I was out for a walk yesterday, when a gentleman walked passed me and uttered: “Thank you for your service.” For a brief second I was confused. I was dressed in complete civilian active wear and had nothing on me indicative of the fact that I was in the military. How could he have known that I was a service member? 

Normally, I would keep walking and respond with the biggest smile and phrase I could come up with in the moment. My response is usually something in the line of: “Thank you, My Pleasure, I enjoy serving, No problem…etc” But, this time I paused and looked back at him. He did the same. I asked him how he knew I was in the military and he said: “You just have the look”.  The look??? 

I didn’t know there was a look, and certainly didn’t think I possessed one. 

In our almost two minute conversation, he went further to say that he comes from a generation of military service members and he knows a service member when he sees one. I told him he needed to head on and play the lottery right now, because he got it right. I thanked him for taking the time to recognize my service, even though I was not in uniform. I wished him a great day and went on down the path to my car. 

On my short walk back to my car I was reminded by the fact that, when people say ‘thank you for your service’, it’s not about the uniform, but the person in uniform, and the people affected each time we put on that uniform. I used to wonder why people would offer to pay for my lunch in restaurants, be extra nice and appreciative in airports, and say ‘thank you for your service.’ In my mind, I would say: “You know I made this decision freely…right?” or “I’m getting paid for this gig you know!


But, things are different now. I embraced a mindset shift, and it took becoming a mother x2, and leaving my 9-month old breastfed baby at home for a temporal duty, to realize the ultimate sacrifice. I had never spent a night away from either of my kids before this day, so I wept. It was hard, and I cried my way to the airport. The ultimate sacrifice is not in putting on the uniform; rather, it’s the people and life events we say “No, or Not now” to, each time we say “Yes” to our Country. There have been more times away from my kids and family, extended temporal duties, missed birthdays and more…and it’s always a beautiful feeling coming home.

The painful reality is that, the type of sacrifices we make doesn’t always bring us back home to our loved ones. Service members leave their babies, spouses, and loved ones, and sometimes never return home, return in boxes, or never return home the same. 

For those who made the ultimate sacrifice to serve this great nation, past and present, I salute you. Each time someone says “thank you for your service” embrace it, own it. You deserve to be appreciated and honored. 


Linda Arrey is an Author, Speaker, Nonprofit Startup Consultant and Captain in the United States Air Force. She’s a wife and working mother of two