Does a simple ‘thank you’ to a veteran on Veterans Day really make a difference? For former Ramsey police officer and US Army Captain Stephen McNicholas, it is one of the most meaningful things he hears.
McNicholas has been serving the country, on and off, since 1979. His first four years of service, right out of high school, were in the Air Force.
“When I graduated high school, there was a similar economic situation to what we are going through now,” McNicholas, who grew up in California, said. “I looked at the options I had, and the best opportunity was to be trained as an air traffic controller. I was too immature [at the time] to be patriotic. [Joing the Air Force] was about getting my life together and getting into a first rate occupation.”
McNicholas received his Bachelor’s degree while serving, and joined the LAPD after he left the Air Force in 1983. He was a police officer there for 11 years.
“I married a girl from New Jersey who wanted to move back home, and I was grateful when I was able to transfer to the Ramsey Police Department,” McNicholas said. “Though there was a big difference between working in LA and working in Ramsey.”
After the move, McNicholas said he felt the urge to rejoin the army. “I needed that something else in my life,” he said. “I had always wanted to get commissioned, and at that point in my life - I was 40 – it was challenging. But, I did it.” He was commissioned to the armed forces a week after 9/11.
During his time on the RPD, from 2001 to 2009, McNicholas served five years of active duty.
He is still an active member, and has been deployed twice, to Iraq from June 2004 to November 2005, and to Afghanistan from February 2011 to February 2012.
Aside from the mental and physical stresses of being an army captain, McNicholas said one of the biggest stresses is on his wife and three kids, who live in Hawthorne.
“Every single person in my family is burdened by my military service,” he said. “I know that.”
McNicholas said part of what makes his sacrifices worth it are the ‘thank yous’ he gets from friends, and from strangers.
“I was on a plane on my way home once, and I was still in uniform. A man came up to me, thanked me, and offered me his seat in first class. I didn’t take it, but it’s gestures like that,” he said. “Veterans don’t go around flaunting it, there’s a lot of introspection. But, I know what I’m doing helps every person in the United States.”
For McNicholas, thank yous to today’s veterans are even more poignant.
“I think it has more meaning now than ever before in American history,” he said. “This conflict is longer than Worl War II, you have more people going into combat zones, and you’re called up multiple times. It’s extremely hard to be away from your family for years at a time.”
So, as you and your families enjoy a day off Monday in honor of Veterans Day, McNicholas asks two favors in return for his service – a thank you to a veteran, and a thank you to his or her family.