Commentary: Thank you so much for all the ‘thanks’

MASTER SGT. MIKE R. SMITH/U.S. Air National Guard
An American flag created from handprints by elementary school children in east Tennessee for appreciation to a service member hangs on a wall at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in Louisville, Tenn.
By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
March 9, 2017

LOUISVILLE, Tenn. — If I went through my past receipts on military discounts I would calculate a lot of cash left in my wallet from the generosity and appreciation of American businesses through the years; especially from hardware stores.

A kitchen renovation is the newest project that I’m tackling on my own time since its mid-winter and there’s no pool to clean or flower beds to weed at my Georgia home.

It’s a dirty job but not too difficult, so the wife and I will save a bit of money by not hiring a contractor, and from hardware store discounts. There are cabinets to sand and paint. There’s trim, countertops, flooring and fixtures to purchase. There’s enough work to take us a couple of months until the grass starts to grow again.

We have several hardware stores near my house, and I like all of them. They all have similar items and similar hours; although, one store is closed on Sundays. I can arrive at one store in Alabama an hour after closing time by crossing time zones. They all honor active military with a 10 percent discount.

Like many other do-it-yourselfers, there’s always some thingamabob that I did not buy, which, in turn, means a late ride to the store when I’m rather dusty and disheveled looking.

So I did not plan to ask for a military discount when I was in the Alabama store recently, looking like a crawl-space vagrant from my project, just before closing, with no ID, but for a tread-bare and paint covered USS Cowie ball cap. 

My old hat showing my grandfather’s destroyer in World War II and my own prior Navy service sparked a conversation at the register with the man behind me who also served on a destroyer. As we waited, we traded some sailors’ experiences and how I was now serving in the Air Force.

As I paid for my item the man leaned in and kindly asked the cashier if I earned a discount because I was still serving. 

She said I did and provided it without hesitation or asking for an ID. She simply smiled and said “thank you for your service.”

“Thank you for the discount,” I told them, feeling more appreciative of their attention than of the few dollars taken off of my bill. 

There are many businesses that give military discounts to active and reserve service members, as well as to veterans. There are some service members, including myself, who don’t always ask for it or are too caught up to come full stop for someone’s appreciation that is so amazingly genuine. 

It may feel unethical to save a few bucks on a movie ticket or on a pack of light bulbs for our service because we like to serve. It may feel awkward when a complete stranger picks up a lunch tab or gives their sincerest and most heartfelt thank you when we are seen in uniform because we think of those who serve in mortal danger.

When I think of a service member worthy of discounts and thanks, I picture my grandfather aboard the Cowie, which provided fire support for the invasions of North Africa and Sicily. He was unable to speak when I returned home from basic training, so he wrote his appreciation on a scrap of paper: “I am so proud of you.” He died shortly into my first enlistment. 

I understand that others truly want to connect with the service member in front of them, and accepting their recognition, taking a moment of my time to hear their reasons for it, or pausing for a solid handshake with someone … well I’ve found no stronger glue in the hardware stores or any place else. It’s a bond that joins us.

Thank you for all the thanks.

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