Finding the words

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Robert L. Burgess
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting through a Veterans Day celebration at my church. I was touched to hear Bill Keena, a World War II veteran, talk briefly about how his team stormed Omaha Beach. Tearfully, he shared the events of that fateful day, and how his craft approached the beach and more than half his unit was killed. After the service, a thankful congregation wanted to express their appreciation to him and as well as all the other veterans and active duty service members present with a hand shake or a thank you.

Hearing Keena's words and seeing the congregation's reaction reminded me of something I've struggled with in the past. I've often been honored by strangers, friends and family members who expressed appreciation for my service, yet knowing how to respond escaped me for some time. I've always struggled when people walk up to me and say thank you for serving our country. It just felt awkward for me to say "you're welcome" or "it's an honor to serve." Those words did not seem to capture the depth of the feelings that I wanted to express.

A few years ago I finally found the words that I believe truly express how I feel when people convey their appreciation. I recently had a perfect opportunity to use these words in a moment that was very significant to me. I was returning home from what will likely be my last deployment. Our aircraft landed on U.S. soil in the wee hours of the morning. As I passed through the terminal I saw a jubilant family of five standing there with handmade signs waiting for anyone returning from the war so they could say thank you for serving and welcome home. I could tell this was something this family did routinely. My response was to reach out my hand, look them in the eye, pause for just a movement and say with all my heart, "you are worth it."

I feel that these four simple words truly express how I feel about serving my country. They convey that my family, my friends and my nation are worth serving. I am and will always be ready to pay the price, just as so many have before me, to guarantee our nation's way of life. Typically the response I get makes it clear to me that I've expressed my feelings effectively.

So I say to all of you, thank you for your service. I encourage you to reflect on why you serve, and why all the long days, time away from loved ones, and other sacrifices are worth it to you.