is another interesting site.)
Funny, though snarky...
A bit of the Soldier's perspective. Especially the comments after the original short post.
This one is haunting... In memory of SPC Jason Cooper.