If you read through the "Who Is This Guy" tab on the right, you will discover that I am a veteran. It's not something that I make a big deal about. I went into the Army straight out of high school and stayed in for only one enlistment period. I learned a lot about life in that time, and am grateful to all the seasoned leadership (good and bad) that I learned from. I matured there in a way I never would have if I had chose a different path. In turn, I gave back to my country. It was a win-win.
So I approached this veterans day like many of my brothers in arms, respectful of those that gave more service and somewhat sheepish about making a big deal about it. One of the grocery chains in my area has special parking year around for veterans. Most times I won't park there, figuring there are others more deserving of that honor. But sometimes I will. After all, I did honorable service and am fully entitled to this minor perk. As far as all the free meals and discounts offered by merchants on Veteran's Day, I have never taken any of those; not because I purposefully eschewed them, but mostly because I just don't need them.
That gives you some context for what I am about to write next. I had an odd encounter this Veterans Day. As part of my daily ritual, I dropped by a different grocery store on my way home from work. This particular store is one that I frequent every other day, so they kind of know me there. The people that work there seem like nice people and are generally hard workers, doing an honest business. After the clerk rings up my purchase, he ask "Are you retired or active duty military?"
The question kind of threw me. I knew it was Veteran's Day, and this question was asked because they probably were going to add some discount if I answered yes. However, I stumbled a bit before I stammered out a "No". In retrospect, the question, and the distinction behind it ended up bothering me a bit. I wasn't active duty, and no, I didn't put in 20 years service that would entitle me the label of military retired. But this was Veteran's Day! I was an honorably discharged veteran, and this grocery chain was, in a small way, deciding to make that distinction. That kind of bothered me a little.
I did a little research on this to look at the numbers. There are 1.4 million active duty personnel in the US and 1.4 million retired military (page 7) drawing retirement pay. On the other hand there are 19.3 million veterans alive and kicking in the US. Doing the math on that:
(1.4m active duty + 1.4m retired)/(19.3m total veterans + 1.4 active duty) = 13.5 %
So this particular chain made the reasonable distinction that they would honor those who have served or were serving, but only 13.5% of them. I understand they had to limit their loss, while seeming to do the right thing from a PR viewpoint. However, let's look a little closer at those numbers. The total population of the US over 18 years old is around 209 million. So if you look at the relative percentage of the persons who have served or am currently serving:
(19.3m total veterans + 1.4m active duty)/209m = discounts for 9.9% of consumers
(1.4m active duty + 1.4m retired)/209m = discounts for 1.3% of consumers
I guess it makes some economic sense. But for many veterans, it kind of leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Make no mistake, I served under some of those old dogs, and they truly deserve every honor and break that they get. On the other hand, Veteran's Day is a day for all of us, not just the soldiers who have made the military their life. It rings somewhat hollow when you do that. I am not going to change where I shop because of this, nor should any one else.
I just ask the retailers to pause and think about that feeling they are about to give the 92% of the veterans that will walk through their door on Veteran's Day, and ask themselves: Is this really a good idea? I really could care less about the money. If that same clerk had asked me if I was a veteran and thanked me for my service it would have made my day. If he gave me a small discount on my purchase, all the better. What I ending up feeling walking away from the store was something all together different. Those feelings are probably not something you ant a consumer to have upon exiting your store. So next Veteran's Day I ask you to think this through just a little more, ok?