Saying thank you for your service is not enough, according to veteran and talk show icon Montel Williams. But he does have a few ideas on other ways to show gratitude for military service.
He’s teamed up with WWE to find the next veteran for a home makeover that will be featured on Lifetime TV’s “Military Makeover with Montel.”
“We take these veterans and we literally make their home over from top to bottom,” Williams said during a phone interview. “We do, not just a facelift, but everything, from the floors, the ceilings to you name it, to make sure the veteran has what we call a forever home once we get done.”
Since 2015 the show has worked with one veteran family per quarter to makeover their home within 10 days, with 20 homes completed to date. Most episodes, Williams said, have featured families who have been in the midst of transitioning from military to civilian life. A few have featured veterans who have already left the military, but Williams adds any deserving veteran family will be considered as long as they own their own home.
He’s personally been involved in making over six homes, having taken over the show after the death of Military Makeover’s previous host Lee Ermey.
Williams said the reactions on the show have been great, not just from the service members, but from everyone in the community. The show uses volunteers and donations from local vendors to renovate the homes.
“Everybody is uplifted,” Williams said.
Hosting a home makeover show is also a good way to show appreciation for a group Williams describes as underappreciated.
“I think it’s a really good way to do more than say ‘thank you for your service,’” Williams said.
Williams is a 22-year veteran who served in the Marine Corps and Navy before starting his television career. Like many veterans, he’s come to see the phrase ‘thank you for your service’ as hollow and meaningless.
“I’ve been saying this for over a year. When people say ‘thank you for your service’ it’s lip service or a passing phrase, like you say ‘good morning’ to people when you walk by and don’t even wait for a person’s response,” he said.
In addition to his own service, Williams is a longtime veterans’ advocate. He serves on the board of directors for the Fisher House — a charity providing lodging near DOD and VA facilities for the families of those receiving care. He also works with an organization that help veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and has an upcoming project designed for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Williams said he believes the current coronavirus pandemic has put showing genuine gratitude to veterans even further from the forefront of people’s minds.
“Right now, while we’re suffering through this COVID-19 pandemic, every day of the week people applaud our first responders. When they think about people on the frontline, they think about doctors, nurses and first responders to this virus here on U.S. soil,” Williams said. “We have ships and submarines and aircraft carriers and airplanes and deployed forward bases where people don’t have the same luxury of being able to social distance. These guys are out there every single day putting their lives on the line for us.”
While not everyone has the resources of a television legend, Williams insists there are things average people can do to show their appreciation to veterans.
“You don’t have to makeover a veteran’s home to contribute to a veteran’s life,” Williams said. He said providing meals, volunteering to babysit or mowing an injured veteran’s lawn are great ways for people to show their appreciation.
“Why not go out and do a gesture, not just of being a good neighbor, but deliberately doing something to help out our veterans?” Williams asked. “Remember that there’s a military family on every block in every community across this country. Reach out and do a little bit more than just say ‘thank you for your service.’”
Another way people can show appreciation is by going to Tag A Hero and nominating a veteran for a home makeover before May 31.
Williams has joined forces with WWE star Lacey Evans, a Marine veteran, to gain awareness for the new national campaign, but they are in need of more nominations.
“Lacey Evans, who is one of their stars, has become one of our team members on Military Makeover. She convinced [WWE] to reach out to their viewers to nominate veterans in their community,” Williams said.