(I am a disabled veteran, long discharged. The following projects what my feelings would be if I were still in uniform today.)
I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
I wear a uniform proudly. Sometimes you see me wearing it in public -- on the street, in the mall, at the airport. And sometimes you, a complete stranger, will say to me: "Thank you for your service" or "Thanks for all you do."
I know you mean well. I know you want to express your appreciation that I have made many sacrifices to wear this uniform, that I have been put in harm's way, that I am prepared to give my life in your defense.
But, please don't thank me for my service. Don't. Don't thank me for all I do -- because I am not serving you, I am not doing anything for you. Not anything at all. I am not keeping you safe. I am not protecting you from any external existential threat. There are no external existential threats to our country.
The only threat to our country and to our way of life comes from within our own borders. From plutocrats and the politicians they own. The politicians who sent me and my brothers and my sisters into harm's way for no purpose. To conflicts where thousands of my brothers and sisters died. Where tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers and civilians died (but who we don't count because they don't count because they are not like us). The same politicians who even when I return, even when I am out of uniform, continue to use me, continue to use my pain to manipulate the very people who elected them into voting against their own interests, into voting to send me and my brothers and my sisters to kill and to be killed.
I serve because I love the idea of America, of freedom, of democracy, of opportunity. I serve with some of the finest people I have ever known. I follow the orders I am given and go to the places I am sent because I respect and trust my chain of command. My commanders and those I in turn command are courageous and honest and they have something that few people have -- they have integrity. But those at the top -- the powerful who wield our military as their blunt instrument of destruction -- they have used the military and they have used me for their own deeply corrupt ends.
If you want to express your appreciation for my service and for all I do, do something for me. I have held up my end of the bargain. I am prepared to give my life in your defense. If you want to do something for me, if you want to do something for me in return, hold up your end of the bargain. Don't let me be sent to fight and die for no reason. Don't let me be tossed on the trash heap when I return from far away battlefields. Heal those wounds that I have on my body, on my mind, on my soul -- those wounds I have received because I believe in the true idea of America and because I believe in you. The wounds that I received because my ideals have been manipulated and used against me and used against you and used against imagined and fabricated enemies and used to further enrich that tiny sliver of our society for whom no amount of wealth can ever be enough.
I am an American fighting man. You are an American citizen. You also wield a powerful tool. You have a voice and you have a vote. It might seem small and you may think you will make no difference. And you may have been manipulated by the messages you hear in the media about the world around you and about our society. But your voice and your vote, with your neighbor's and their neighbor's and their neighbor's voices and votes, those can make a difference. Those are more powerful, more meaningful, more effective than the empty words of hastily tossed "thank you." America is its people. Our government is of the people, by the people, for the people. It is not for the ruthless and privileged few.
Next time you see me -- and you will see me. Please don't thank me, don't thank me for anything. I am an American fighting man and I am proud to be an American fighting man. Don't thank me. Do something for me instead. Do what you have the power to do because you do have power and you can make a change.