Thanks for your service when you're a recruiter

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Vlk
  • U.S. Air Force 372nd Recruiting Group commander
As a recruiting group commander, my Area of Responsibility touches 24 states as well as the Pacific, so I travel a lot for my job. If I'm in uniform, I'm often stopped and thanked for my service. Especially where people aren't used to seeing military folks, someone will come up to me and thank me. I'll smile and thank the individual back for the kind words, but inside I have a mix of emotions.

Initially, I feel embarrassed. I don't deserve it. Yes, I've deployed once or twice; yes, the enemy has tried to kill me; and yes, I'll probably get to do it again. But what about our comrades in the Army and Marines, who repeatedly deploy for 12-, 15- or 18-month stretches? They deal with the enemy face-toface and with unappreciative locals in faraway vacation spots. I think, "Those are the folks that deserve the thanks." And they do! But then I also remember that we're all on the same team. It takes all kinds of talents to defend our country. The Air Force provides capabilities that no one else can. I remind myself that Airmen, too, are deployed for 365-day TDYs, and sometimes longer. Airmen, too, patrol outside the wire and risk their lives every mission. Airmen, too, are embedded with Army and Marine units, encountering the same threats together. Airmen, too, face 1:1 dwell ratios for the foreseeable future. Airmen, too, are legendary heroes. Airmen, too, have made the ultimate sacrifice. It's not easy to be in the military, any branch, during this time of war. Although I may feel a little embarrassed to be thanked by a stranger, I realize he's not thanking me specifically, but the Armed Forces in general. So I suppress my embarrassment and proudly accept his thanks on behalf of all my brothers and sisters in arms.

I also feel encouraged. Unsolicited appreciation is a powerful motivator. I use this when I visit my folks in my AOR. I urge you to use it in your workplace too. We usually come to work each day and nug through our e-mails and paperwork; through a backlog of repairs or patients; or through the steps of a preflight checklist. Do you remember the last time you recognized or thanked your co-workers or subordinates for their day-to-day efforts? Everything they do contributes to our national security in some way. During these times of doing more with less, we need them. Take the time and effort to tell your folks you appreciate them -- it'll encourage them and make their day.

The last thing I feel is comforted. Some people believe the typical American doesn't realize we're at war -- there's no inconvenience, no pain, no sacrifice for the common man. Unless he has a family member or neighbor in the military, the typical American is oblivious to the war. But I dispute that belief. When a complete stranger goes out of his way to thank me for my service, I realize that belief is wrong. The American public is well aware of the struggles we face every day, as well as the sacrifices of our families. And they deeply appreciate it. There are a few exceptions, but I'm comforted knowing that the majority of Americans support us and care about us.

It all boils down to the fact that the American public is relying on us to keep them safe and to ensure the American way of life continues. That's a huge responsibility levied on less than 1 percent of the population, but we assume that responsibility proudly, voluntarily, and we're good at it. Every once in a while we get the honor of a stranger offering to shake our hand and tell us, "Thanks." To me, the resulting embarrassment, encouragement and comfort make it all worthwhile.