Coming back from Army drill last weekend, I headed to Publix grocery store.  In the parking lot a woman stopped to thank me. This is a regular occurrence, as people frequently stop to say “thank you” when you’re in uniform.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next: she said “I’d like to do something for you,” and took out her wallet and began taking out cash, saying “Please, take this and apply it to one of your bills.”

I didn’t know what to say, other than stammering out “Thank you, but I can’t.” I was not prepared to have someone start handing me cash. She continued to insist, and I said “I absolutely cannot, and won’t. But thank you for the thought.”

I could not, and would not, for a few reasons. First, we’re not allowed. I don’t have to cite regulations to know I’m not allowed to accept cash from someone while in uniform! Second, I wouldn’t do it anyway because I’m already being paid for my service. As thoughtful as she was trying to be, I am fairly paid for my services, especially as a Major. I didn’t join the Army to get rich, but my compensation for the two days I give is more than enough. I also have the opportunity to purchase Tricare health insurance at a great price, so my Family saves a lot of money each month for good coverage. [note: in the military, it is standard to capitalize Soldier and Family]

But her actions reveal a deeper issue: many people regard all Soldiers as underpaid and destitute (or near it). Certainly an active duty Private joining the Army doesn’t get paid a lot, but how many jobs can a young man or woman fresh from high school get which gives health care, retirement, on the job training, housing and will pay for college?

There are, of course, many needy Families. There are Soldiers who come back from war with tremendous injuries, both seen and unseen. And there are some great charities to which you can give.

There are also scams. When I lived in Iowa there was a group collecting money at a local grocery store, in uniform, with the implication that they were with the National Guard. They weren’t; they were with a local militia called the “State Guard.” You will never see Soldiers in uniform collecting money.

So what are the best ways to say thank you and help out?

First, simply saying “thank you” is good enough. Thank a Soldier, shake his/her hand, and let them know you appreciate it.

Second, if you’re wanting to give, do some research and find a good charity aimed at wounded Soldiers or those in need for various reasons. One suggestion is the Fisher House. Or you can go to this link through the BBB and find information on other charities.

What you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t try to give cash to a Soldier. They can’t accept it. It’s not proper anyway.
  • Be very cautious about giving money to “charities” outside of stores, rest stops, etc., which claim to give money to Veterans.

Wanting to say thank you is a noble gesture. Do it simply and do it right.