Thank you for your service.

It’s a five-word sentence that sounds so simple, and to the person saying it, it is. But to the person on the receiving end of the compliment, there is just never the right response.

I knew I wanted to be a Marine when I was 7 years old. After 9/11, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to serve my country, and shortly after that, I encountered a Marine in dress blues while witnessing my step-father being sworn into the Army. That was it; in that moment I knew what I was called to do.

I enlisted on my 17th birthday and left for Marine Recruit Depot Paris Island one week after graduating from high school.

I went into the Corps with the intention of staying until it was time to retire. I chose a job that I loved and I was eager to make the military my home. Unfortunately, life had other plans and medical problems forced me to spend more time at the Naval hospital than at my desk. And let’s not hide from the obvious; as a woman in the finest fighting force in the world, my situation was very much frowned upon. I was unable to make it through a full enlistment, much less to retirement, but I have learned that my time in service does not define my servitude. Everyone’s service is different, but it is service nonetheless.

As a Marine, I accomplished things I never knew I could be capable of. Upon separating from the military, I lost all sense of who I was as a civilian.

For years I felt that I failed my country for not doing enough, for not serving long enough. I didn’t know how to be something other than a Marine, because a Marine was all that I wanted to be for so long. But I instead became another woman having to defend the fact that I served, too.

Like my other fellow service members, I hold onto why I stepped on those yellow footprints in the first place.

Our forefathers believed that American values were worth dying for, if it meant securing freedom for Americans yet to be born. The Declaration of Independence expressed the idea that Americans are born with the inherent rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution guarantees these rights.

When swearing into the Armed Forces, we promise to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Life. The right to life is the right to be alive, the right to live and the right to flourish. Every life matters, and every life is deserving of the chance to thrive.

Liberty. Unlike any other nation in the world, Americans are born in inherently free, free to make our own choices and free to experience our own lives, free to become who we choose to become.

The pursuit of happiness. The American dream. The freedom and the natural right to pursue that of which you love and believe in, and to become the best version of yourself that you can be.

These are the things I sought to defend. I defend them still.

Since the American Revolution, patriots have stepped forward and fought against tyranny, and I am proud to be a part of that legacy.

There are veterans all around you. We come in all forms and we stand today proud of the uniform we once wore and the flag we will always wave.

So this Veterans Day, when you thank a veteran for their service and they simply nod their head and shake your hand, don’t demand more. We are all grateful for the support of our fellow Americans, and we are all wondering if we ever did enough.