"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -- John F. Kennedy, U.S. president and World War II Navy veteran
A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Nick Lanier wore the camouflage green, tan and gray of a U.S. Army uniform for 13 years.
During that time, he was often approached in airports, restaurants and shopping malls by strangers who shook his hand and thanked him for his service.
He recalls feeling somewhat awkward and unsure of how to respond. Nonetheless, as most veterans, he appreciated both the individual gesture as well as the public's increased awareness of the sacrifices of servicemen and women that it represented.
Lanier is finishing his final semester at Saint Leo University as a political science student. The medically retired combat veteran, who is also a husband and father of four daughters, has served as the first president the Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter at Saint Leo – the SVA's 1000th chapter.
During his tenure as SVA president, Lanier has worked hard to contribute to the university's more than 40-year commitment to educating military servicemembers. With plans to pursue a doctoral degree, Lanier intends to continue to serve – and be a voice for – fellow veterans in higher education. It's his way of showing his appreciation for their service, as Kennedy said, by how he lives his life.
For those of us looking for some tangible ways to express our own gratitude for the sacrifices of our nation's veterans – and those currently serving in active duty – here are just a few suggestions.
There are countless worthy organizations that help veterans, including those who are injured or homeless.
- Volunteer at a veterans center, VA hospital, nursing home or medical center. Find a local organization.
- Organize a service project for your youth group, scout troop, or athletic team to visit a veterans facility. It's a way to help veterans bridge some of the lonely hours away from family and an opportunity for young people to talk with these brave men and women. Or invite a veteran to speak to your group any time during the year; it doesn't have to be Veterans Day.
- Take the lead at work and get a group together to help out at a local veterans event such as a Homes for our Troops run or VA Stand Down for homeless veterans. Last year, Saint Leo's Center for Online Learning staff volunteered when the National Veterans Wheelchair Games were held in Tampa.
- Give a vet a lift. Help make sure one of our nation's heroes can make it to medical appointments by offering to drive. Contact the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Transportation Network or your local VA Voluntary Service office to find out about opportunities.
- Looking for more ideas on ways to volunteer your time? Check out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' VA Voluntary Service webpages.
Of course, veterans agencies and national organizations are always in need of financial support, but you'd be surprised at the variety of things that could be put to good use for veterans' causes, everything from new and pre-owned DVDs to used clothing.
- Think locally, if you'd like to make a financial contribution or any donation and help out veterans in your community.
For example, At Saint Leo, veteran students studying on-ground or online who face an unexpected financial hardship find assistance through a veterans emergency fund. In addition, through the Movers for Military Program, the Saint Leo community at University Campus partners with Two Men and a Truck to collect essential care items and deliver them veterans at local shelters on Nov. 11.
- Share your time and love of animals with a deployed soldier or wounded veteran's pet by providing foster care.
- Send your old cell phone to Cell Phones for Soldiers. Better yet, take up a collection. The organization purchases international calling cards for active-duty military with the money it receives from recycling mobile phones.
Spread the word
- Write a letter. Operation Gratitude has an urgent need for personal letters for deployed troops, veterans, wounded warriors and new recruits. In addition, check with your local Red Cross chapter if you would like to participate in the organization's Holiday Mail for Heroes program as Saint Leo's Center for Online Learning staff is doing this year.
- Get educated and then share information about veterans issues. A variety of resources are available on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website on veteran homelessness. The VA's Make the Connection site is also a robust resource for veterans, family and friends on a wide variety of veterans issues.
Talk to a veteran.
According to Lanier, perhaps the most basic, yet most powerful, thing you can do to express your gratitude is to simply talk with a veteran.
"Vets tend to be highly motivated and goal-driven. We appreciate order, and we may also have a slightly ‘unusual' sense of humor," he says. "Because of our experience, we have a different perspective on life than other people. We don't sweat the small stuff."
Other than that, Lanier says, "Most of us are just like you. We just happened to have served in the military. And as fellow human beings, nothing means more than relationships and personal connections."
That's why Lanier encourages people to simply reach out.
"If there's a vet in your class or at work, ask what it was like to serve. Be a listening ear. This is especially true for our older veterans. Go to a VFW Hall and listen to what these true heroes have to say," he says.
"Make a personal connection just by starting up a conversation."
Please share your thoughts and ideas for showing our military heroes our gratitude.
Other posts you may be interested in reading:
Image Credits: Anthony Correia / Shutterstock.com; Saint Leo University Communications; and courtesy Nick Lanier