My daughter headed off to New York again today (yes, though she is a wonderful young lady, she loves New York). After I got her checked in at the airport, we were standing in the terminal waiting for my wife to call, when I saw him. Barely 18 from what I could see, probably younger than my son. Brand spanking new uniform, buck private. To be honest, he looked scared. I think he was shipping out. And he was alone.

Ever since 9/11 I have adopted a particular habit. Whether in a mall, or most often these days for me, in an airport, when I see that uniform, I alter my path, walk right up to the man (or woman, once or twice), look him straight in the eye, extend my hand, give him a firm handshake and say with every bit of sincerity in my body, “Thank you for your service, sir.” I’ve seen weary soldiers coming home rejuvenated. I’ve seen tears form in eyes that have seen things I will never see. “You have no idea how much that means to me” is a fairly common response.

And so I turned to my daughter and said, “I’ll be right back.” I walked right up to that very, very young soldier, looked him in the eye, grabbed his hand, and said, “Thank you for your service.” The look in his eyes was the best present I got on my birthday, I assure you.

May I invite you to join me in thanking those young men and women when you see them? It costs you nothing but a second or two on your way to sit forever at the gate, and its value to that young person cannot be calculated. So the next time you see one of our servicemen or women at the airport, bus station, or train station, take a second to express your thanks. It will mean the world to them.

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