It is difficult to put into words the feeling that comes to mind each year around Veterans Day. Looking back on my time as an officer in the United States Army, I still feel the pride, discipline, strength, and sense of service that characterized my experience.

For over five years, I wore combat boots, practiced shooting machine guns, led soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and throughout it all learned about the meaning of service. As a young woman and soldier, I had the privilege to serve side by side with some of the most incredible people I have ever met. This is an experience—albeit one full of challenges, long days, and late nights—upon which I still look fondly.

I remember when I first came home from Iraq at the age of 23, and a friend pointed out to me that I was now a “veteran.” It seemed strange to hear. I always thought of “veteran” as a term referring to an older generation. For me, it described those who fought in the wars of our parents and grandparents, World War II and Vietnam, who wear military pins on their hats, and who play cards at the local Foreign Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars lodges. The word “veteran” did not seem to describe a 23-year-old woman from Westchester County, New York.

But years later, when I came home from Afghanistan as a 26-year-old, I finally let the term “veteran” settle in. I began to connect with the small group of citizens I had become a part of through my service. I also realized that now is a tremendous time to be a veteran in America: There is incredible support, encouragement, and appreciation shown to us in so many different ways. After years at war in the Middle East, the new, younger generation of veterans returned home with a shared sense of camaraderie.

Beyond shared memories, there has also been an evolution in the support groups that are there for veterans—something that has not always existed. Groups such as the Wounded Warrior Project, Team Red, White and Blue, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have become my generation’s solution to providing modern-day support for veterans.

And that is what I celebrate on Veterans Day: the support of America and the incredible network of veterans both young and old—the people who raised their right hands and voluntarily committed their service to our country to ensure that it is safe and successful.

November 11 is a day to recognize those who have served and to pause a moment to reflect on the importance of their combined impact on this great country and the immense sacrifice of our fallen heroes. Knowing that the country we’ve fought for stands behind us is incredibly powerful and inspiring.

So even after Veterans Day this year, I’d like to encourage you, the next time you are in an airport or walking in a mall and come across a veteran, to shake his or her hand and say “thank you for your service.” Every single time that I this has happened to me, I am humbled—and reminded of the pride I have, and the privilege I have, in being a part of this amazing group of citizens who chose to serve their country.

Photo courtesy of the author.