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Bridging the civilian-military divide

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The first time I remember being thanked for my service was on my first deployment. I wrote a letter to a church I attended while stationed in the D.C. area. I asked if they could burn a couple CDs with the latest sermons and mail them to me. I enclosed a check for $50 to cover the cost of CDs and shipping. I asked for the rest to be donated to the church.

A couple of weeks passed. I sent an email asking if my letter was received. Someone from the church explained that the sermons are sold as a yearly subscription and since I only enclosed a check for $50, they would not be able to mail me any sermons. They ended the email with, "Thank you for your service."

I do believe they were sincere. However, it made me feel uncomfortable. I wrote back and sincerely explained how they need not thank me for my service.

Over the years I have matured. Since this time, I have been thanked for my service many times. I have been thanked coming out of a grocery store on my way home from work. I have been thanked by airline personnel. I have been thanked while eating lunch at local restaurants. A couple of times I have even had my meal or coffee paid for by a complete stranger who thanked me for my service.

I have never felt negative emotion toward any of these people. I never felt like anyone was trying to take credit for my serving while they had not — I know some of them were veterans themselves. It would be ludicrous to think the 70-some-year-old woman who recently thanked me for my service, then hugged me, should grab a rifle and get on a plane to Afghanistan. It is ludicrous to think the shameful behavior demonstrated by Vietnam War protesters is somehow preferable because it contains more emotion toward those who served than today's common, unfortunately perceived by some as banal, "Thank you for your service."

I believe all the people who have thanked me were sincere and wanted me to know they appreciate those who serve and sacrificed. This perspective is much more comforting and positive than holding some grudge over civilians because we did our time and they did not. They did not have to do their time. They were not needed.

The recent wars we have fought and are fighting do not require a mobilization of the entire American populace. However, maybe we all should ask is, "Do we need to be fighting wars that do not require the mobilization of the American populace?" National existence has not been threatened since World War II. But there has been some value to operating as the world's superpower, which hopefully preserved more innocent life and allowed for prosperity.

I spent almost three years in Korea and would argue that history has judged the Korean War necessary. Unfortunately, having recently traveled through Vietnam, I would argue the only result from the Vietnam War was a loss of blood and treasure.

For years, I hoped history would judge our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan kindly. I have lost this hope. I do not believe we are fighting to preserve our freedom — to preserve our way of life may be more accurate — but my views on Iraq and Afghanistan mirror my views on Vietnam. The only outcome is a loss of blood and treasure that, to varying degrees, affects us all. So when a stranger thanks me for my service, I appreciate the gesture.

I appreciate the kind words from complete strangers who have no idea what I did. I appreciate the kind words even when I'm pretty certain that the complete stranger wants to do nothing more than speak, "Thank you for your service."

I appreciate this because I understand that there is nothing this person needs to be doing or should be doing besides living a responsible and productive life.

But if you happen to see me on the street and still want to thank me for my service, it's OK. You can.

Dan Fuhr, who served in the Army 15 years and deployed three times, runs Cafe Red Point in Colorado Springs. This column is in response to a New York Times article last year (nytimes.com/2015/02/22/sunday-review/please-dont-thank-me-for-my-service.html).

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