May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
11 months ago

To salute or not? Obama's handshake sparks debate

(CNN) – Fans of "The West Wing" remember well the fake President Josiah Bartlett's advice when boarding the presidential helicopter, Marine One: duck.

He might easily have offered this advice as well: salute.

Those who closely watch the president's every step and gesture noticed Friday he didn't salute the Marine standing guard at the foot of the chopper's stairs. After boarding and then shaking hands with the pilots, he quickly exited the chopper, and offered a handshake to the Marine at the steps, then returned for the short ride to Annapolis, Maryland for the United States Naval Academy commencement.

It's become tradition for presidents to salute the military officers he encounters when boarding the official helicopter, a tradition which is widely understood as begun by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

But to not salute is not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule.

Nor was it likely a slight to the military. After all, Obama told the graduates in Annapolis later Friday morning, "Today we salute all the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in these wars, including 18 graduates of this Academy. We honor them all, now and forever."

The tradition is believed to have been started by Reagan. The story goes that he consulted the Marine Corps commandant who "told the president that as commander in chief he could salute anybody he wished," Smithsonian Magazine editor Carey Winfrey wrote in the New York Times.

It's not thought that President Dwight Eisenhower, who attained the rank of five-star general prior to his election and was the first commander-in-chief to ride a helicopter, saluted his pilot, and those before him would not have had the chance.

A hallmark of the U.S. military is that it is overseen by a civilian commander-in-chief. Some suggest the presidential salute to the troops is a sign of respect; others say it is not customary to offer a salute when out of uniform, and a sign of the over-militarization of the presidency.

And while the helicopter's rotor blades aren't spinning when a president approaches, there is still a reason for him to duck. It's to avoid hitting his head on the door opening which is a little low. (That noise you hear in the video is the auxiliary power unit on the helicopter running ahead of engaging the rotors.)

What do you think? Should the president salute the troops? Add your comments in the space below.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (1,580 Responses)
  1. JEFFREY BROOKS

    Auxiliary power unit or APU not as in the article 'aerial power unit'

    May 24, 2013 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  2. not in the military

    So, we don't know if he "forgot" or just opted not to. Also, is it just me, or does he salute someone when he gets to the top of the steps?

    May 24, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  3. penguin

    Much ado about nothing. It amazes me that insignificant events are made into major catastrophes

    May 24, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  4. Bulldog06

    Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), not aerial power unit.

    May 24, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  5. Jerry

    Obama has never show respect until he is caught not doing is as when he did not wear the US Flag on his lapel

    May 24, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  6. Andy

    I feel like it's up to him whether he feels like saluting the marine or not. That said, I do believe it is important to greet the marine and shake his hand.

    May 24, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  7. rof

    Not even Fox News cares about this. It's a moment of absent mindedness, nothing more. -_-

    May 24, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  8. David Stanley

    The A.P.U. is not Aerial Power Unit, but Auxiliary Power Unit.

    May 24, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  9. Bob Loblaw

    Salute 'em. toss their salads, give 'em a reach-around, whatever.

    May 24, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  10. Mike Van Smike

    Sometimes Obama does things just to buck the system. I mean today's soldier has the option to question orders, release top secret information, upload things to wikilinks, and pretty much second guess everything. Its a new military so why not change protocols.

    May 24, 2013 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  11. AvGeek

    APU: Auxiliary Power Unit.

    May 24, 2013 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  12. Alex

    A marine will always salute the president. That is not optional for the active duty member. The president can and should salute back, the marine will hold his salute til he passes if necessary. The president is not a civilian, he is the Commander in Chief of the US military. No one can make him salute, this is just poor protocol advice from his staff.

    May 24, 2013 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  13. Peter M. Pantalone III

    The POTUS has shown his true colors He Crumbles under pressure and has absolutely no respect for those he commands. There are no words strong enough to cover this blunder.

    May 24, 2013 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    They sacrifice birthdays, anniversaries, home cooked meals, warm beds and birth of their children. Sometimes they lose a arm or a leg. The souls become tarnished and the loved ones no longer except who they have become and then a man or women becomes lost and turns for the worse. If the President stops showing his respect and then the people stop showing their respect and finally a soldier stops caring about what he/she is fighting for.

    May 24, 2013 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  15. Paul

    Interesting "debate", mostly for the knee-jerk reflexivity it seems to provoke: "Obama sux!" "Obama rox!"

    I do think respect is as respect does; how does the serving US president treat our active military? Obama seems more inclined to use them as a last resort and to bring them home safe unless their active service in line of fire is absolutely necessary to our national security – and to support Veterans' benefits here at home, after they serve/fight and return to their civilian lives. I support that. Also interesting that we haven't had a US Military Veteran serve as our President in the last 21 years – not since George HW Bush - while, in that same time, five US Military Veterans have been defeated for the presidency: Bush (in 1992), Dole (96), Gore (00), Kerry (04), and McCain (08). Though Gore's stint in Vietnam was so brief and lightweight it almost doesn't count, compared to the other four. But still, interesting pattern, the Veteran has lost to the non-Veteran so many times.

    May 24, 2013 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  16. Susy

    I think he just forgot to salute while his mind was on something else. Yes, it's a nice tradition and it should be continued!

    May 24, 2013 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    who cares?Leslie

    May 24, 2013 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  18. Justin S.

    You mean this guy isn't pandering to over-militarized pundits by following a tradition established during the cold war by a Republican president?

    Can we elect him a third time?

    May 24, 2013 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  19. Bigkilt

    Ok Folks I rarely do this however, simmer down on whether the President should salute or not. A simple acknowledgement is always appreciated from the troops by the Commander-In-Chief. I believe I carry the credentials to say this. So for the internet trolls, leave this one alone....

    May 24, 2013 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  20. aspgard

    Good grief! Who on earth cares!

    May 24, 2013 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  21. don

    leave the guy alone and get a life.

    May 24, 2013 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  22. Maria

    Surely he has boarded it several times before today. Did he salute then?

    May 24, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  23. TennBob

    The president is not "in uniform" and, therefore, it does not seem appropriate for a salute...as much as I liked and admired Ronald Reagan. As a non-authority, I think some acknowledgment should be made, but more of a civilian gesture.

    I don't like or respect Obama, and I'm not sure he can get it right, no matter what, but I respect the office of president and commander-in-chief. Maybe the next president can figure it out.

    May 24, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  24. Edaf

    A superior officer returns a salute, he does not give them. The Marine whose hand he shook seems, from the photo, to be an enlisted man, and it would be strange for the President to salute him. Even if he was saluted as he got on the helicopter, a handshake is fine, and probably is more memorable to the to Marine involved.

    May 24, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  25. Rick

    Its hardly a "tradition" if it was started by Ronald Reagan.

    May 24, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
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