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. oldowl

    The President of the U.S. is also the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S Armed Forces. It is customary in military history that when a member of the Armed Forces salutes you, and you are in the chain of command, that you return the salute. Since there is no one higher by rank in the chain of command than the President, there is no one that can compel him to salute, but it is simply to honor military protocol and the members of our armed forces who live and work under a strict code of conduct, that does compel the salute to officers higher in rank when passing nearby.
    So it is not mandatory for the Commander-in Chief, but it is respectful and the right thing to do.

    May 24, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  2. Ross

    Wow who wrote this? The Marine is a Corporal not an officer.

    "t's become tradition for presidents to salute the military officers he encounters when boarding the official helicopter"

    How is this getting through the editor?

    May 24, 2013 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  3. boda203

    President Obama routinely returns a salute to military members when boarding and exiting aircraft. I wonder if this particular day and handshake might be a jester of thanks that coincides withMemorial Day.

    May 24, 2013 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  4. David

    Bush could not read complete sentences.

    May 24, 2013 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  5. Honey Badger

    Either form of acknowledgement seems appropriate to me. In my opinion, the fact that he returned after boarding and actually shook the marine's hand is something that will probably be more memorable than if he had saluted the service man. Either gesture demonstrates respect not just from the president, but from one man to another, regardless of their rank. No controversy here. Move on.

    May 24, 2013 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  6. Thinkergal

    Oh, who cares? The military is too full of itself as it is.

    May 24, 2013 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  7. Izzy

    He was not in the military and is never addressed as a military person (i.e. Cdr, Cpt etc.)If he is doing his job, the Marine, he does not need a salute in return. A handshake is out of line. Does he salute ,handshake his drivers (auto)? No salute, and no handshake.

    May 24, 2013 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  8. Tom

    The President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and technically a member thereof. It seems to me he should be able to salute or not salute as he pleases.

    May 24, 2013 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  9. salgreen

    barack is no friend of the military-he doesn't like to salute.

    May 24, 2013 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  10. Spgfld Tom

    These troops die to protect this country, as the very least the Commander and Chief should salute them. What a dofus! Goes to show Obama's contempt for the military.......and just about everybody else as a matter of fact.

    May 24, 2013 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  11. Shane

    He's not in a military uniform, so he's not required to return a salute.

    May 24, 2013 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  12. Dee Gee Dee

    Absolutely YES the president should salute those in the military with whom he has such close contact.
    He/she owes them the ultimate in respect and the hand salute is a pretty good way to start!! And, by the
    way, doing so will cost nothing . . . unlike everything else that surrounds the president.

    May 24, 2013 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  13. Weston

    Positive acknowledgement of any kind is good by me....hand shake is good

    May 24, 2013 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  14. Canadian gal

    I think a handshake is sufficient. President Obama was not in the military was he?

    May 24, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  15. IvotedforObama

    Waiting for the GOP to add this to the list of racist hatred they have for the man . Would be cool if they focused on jobs.

    May 24, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  16. Shipman824

    He's a civilian. Shaking hands is fine. He's also Commander in Chief, so saluting is fine too. Both are signs of respect.
    Retired Navy Chief.

    May 24, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  17. Ken

    of course, is there really a question here?

    May 24, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  18. okiejoe

    As Commander-in-Chief the President would not salute anyone; he may acknowledge a salute by a hand salute or verbally or neither. A hand salute is visible to onlookers and makes the president appear a bit less aloof.
    As to the reason to duck, just look back at Gerald Ford and his helicopter problems.

    May 24, 2013 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  19. coreyjayb

    Just because it's tradition doesn't mean he disrespects the military for not saluting the Marine. In the military, you salute up the chain of command, not down. The Marine pictured is enlisted, and required to salute all higher ranking officers, in this case all officers. The Commander In Chief is the highest ranking military officer, and anyone below in the chain is required to salute as a customary show of respect. Traditionally, the officer receiving the salute also returns a salute to acknowledge, and the salute-er can then cut his salute. Of course, as Commander In Chief, it's his decision to follow this rule, just as commanders of individual units can decide to enforce certain regulations.

    May 24, 2013 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  20. Anna

    I really think there are many more crucial issues for President Obama to focus on. I do not feel strongly about whether he salutes or not. I do, however, feel strongly about scrutinizing the president's every move while he needs to be focused on the much larger issues of national and foreign policy.

    May 24, 2013 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  21. Tomgreg

    He's the commander in chief...he can do what he wants.

    May 24, 2013 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  22. MIke9

    Can't expect the Pres to know this stuff, he never served.

    May 24, 2013 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  23. Daniel

    I give President Obama Respect for shaking that Marines Hand and making it personal. And no I don't support Obama. But I'll give respect where respect is due.

    May 24, 2013 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  24. Doodlebug2222

    To .... be in the moment. Is to only thing about hiding the tears that threaten to spill – hide the slight quivering of your lips that hold back the mournful cry – to keep composure when you want to fall to your knees and beg the ... why.

    To me – as a veteran – I feel, it was not so much a day for the prime and the proper but a day for the heart....

    May 24, 2013 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  25. Alfuso

    he's a civilian and shloldn't salute at all

    May 24, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
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