By John Register
Thank you for your service!
As a retired combat disabled veteran, I have heard this heartfelt statement from many proud American citizens. I always hear it in terms of deep respect for the sacrifices men and women have made to defend our nation.
Yet, now, in this time in history in our nation, I have been thinking deeper about what these words, “thank you for your service,” actually mean.
Here’s what I mean. When I ask a person who has just thanked me for my service, what do you mean by your words? They often tell me, “well, you protected our nation,” or will say, “you fought for our country.”
Both of those are true; however, they are also byproducts of the service oath I took when I enlisted into the United States Army.
I believe what we’re missing in American Society today is honor, respect and truth for what the military service member has signed on to do. There appears to be an assumption of what “thank you for your service” means. There is no recollection or call back to the oath of service each enlisted, or officer takes to begin the process of service to our country.
The oath I took was “to support and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
What this means is my combat service was in defense of the United States Constitution. It was not to an individual or a group. Even though the next lines say that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States, there is always an exception to the policy if an order is in contrast to the defense of the United States Constitution or is unlawful.
The next question I asked myself was when was the last time I read the United States Constitution? I realized I had not done so in quite some time. So, I downloaded the app and read through the document on Memorial Day.
What fascinates me about Article 5 is that despite the best efforts to get it right, the framers of the constitution wrote this Article to let future generations know it could be amended. They knew that what they wrote had to be a living document to stand long beyond their years on this earth.
Another interesting point about “thank you for your service” is the assumption that my amputation came due to my combat experience.
Often amputees, who served or have not served, will be mistakenly identified as service members because of their disability. I represent 70 percent of those who were not injured in combat — though my disability occurred while on active duty.
When building the United States Olympic and Paralympic Military Sports Program, the issue that gave me the greatest concern was well-meaning charitable organizations that only wanted to serve those who were injured in combat. They had no idea the rift they were causing in the hospitals because they were separating who was more worthy of their “thank you for your service.”
I was recently talking with a business coach friend of mine who served in Vietnam. When I shared with him my sentiments around, “thank you for your service,” he shared with me that when he got out, he was never un-oathed.
This, I believe, is the bond that connects every service member, regardless of branch, together. Just because service members transition back to civilian life, hopefully with an honorable discharge, it does not mean we have thrown away the oath to protect the United States Constitution.
So, the next time you either hear, “thank you for your service,” or you say it to somebody, remember what the oath of service says and what it protects. Our democracy will stand or fall not on one leader but on our vigilance to defend the United States Constitution.
There remains deep respect in America for the sacrifices men and women have made to defend our nation. Let us honor those who served by understanding the United States Constitution is the depth of our defense.
John Register is a combat Army veteran, two-time and two-sport Paralympic athlete and Inspirational Keynote Speaker. Book John to speak at your next conference by visiting johnregister.com.