May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
2 years 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. Lizard Lance

    Clearly this is an impeachable offense and Obama should be sent back to his Islamic birthplace over in Africa where he is a citizen and thus not legally able to hold the office of President of the United States!!!! This is a travesty of the greatest order. I can't wait to hear Chaffetz, Cruz, Paul, and Graham all whine and moan about this on Sunday's talk shows.

    May 25, 2013 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  2. Marilies schoepflin

    If the president saluted every honorable and deserving person he meets , he would have to go around and salute people the whole day. Forget it. I think this 'tradition' started by president Regan, should be done away altogether. Marilies

    May 25, 2013 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  3. Scott Raddatz

    Well, considering he made a Marine hold his umbrella for him (completely out of Marine Corps uniform regulations) I'd say he has some making up to do.

    May 25, 2013 02:22 am at 2:22 am |
  4. Deesnutz

    If Obama is going to make them hold his umbrella for him he better salute them.

    May 25, 2013 02:22 am at 2:22 am |
  5. Kahamarca

    I thought that the President can pretty much do whatever he wants when it comes to saluting and/ or giving military units/ personnel a handshake. As Commander in Chief he probably should salute but then again all things considered...Who really cares as long as he doesn't just walk by without showing any form of recognition.... To me a handshake is a more personal greeting... when I was in the service (long time ago) I had a Major who shook your hand only if he really cared for you everybody else got a text book style salute... It felt more personal and people "grew a few inches" when he shook their hand.

    May 25, 2013 02:26 am at 2:26 am |
  6. bright

    Who cares if the president even hugs the marine.

    May 25, 2013 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  7. Donald

    Of course he should salute the military, just as they should salute him. He is their Commander in Chief.

    May 25, 2013 02:28 am at 2:28 am |
  8. John Kendall

    One should only give a hand salute when in uniform. The president is the commander in chief, but he is a civilian. Even if he was a military officer he would not salute the Marine guard. The guard would salute him first.

    May 25, 2013 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  9. Derek Gardner

    For all you ignoramuses and pretend military out there...... Obama is the Commander in Chief.
    Which translated means he is the Commander in Chief of the American armed forces......do you get it now.
    Not saluting is downright disrespectful.

    May 25, 2013 02:30 am at 2:30 am |
  10. Ingo Zirpins

    I honor the value of humanity that comes through a handshake, which embraces the connection of the heart versus that of a authority.

    May 25, 2013 02:32 am at 2:32 am |
  11. M.

    You can salute to dozens with one salute. But shaking hands with the president, no matter who he is, is a very special experience.

    May 25, 2013 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  12. iBod

    We are overlooking the simple thought that a handshake is much more personal. It involves actual contact between the individuals who are shaking hands, whereas a salute does not. A salute may be customary to honoring those by side the President, but when the President makes an encounter with actual contact, he is personalizing the interaction. I think a salute is a great way to recognize these soldiers' service, but a handshake is a better way to recognize their humanity. They aren't robots. They serve our country and deserve a salute, but sometimes - or, perhaps always - they deserve more than just a salute. Sometimes, the Presidents need to show that even they know these are human beings with lives away from service. Sometimes, the Presidents need to do more than just give them a salute. A handshake is a great way for the President to show he recognizes the humanity in these men and women who put their lives on the line. There is not an ounce of "controversy" in such an action. In fact, I commend President Obama for shaking his hand.

    May 25, 2013 02:34 am at 2:34 am |
  13. granny

    hell yes he should...I love the "snap" GWBush always did.

    May 25, 2013 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  14. Paul133

    This was in total disrespect of our military! Our so called commander in chief is a clown that wants nothing more than to turn our great country against one another! He should be ashamed!!!

    May 25, 2013 02:37 am at 2:37 am |
  15. Frank

    I'm not an Obama supporter by any means but I respect the man just disagree with a lot of his policies. This is a non story and completely pointless. It looks like he went back and apologized to the Marine who even smiled when the President was shaking his hand. Let's move on to issues that matter. I'm more concerned about the DOJ phone scandal and the IRS issue. But this is stupid.

    May 25, 2013 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  16. Irskan

    who cares? boy do we need a big earthquake or volcano eruption about now....

    May 25, 2013 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  17. Anonymous

    Unbelievable and inexcusable for a Commander

    May 25, 2013 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
  18. CJ

    Is this really newsworthy?

    May 25, 2013 02:46 am at 2:46 am |
  19. octopus

    aren't you not supposed to salute with your head uncovered?

    May 25, 2013 02:46 am at 2:46 am |
  20. Jason

    Poor Marine, I'll bet he didn't know how to react to a handshake from the President, pretty cool if you ask me.

    May 25, 2013 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  21. london williams

    having served as a USMC Military Policeman in Washington D.C. in the 80's, I can tell you of countless stories of active duty Marine Generals in uniform who did not salute or return a salute of an Enlisted Marine. Having a Marine Officer not return a salute is an issue this is a non-issue. Next.

    May 25, 2013 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  22. Anonymous

    Once upon a time cnn was a respected and reliable source for objective news. Now many of their staff itch for making the news more than reporting it. ITS A SHAME

    May 25, 2013 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
  23. Matt

    The bigger issue was asking the Marine to hold the umbrella for President Obama. That's something in the Marine's code of conduct that they can't even do for the President.

    May 25, 2013 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
  24. Justin

    If you noticed, the President saluted to the Marine inside to the right (not shown).

    May 25, 2013 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
  25. Jake

    And thus "Salutegate" is born...REALLY???

    May 25, 2013 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
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