Next Time, Lunch Is On Me

US Disciplinary barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Ka...
The US Disciplinary Barracks (the military's bighouse) at its remote location on Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. It has nothing to do with this article, but I thought I'd include it for your viewing pleasure. Image via Wikipedia

During one of my last acts as a servicemember, I found myself in Kansas City representing a military recruiter in danger of losing his career in the Army. The board hearing the matter allowed us an extended lunch, and my boss (stationed conveniently at Ft. Leavenworth) and I left for a nearby Ruby Tuesday.

Our lunch was an ordinary one, filled with the usual conversations about current cases, personnel issues, families, and career plans. At the time, he was a newly promoted Colonel (pay grade O-6), and I was a senior Captain (pay grade O-3) waiting to be promoted to Major that summer. I say this because you must understand that our combined annual income and benefits likely equaled close to $200,000–a tidy sum considering the low cost of living in the midwest.

The meal drew to a close, and we asked for the check. The waitress returned after a minute and told us that the check was “taken care of.”

My boss, a very direct individual, responded “By whom?”

“He wants to be anonymous,” she replied.

A period of silence followed.

Then, my boss inquired “Well, could we at least know so we can thank him?”

“He is no longer here, sir,” she responded.

He found himself , uncharacteristically, able to reply with only a weak “OK.”


The waitress left, and he and I endured an uncomfortable silence for about a minute. We didn’t know what to say to each other after being the beneficiaries of a random act of anonymous appreciation, but we both knew how the other felt. Both of us were perfectly capable of handling the cost of the check. After all, as I demonstrated above, the government paid us well for our work.

We wondered who it could have been–a wealthy businessman, a retired servicemember, or some random family. We’d never know.

The more we thought, the more moving the experience was. It wasn’t about the money, not in the least. It was a random act of appreciation without expectation of recognition.

Read that last sentence again. Really think about it.

It was a random act of appreciation without expectation of recognition.

Its not about the meal or units of US currency. No, it is about a person (or people) wanting to give appreciation to others without receiving some material gain or ego boost. To me, he, she, or they are great Americans. The type every community needs.

They are the ones who build businesses that are honest.

They fuel our communities through charitable acts.

They reach out to those who find themselves in need.

They give thanks, even when gratitude is not required or sought.

They strive to leave this world a better place, one anonymous breath at a time.

_________________________

A few weeks ago, someone asked me what I like most about being out of the Army, working for myself, and succeeding reasonably well in this endeavor.

A lot comes to mind. Independence. Greater upward mobility. The satisfaction of building something that is your own. The thrill of taking a chance on yourself.

I didn’t have a good response to their question. I’m sure my answer was absurdly half-assed.

Now, after writing all of this, I have better perspective.

So, what do I like most about my situation?

Next time, lunch will be on me.

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2 thoughts on “Next Time, Lunch Is On Me

  1. This is why I wince (invisibly, I hope) when I am thanked for my service. What I want to say, but can’t, is “I got an MBA, a husband, a pension, and a dandy post-military career out of my time in the Marines. I also, quite honestly, had a blast. I’ve never had so much fun as a civilian.

    So why are YOU thanking ME?”

  2. Shay, thanks for your thoughts. I think a lot of folks consider the opportunity cost of being in the Armed Forces, and it is simply more than they are willing to pay. That is understandable in most instances. At the same time, they are thankful to those willing to make the sacrifices (and you certainly made them) during your years of service. These sacrifices, of course, are repaid through various benefits, some of which you name above.

    Every day you served, you faced a truth of your voluntary act. That truth was that you might, at any moment, find yourself giving your life for your fellow Marines, your mission, and your country. That is no small token. Luckily, the possibility never became reality for you, but it was there every moment that you wore a uniform.

    And, with that said, Shay, I thank you for your service. Sincerely and with no hesitation or reservation.

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