I am not vain enough to believe that I can comprehend what you are going through, to think that I understand what you have faced. But I am grateful. It is not beyond me to know that while I am sitting comfortably in the safety of my living room, you are facing danger. While my children’s sweet voices pour through the house, rising and falling with their game of make believe, you are listening to a very different soundtrack, with much higher stakes.
I cannot imagine all the ways that your life requires you to show discipline. All of the things that you have had to refrain from in order protect our great nation. I cannot fathom how much time and work you have put into disciplining your body, your emotions, and your mind, in order to stay strong enough to complete the tasks you have been assigned, and to go on afterwards. Your dedication humbles me.
I do not know how many friends you have lost, or what all has been taken from you, in your single-minded pursuit to protect our freedom. I don’t know how many tears you have cried, or the ways that you have been hurt, outside and inside. I don’t know the loneliness that comes with being sent to new locations, with new people, and new regulations, at any given moment. I don’t know the feeling of walking on foreign lands in blistering boots, under a too-hot sun, with eyes narrowing at your presence. Nor how it feels to have to distinguish between “civilian” and “combative” at every turn. I can only imagine.
I, who have a hard time letting go of everything, cannot understand how it feels to have the hardest, darkest, days of your life replay over and over in your mind, even once your feet are back on the safety of American soil. It is too small, and too trite, but I just want you to know that I am so sorry for what you have seen. So sorry for what you have had to learn, and for what you can never un-know.
I don’t know why you decided to become a soldier. I don’t know if you have always been brave, or if you acquired that character trait later. I don’t know if you burned with a love for this country from a young age, or if the military was your means of getting an education. I don’t know if you have people who hold signs for you when you come home, or if you press on, alone, through the throngs of people waiting for someone. But I hope you are safe.
I hope you are well. I hope that you are healthy, and safe from harm. I hope that you see yourself as noble, and heroic, and as important as you are. While I cannot imagine having to do the things that you have done, I cannot imagine a world where you don’t exist. Your courage and bravery have forever changed the face of this earth. Whether young or old, struggling or thriving, you matter, to all of us. Maybe more than you know.
Maybe we forgot to tell you. Maybe we looked at you, without really seeing. I’m sorry for that, I really am. Maybe your war was disputed, and you were blamed for following orders. Or maybe your own war is being fought from within. Either way, you are brave, and worth fighting for. And also, worth thanking.
Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for risking your life. Thank you for being willing to give your all. Thank you for not giving up, even when you want to shake with fear. Thank you for doing the hardest things, for protecting my children from unimaginable horrors. Thank you for your trainings, and your sleepless nights, your struggling through the muck of terror, and hunger pangs, and very real threats. Thank you for bringing honor to our country, and making your uniform a noble thing.
Thank you for what you do, and what you have done. For the stories you tell, and for the things you spare us from. I hope that you know, that you aren’t fighting alone. That you have our support, and that there are people who appreciate what you’ve done. That even though we aren’t all able to do what you do, that we are keeping the home-fires burning for you, in our own way, to give you a country worth fighting for. That we are raising our children to be grateful for you, to show kindness, and honor, and to live lives they are proud of. That we are disciplining ourselves with gratitude, being gentler, and more willing to listen, because of you. That we are working hard to give you a place worth coming home to.
And I hope you do, come home, I mean. And I hope that it feels that way for you. That you are buoyed by the support we feel towards you. That you are able to look around, and be proud, and that you know we are so proud of you, too.
To all American soldiers, past, present, and future, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.