Going up to a veteran and saying “thank you” can be a bit awkward. Not only can it be that way for the person who is offering those words of gratitude, but it can be for the veteran, as well.

Veterans don’t always know what to say back, said First Sergeant Mike Felske, a 20-year member of the United States Army and a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Felske spoke at the Veterans Day program which was held at Redwood Valley schools in Redwood Falls Nov. 11. Thanking a veteran can, and should be, very personal, added Felske, because the sacrifice of each veteran is personal. 

Expressing thanks to veterans is not limited to one day, adding when you see a veteran at the grocery store wearing their vet’s hat stop and say “thanks” to them, said Felske.

Felske grew up in south-central Minnesota and first joined the Army when he was 17. He said he enlisted as a way to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather who was a Korean War veteran. Felske said his great-grandfather was a World War I veteran.

Of the 20 years that Felske served his country five of them were served overseas – four years of deployment in what he called combat operations and one serving in Korea. Putting things in perspective, Felske told the students that he was deployed in combat the equivalent of the time that it takes to get through high school.

“One of my deployments I was able to see my now eight-year-old daughter born via blurry Skype,” said Felske, adding he did not get to meet her until she was nine months old.

During his speech, Felske interacted with students in the audience asking them who had thanked the veteran they know and then he asked why they did that.

Felske said it is important to say thanks, but it is just as important to understand why you do it.

Every veteran’s experience in the military is different, said Felske, adding, however, that the common denominator is the fact that they sacrificed their way of life, so that others can experience the way of life they enjoy.

Felske added expressing gratitude is more than “checking a box.” It is about talking with them and asking them about where and why they served.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said.

Minnesota, said Felske, is one of the best states when it comes to supporting veterans.

Veterans, Felske said, are just like everyone else in most ways.

“We just endured a little something different than you guys did, but we endured it for you,” Felske said.

Felske also encouraged everyone to support veterans, such as attending fundraising events hosted by organizations, such as the American Legion or VFW. He added many of those funds raised go right back into the community to support activities for kids.

“Those small moments in life will make a difference for you and for the vet,” said Felske.