My wife and I were dropping some friends off at the airport this past weekend. And on the way back to the car we passed a Soldier with his wife and small child pulling his bags out of his car. As we passed by, I gave him the Sign. He nodded, and held up his hand as a sign of “no problem”, or “you’re welcome”, just as Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson did in our video.
I’ve given the Sign to those who serve many times before. But more often than not, I approach those who serve directly, and I offer a hand shake and verbal “thank you for serving”, and I engage in a little conversation. When I do use the Sign, it’s often because I can’t reach the person I want to thank, or because the situation does not support me approaching them directly. And in many of those situations, they’ve offered a head nod, or some other sign of recognition. But this is the first time that I have experienced a Soldier’s reaction being exactly as Master Sergeant Johnson reacted in our video. It was quite powerful to me.
As my wife and I drove away, I couldn’t help but piece together the situation we had just witnessed and participated in. This Soldier was clearly unloading his car -- not loading it. I am not a gifted enough writer to communicate how powerful and meaningful that realization was for us in that moment. He was unloading his bags at the airport. He was on his way out… to God knows where, for God knows how long. His wife and small child were there to see him off… for God knows how long. What a solemn moment this must have been for that Soldier and his family. His wife, who knew all too well what was happening; and his small child, who had no idea what was happening, or how long it would be before they saw their father again; or that there was a very real possibility that they may never see their father again.
And in this moment - this incredibly powerful, life-changing moment for this man and his wife and small child that I happened upon - I offered a simple Sign of gratitude. Was it enough? Did I do enough to earn this man’s service and sacrifice? Did I do enough to make this man’s wife feel that her sacrifice – that her child’s sacrifice – were worth it? I have no idea; from my point of view, absolutely not. But it’s a start. Perhaps it served as a reminder of why they’re sacrificing what they’re sacrificing. Perhaps knowing that their service and sacrifices were recognized, and appreciated helped in some small way to assuage the heartache of the moment. I have no way of knowing for sure. What I do know for sure is that from my point of view, it was a powerful reminder that a “thank you from the bottom of my heart” is a very good start; and certainly tenfold better than no acknowledgment at all. But it’s just a start.