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With Thanks To Those Who Protect Our Way Of Life

February 1, 2013 7 minute Read by Major General Lee Baxter

The Military Service Initiative of the George W. Bush Institute is intended to highlight the bravery and sacrifices of the warriors wounded in the Global War on Terror, as well as their families, and those organizations that have made continuing commitments to supporting American heroes.  And as we enjoy the fruits of the freedoms those heroes provide us, the time for all Americans to express their gratitude is upon us.  A word of thanks for service may certainly be enough.  But in recalling the memorable English Christmas Carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” purportedly composed as early as 1770, perhaps there are 12 equally unique ways we can say “thanks for everything” to our heroes and their families this holiday season:

1.  Never pass up a warrior in uniform.  See them in the airport, at the mall, at the armory, or at the hospital?  Go out of your way.  Just say “thank you for your service.”  A little known secret?  In such situations, service members accept hugs!

2.  Give a little to those who gave a lot.  There are over 40,000 non-profit organizations in the United States that offer varying degrees of support to veterans, their spouses and families.  Donations large and small are multiplied by the giving of others; yet, donors should always be diligent with their organization of choice, and both Guidestar (www.guidestar.org) and Charity Navigator, (www.charitynavigator.org) are excellent sources to use in assessing how donor dollars are used by evaluated non-profits.  But a $10 gift says “thank you” as much as a $1m gift - truly the expression of appreciation is the imperative.

3.  Try a hospital visit.  No hospital of any size is without hospitalized veterans of one era or another.  A surprise visit with a book, flowers or box of candy and five minutes allowing that veteran to tell of his or her service, will never be forgotten.

4.  Holiday meals are exceptional.  Any local veterans support organization can provide the names of two needy veterans’ families in any community.  A frozen turkey, potatoes, yams, dressing components and apple pie left on a doorstep with an anonymous “thank you” note will be an unforgettable “thank you” to the grateful recipient and his family.  It may be the only way they can enjoy a traditional holiday meal.

5.  Gift a gift of family.  Visiting family can be expensive and unlikely for a service member assigned far from his or her parents or loved ones.  All U.S. airlines allow the transfer of frequent flier miles to others.  Find a needy soldier, airman, sailor, marine or coastie, and donate the few miles it takes for a round trip ticket home.  The dollar cost to the donor is zero; to a young serviceman or woman the visit will be, well, priceless!

6.  Babysitting can’t be beat.  If you know a young service member or veteran with small children, be assured the young couple has few extra resources to spend on themselves; little time to cultivate their relationship or their love for one another.  Offering to babysit for three hours while they take in dinner and a movie will resonate as few things will.  A perfect “thank you for your service.

7.  Volunteer.  Donating two hours, five hours, or 10 hours a month to an organization providing support for service members, veterans and their families can’t be over-rated as a means of appreciation.  Local veterans hospitals, the Armed Services YMCA, and Operation Homefront are but three of many such organizations seeking help with the important programs they provide for these heroes.

8.  Donate, don’t throw it away.  Used but serviceable clothing is in high demand by young military families, as well as older veterans, particularly those in local Veteran’s Centers.  “Soldier’s Closets” exist in many communities with nearby military installations, and everyone is within driving distance of a VA Hospital or Veteran’s Center.  It says thanks - and its tax deductible!

9.  Send a message.  The single most “asked for” gift of American service members deployed overseas is a simple encouraging note expressing appreciation, even from a stranger.  But each of us are familiar with a deployed service member from the community in which we live; “mail call” is just great for morale!

10.  Pick up the tab.  See a military member with family while you are dining at the same restaurant?  Tell your waitress you want to anonymously pay for dessert for the whole crew.  They will love it and will feel the kindness and appreciation.

11.  Use social media.  A well-placed Facebook posting simply thanking our veterans will be seen and appreciated by thousands.  And service members always need “friends.”

12.  Hire a vet.  Joblessness among veterans in the United States has become epidemic and a national dilemma.  Be unique; insist in your hiring practices that veterans be recruited and when qualified, hired.  Don’t take no for an answer!

These are but 12, and there are hundreds more ways to express the admiration and love our warriors and their families have earned through their selfless service around the world, defending the way of life we have come to enjoy.  They preserve our future. At the George W. Bush Institute we say “thank you for your service.”  And as part of our thank you we remain focused, through our Circles of Excellence Program, on impacting national solutions in the areas of jobs, homes, education, wellness, families and service women.  They all deserve the very best we can offer.

This post was written by Retired Army Major General Lee Baxter, the Senior Military Advisor to the George W Bush Institute.