11/10/17: A Heartfelt Thank You

To all veterans who have ever served– Veterans Day is tomorrow and I always feel undeserving when someone says “Happy Veterans Day.”  To me, the holiday was always meant to honor those who have served overseas and fought on foreign land, and that I have never done. I always think of my grandpa and great uncles and the older gentleman proudly wearing his Vet hat sitting at the local VFW.  The men and women who have gone to war and my fellow soldiers who have deployed to the Middle East and experienced some crazy $!&@.  Those are the people I’m drawn to say Thank You to and never think of myself.

I have never had the chance to deploy and have always remained on US soil while in uniform.  I’ve loved my time in the military and I am proud to serve in the WI Army National Guard, but until this year I never knew Veterans Day was originally called “Armistice Day,” and that Nov 11 was chosen to commemorate the signing of the armistice with Germany that ended hostilities during World War.  The history is more extensive than this with some debate on when World War 1 “ended” for the United States, but eventually the holiday became a day to celebrate all who have or are currently serving. Unlike Memorial Day when we pay our respects to those who have lost their lives, this day is a day for true celebration…and free food.

It sounds awful in a way, but really if we didn’t take our families out to celebrate at an establishment offering a free meal to Vets, we would be denying that restaurant the ability to say Thank You. Even if you are not a Vet, if you go out Saturday night to one of these places you will likely see Vets of all types and you will be able to say a genuine Thank You and maybe hear some incredible first hand stories from the ones who may be sitting alone.

I say all of this because Veterans Day as a mom feels very different.  I have been in the military for nearly 12 years now and I thought I’d stay for 20. Before being a mom, drill was exciting, annual training couldn’t come soon enough, and the chance of deployment was what I signed up for.  I am lucky enough to be the only physical therapist in the WI Guard and I love my job.  I get to work with and treat all types of soldiers. I never like when they get hurt, but I love treating them. Soldiers are different than your average civilian, and figuring out how to treat when all you have is a tent in the middle of a field, your hands, knowledge and some ace bandages is very different too. But I like this different.

Soldiers who get hurt, usually pretend they aren’t for as long as they can. They are bred to tough it out. No one wants to go to sick call or be sent to C Med, but when they do finally get to me, they usually are ready to listen, trust what I say and what I am asking of them, and they are willing to do it because they want to rejoin their unit. I only get a glimpse of what deployment would be like when I am at annual training and it’s exciting. I love helping someone overcome an injury and not need to be sent home. The last few years I’ve even been blessed with some amazing equipment so the rate of return to the field is even higher. I get to see things I’ve never treated and order X-rays to be completed immediately. I work right beside our PA and it’s my favorite part of being in the Army.  At least it was.

Annual training now means leaving my child for 2-3 weeks during the best part of the year. Drill weekends apparently just mean driving back and forth to Racine because he won’t take a bottle. The Army now means time away from my family and it’s hard. I can’t even imagine a year long deployment now, or even a 2 month deployment. It makes me be even more grateful for all the Vets who have or are serving year after year and have kids at home.  It makes me see the sacrifice much more clearly.  Sacrificing a weekend, month or year as a single soldier never felt like a sacrifice, but now it truly is. Now being in the Army means you choose some days to be serving your country over being there with your family. It means you may be risking your life one day and leaving your family behind. This is real and our Vets have done this for centuries. Moms and dads have left their kids to serve and some have never come home.  I cannot imagine having to make that decision.

Most of us serve because we felt a calling or wanted to do something bigger than ourselves. We felt a desire to give back to our country or we just plain wanted the experience and needed the college assistance. But no matter if someone joined for the money or joined because they had no other choice, they still joined and said yes to serving their country. For this huge reason, we should all be thanking our Vets for everything we have become as a nation over of the years.  Freedom wasn’t free for many and I can’t imagine not having the choice now to stay or retire. I can’t imagine being told I have no choice but to serve. I am thankful I had the freedom to choose to join and I am incredibly thankful that now that I have a child I can also choose to retire.  I can only hope my time and service impacted at least one soldier over the years and that even though I may never deploy, I can still hold my head up and be proud to be considered a Veteran on Veterans Day. Thank you to all my fellow soldiers in the 132nd and beyond, thank you Grandpa, Dad, and all my Great Uncles who have served. Thank you to those I may not even know who’s husbands or wives or kids have served. It’s an incredible sacrifice for both the Vet and their family and you all should be recognized. See you at Starbucks, Denny’s, Applebee’s, Bar Louie, Buffalo Wild Wings, etc etc 🙂 Kathryn Kraft, MPT

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