Thank you for your service

Published 11:03 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2013

By Rep. J. Randy Forbes

It was Christmas Eve, and we had just returned from a candlelight service. My family was enjoying some hot chocolate and unwrapping a couple of presents with my mother-in-law.

Bing Crosby’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was playing in the background when our doorbell interrupted the moment. I looked at my watch and noticed it was 10:45 p.m. I wondered who on earth was coming by the house so late at night.

Email newsletter signup

When I opened the door, I looked out into the chilly Chesapeake darkness, but I couldn’t see anybody there. I looked down and discovered a small box. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man in a USPS jacket jumping back into his delivery truck. I shouted after him, “Thank you! Merry Christmas!”

The mailman half-turned back and without hesitating shouted “Merry Christmas!” in return, jumped into his truck and disappeared into the night. I wish I could tell you more about the man who was delivering presents at that hour on Christmas Eve, but by the time I got to the door, he was far enough away that I couldn’t make out his face.

There was nothing extraordinary about our interaction, but right there at that moment on my porch, I was overcome with a sense of appreciation and gratitude for all the public servants who seldom get the recognition they deserve.

I immediately thought of all the soldiers, sailors and airmen serving overseas, spending their Christmas in Afghanistan and other dangerous lands protecting our freedom and way-of-life. I pondered their families, who might be celebrating Christmas with an empty chair this year at the dinner table. We are so thankful and grateful for their service.

I thought of firefighters and police officers responding to emergencies in the middle of the night throughout the year. Their families don’t have the luxury of turning their cell phone ringers off at night. I thought of Virginia shipbuilding welders supporting our national defense manufacturing base and pictured teachers grading students’ papers at their kitchen tables as their clocks ticked towards midnight.

My mind turned to a story I recently heard about a social worker. He works as a counselor with troubled, underprivileged and inner-city adolescents. He described a typical day, counseling 15 teenagers, sifting through the physical and emotional scars of gang violence, sexual abuse, abandonment and arrest. His goal in each session was to make a connection — some kind, any kind, with one or two of the children.

Too often in the past year, hard-working Americans who work for local, state or the federal government have been lumped in with tales of fraud, waste or abuse. There were clowns and hot tubs at GSA boondoggles in Las Vegas or Secret Service members misbehaving with prostitutes in Colombia or the city of Chesapeake building three jail buildings that are not equipped to house inmates.

We have a lot of work to do on cleaning up government, and these scandals highlight the need to eliminate wasteful or fraudulent government spending.

How unfair it is for us to lump anyone and everyone into the same category. Many employees enter the public workforce for the express purpose of working on behalf of the best interests our cities, state, and nation, rather than for someone’s monetary profit. It is called a sense of public service.

So, for a brief moment on Christmas Eve as that mailman delivered the mail, I thought of the social worker seeking to connect with a troubled youth. I thought of those empty stockings for our soldiers fighting abroad. I thought of our teachers, those in law enforcement, transportation, social services, and so many others.

And I wanted to say thank you for their service. I am grateful.

U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his web page at