Two congressmen are once again urging Americans to express support for troops and veterans by saying "thank you for our freedom" instead of "thank you for your service."
Republican Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, a retired Marine lieutenant general, and Rep. Lou Correa, a Democrat from California, first introduced the measure last fall as a way to "renew and affirm" Americans' commitment to troops. But it failed to pass.
Despite its initial failure and an outpouring of troops and veterans balking at the idea, the bill sparked a renewed conversation about military gratitude, and how Americans express it. Now, the pair are reintroducing the provision.
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The legislation does not request any legal mandates on speech, but rather "invite[s] citizens" to embrace the phrase "in appreciation to all who serve or have served."
Military.com contacted the offices of Bergman and Correa and asked why the measure did not pass in the 117th Congress and whether they believe it will pass in the new year.
"Now that Republicans are in the majority, the politics of who gets their bills brought to the floor have been removed and fairness dictates our legislative calendar," James Hogge, a spokesperson for Bergman, told Military.com via email, adding that he believes the resolution will be brought to the House floor. Correa's office did not respond by publication.
The legislation is identical to its predecessor, which was introduced in September 2022. And while many former and current service members believe the phrase "thank you for your service" offers a sometimes empty sentiment, the proposed bill did not explain why it needed replacing.
"When we change the language to 'thank you for our freedom,' I think that comes from a place of -- or at least sounds like -- entitlement," said Rhasean Stephens, an Army captain and legal aide for Baylor Law School's Veterans Clinic, which offers pro bono legal advice for in-need veterans.
But the proposed phrase, according to Stephens, might offer a deeper consequence.
"There's an assumption in there, right?" said Stephens, an aspiring judge advocate general. "Some people don't believe that we necessarily need to be in every single conflict to ensure our American freedoms."
Others Military.com spoke to had slightly different reactions to the reintroduced bill.
One active-duty senior noncommissioned officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the press, simply said the bill is "cringeworthy."
One former Army captain, Jacob Pachter, told Military.com that the measure is "misguided."
"With regard to bills supporting the veteran community, I'd prefer the legislature focus on items that would provide real, tangible benefits to those who have served," he said.
Bergman's office said that the resolution would accompany "more substantive" veterans bills.
Publications, including Military.com, took to calling the measure "awkward" or "performative" in their opinion sections after the bill was first introduced last year.
Military.com's Fire Watch podcast aired an episode on Veterans Day, a month after the initial legislation was introduced, asking current and former service members -- ones from different generations of war, genders and ethnicities -- their opinion on military gratitude.
Despite near feverish online reactions to the new legislation, its introduction saw many veterans -- some just beginning to reckon with the tumultuous pullout from Afghanistan -- reevaluating what that gratitude means after 20 years of war.
Retired 1st Sgt. Jonathan Hill, who earned a Silver Star in the now infamous Battle of Kamdesh in 2009, said he almost always appreciates being thanked, but is sometimes skeptical of the motivations of the person who said it.
"Hearing it now is sort of like it's a cliche. … Are you just saying it? Are you being genuine, or you're just saying it because it's a cool thing to say?" he said. He did add that "thank you for my freedom" may be an apt alternative.
Jack McCain, a Navy pilot and son of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, said that the sentiment should be used as a step to connect with or reflect on those who have served, especially on Veterans Day.
Others, women and people of color in particular, said that they rarely hear "thank you for your service" at all, or have a complex relationship with the sentiment, given historical shortcomings or discrimination they and their peers experienced around their service.
For example, Daniele Anderson, co-founder of a nonprofit organization called the Black Veterans Project, said she has gone through "many iterations" on how she's received the phrase.
"When I was in the military … I felt a sense of pride," Anderson, who graduated from the Naval Academy and served as a Surface Warfare Officer, said. "But I had so many varied experiences out of uniform in some of the ways that I was treated.
"The picture that comes in our head when we think of a veteran isn't a woman and often isn't a Black woman," she continued. "And so while I was in uniform, I felt like 'thank you for your service' began to kind of erode for me."
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.