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Proud to be embarrassed in uniform

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. George Johnson
  • 311th Airlift Squadron commander
Have you ever been embarrassed to be in your uniform? I have. Now before every chief on base starts typing an email to the wing commander demanding my head let me explain myself, and then let's see if some of you can remember having been there too.

You see, it usually occurred when I had to stop off somewhere on my way home from work, when I went to lunch off base, or when I found myself in the grocery store grabbing a few things off the list my wife had given me. As I stood lost in my thoughts, someone would walk up and catch me off guard simply to say "Thank you for your service." The first few times it happened, I wasn't sure how to respond. I usually smiled nervously and mumbled a "thank you" in response. They didn't know me and they certainly didn't know what I had done that day. But there they were, thanking me for something they felt so deeply about that they would walk up to a complete stranger, who stood out simply by the uniform, and offer their heartfelt thanks.

I was embarrassed because it was hard to feel worthy of their gratitude. What had I done that day? I was here in the states where I pushed paper across a desk on most days.

When I worked in the AMC Headquarters building, my kids asked me what I did and I told them I answered questions. It seemed that was all I did; I answered questions. Before my assignment to Scott AFB, I had been an AETC instructor and "flew around the flag pole." When approached in these situations, I felt little if anything I did contributed any significance to our nation's defense and was definitely not worthy of thanks.

But what I came to realize, was they weren't trying to thank me specifically. These were people who felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the men and women in uniform and what our sacrifices meant to them. By walking up to me and saying those words, they were trying to thank those of you who worked in temperatures above 110 degrees on the flightline or stood locked and loaded guarding a deployed base. They were thanking those of you who put in 12-16 hour days for four to six months, without a day off, supporting the deployed mission. They were thanking those of you who rode in the convoys on roads mined with IEDs.

They were thanking those of you who walked the hills and villages of Iraq and Afghanistan. They were thanking those of you on deployments that were separated from your families for countless days during the holidays, birthdays, and graduations. They were thanking those of you who carry the emotional, mental, and physical scars of war. In uniform, I was the conduit for their thanks.

I still feel my part is pretty insignificant. On most days, I am a very small cog in the machine, doing the best that I can to serve the people I work with in the squadron. We all contribute in different ways every day. The mission still depends even on small cogs.

But, I am no longer embarrassed to be approached in public when in uniform. I know that people understand and are genuinely grateful for the sacrifices of their military. We can all appreciate that every day, many of them approach some of us to simply say "Thank you for your service."