I had the great privilege of flying across country on July 4th. I had been in Seattle taking care of my nearly 92 year old mother, and while I didn’t get to go to any cookouts, play any horseshoes or watch any parades or fireworks, my celebration of Independence Day was nonetheless most satisfying. Why? Because since my time in Iraq I have engaged in an activity which I have called guerilla gratitude, and got to take my ‘tude out for a spin while beating feet to make my flights and connections on the 4th.

What in the world is “guerilla gratitude?” It is the act, primarily directed toward soldiers, of making a point of getting out of one’s comfort zone and going up to a complete stranger in uniform and thanking them for their service. This is both easiest and toughest to do in airports: easy because everyone is out of their comfort zone, thus, there is a great equalizer, and harder, because the stresses of travel make it much more tempting to pull back into one’s personal cocoon. I have found, though, that virtually without fail, every time that I go out of my way to thank a soldier for my freedom and personal safety the reaction is always worth it.

I meet all types of soldiers: new ones, enlisted ones, officers, those who have had several tours in the Great Sandbox, ‘Nam vets, on it goes. I think that there has only been one time that my getting in their personal space has been met with less than full warmth, and it didn’t bother me a bit. You see, “guerilla gratitude” makes YOU into a warrior. How? Well, understand that the term “guerilla,” (which means ‘little war’ in Spanish,) is defined as follows: “a form of irregular warfare in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to armed civilians use military tactics such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility…to strike a vulnerable target, and withdraw almost immediately."

Now, does that not describe what goes on in a “guerilla gratitude airport raid?” I, in my disguise as a late- middle-aged grandma wannabe, sneak up on the unsuspecting soldier, ambush them through the element of surprise, sabotage the plans of those who seek to demoralize our troops by countering their offensive with gratitude, and “withdraw almost immediately” to the tram, the gate or the plane.

Is it “highly irregular?” It is. Is it great fun? Oh, yeah. To be someone who once upon a time had no respect for the military, and now takes every chance I can to say “thank you” gives me the opportunity to have brief, dear encounters with the most remarkable group of people I have ever met: our men and women in service to our country.

Maybe I’ll start a guerilla gratitude training camp. Maybe my next book will be entitled “Guerilla Gratitude.” (My publisher likes the title, and I did already purchase the online domain.) But my fondest hope is that you, dear reader, will be inspired to make “guerilla gratitude” a lifestyle. Our troops need it more than we can know.
By Ali Elizabeth Turner

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