It has long been routine at public events to honor the members of our military. In doing so, we appreciate those who have served in harm’s way, who are one call away from deployment, or who support others who are on foreign soil to protect our national security.
More recently, especially after 9/11, we publicly acknowledge the courage and commitment of first-responders who regularly run toward danger in our communities when others are running in the other direction.
On airplanes and in airports, uniformed personnel often get a round of applause and regular comments of “thank you for serving.” At major sporting events, coaches wear branded camo garb to show their support for our men and women in uniform. At public gatherings, we regularly ask our heroes in uniform to stand up to be recognized.
And rightly so.
Now, suddenly, our world has been turned on its head.
In a matter of weeks and even days, the novel corona virus has put everyday citizens in harm’s way as they fulfill critical roles in our economy and our society. Today, the heroes in uniform are nurses and doctors in clinics and hospitals. And with them an army of foot soldiers toils to keep our society moving forward, while risking their own health and their family’s health.
This army includes:
teachers and social workers,
grocery clerks and bus drivers,
waiters and janitors,
journalists and elected leaders,
town librarians and poll workers,
and, yes, the epidemiologists and public health experts who have been preparing for an emergency like this for many years.
As we face the extraordinary circumstance of a pandemic, these soldiers of modern society need our respect and recognition. Many of them have been doing their jobs for years while receiving little appreciation for how vital they are in American life:
Physicians assistants who check our temperature, ask those nosy screening questions, and give instructions for home care.
Teachers who know they’ll fight off one cold after another or fall sick to a more serious illness like influenza or strep throat while their little vectors circulate germs daily through the classroom.
Social workers who understand that they will encounter heart-breaking family situations, including violence, poverty, drugs and abuse.
Store clerks who know that rude and entitled behavior will come their way daily from impatient customers.
In this time of global upheaval, it is remarkable to see who the soldiers are today in America and around the world.
I’m sure there will be a role for the military in helping us cope with corona virus, whether they will be building hospitals, distributing supplies, or helping to enforce travel restrictions.
But this assault is being made by a different army.
We should all take a moment to appreciate our neighbors and friends who must put themselves in harm’s way to keep us fed, who are trying to keep our children engaged in distance learning, and who will comfort and treat the sickest, some of whom will not make it through to the next crisis. When you see them, say "thanks for serving."
Do you think the NFL coaches will wear grocery store aprons or nurses’ scrubs on the sidelines when the football season resumes a year or two from now?