“Gratitude lifts our eyes off the things we lack so we might see the blessings we possess.” –Max Lucado
It’s easy to be grateful when life is good. But what about those particularly challenging seasons of life when the days are long, demands are high, and dangers seem to lurk around every corner?
In the military, we call that season deployment. For those of us privileged to serve in the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing and NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan, that season is now.
Every day we are the beneficiaries of countless demonstrations of support; be it care packages from churches, hand painted pictures from school children, or handwritten notes of encouragement from stay at home parents.
Every day we receive some simple reminder that, though we are serving our country far, far away from home, we are not forgotten. Every day we are reminded that our service is valued.
Now it’s our turn to return the favor.
Next week, the members of this command will begin writing over 3,000 letters of gratitude. Our target audience? You. The American citizen who, since the outset of this conflict thirteen years ago, has showered us with constant reminders of love and support.
Our purpose? Simple. Provide a well-earned expression of thanks to those who have overwhelmed us with their support since the outset of this conflict.
This one-of-a-kind campaign, which we here in Afghanistan affectionately call “The #ReverseGratitude Campaign” will immerse all fifty states with handmade cards provided to us by Operation Write Home. Consider it a small gesture designed to repay a large debt—a debt of gratitude to all of you who are helping us thrive in this challenging season of life.
Whether a deployment lasts a matter of months or over a year, is never easy. Abandoning our routines and setting off for a strange land, far from those we love and the life we know, is stressful. It leads even the most steely-nerved individual to experience the natural anxiety that comes from serving in harm’s way.
Every person deals with the challenges of deployment differently. However, one thing remains universal amongst deployed members: the joy of receiving a tangible reminder that what they are doing matters.
Whether it comes in the form of a handwritten letter or a clever care package, a simple expression of gratitude from across the globe is a no-fail instantaneous lift to the spirits of those serving on the frontlines. I’ve seen and experienced the positive effects firsthand.
Now in my fourth deployment in little over a decade, I’ve come to appreciate that gratitude is the fuel that propels us forward in good times and tough times. It transforms good intentions into tangible actions that unlock the richness of life.
Gratitude makes what we have in that moment enough, turning denial into acceptance, and equipping us to see trials as opportunities to enrich our perspectives and enhance our potential.
Research suggests that gratitude can’t simply be grouped with other emotions like happiness, anger, or sadness. Unlike other feelings, gratitude takes a conscious effort. In order to truly be grateful, we must first take the time recognize that something gracious has been done for us.
That’s why this The #ReverseGratitude Campaign is so important to us–because we are grateful for all those citizens who take the time to send us messages of support.
Brig. Gen. John E. Michel is the Commanding General, NATO Air Training Command- Afghanistan; NATO Training Mission/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan; and Commander, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Kabul, Afghanistan. Twitter: @NATCA_438 #ReverseGratitude