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When Kelly Browne saw a group of soldiers at the airport with their families, she was in a quandary faced by many civilians: wanting to say “thank you” to men and women in uniform but not quite sure how.
So she simply said what was in her heart: “We love you and will be keeping you in our prayers.” Turns out, it was just the right thing to say.
“Those Army wives and children were so proud and grateful that their husbands, fathers and brothers were being honored by a stranger,” says Browne, author of 101 Ways to Say Thank You. In crafting your thanks, she suggests starting with, “Excuse me, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your service to our country. Thank you.” And then, “Anything else you want to add is up to you,” she says.
Whatever you choose to say, keep it short and simple says Cherylynn Conetsco, author of Service Etiquette and president of the International Association of Protocol Consultants & Officers. “Do not make overtures, force conversations or try to flatter them,” says Conetsco. “If appropriate, introduce yourself and offer a handshake. Please do use honorifics as terms of respect: the rank if you can recognize it, or sir or ma'am if you don’t.”
When asked, numerous service members and veterans said that a simple “Thank you for your service” is greatly appreciated, and a handshake or smile is fine too. “I served because I felt the obligation to serve my country, so I didn’t feel that anyone needed to thank me,” says Marine Sgt. Manny Manbahal of New York City, who served in Iraq in 2003. “But it’s a really good feeling when it happens.”