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. Ridge

    Of course President Obama should salute his military guards. He is the temporary commander and chief and should respect tradition. Tradtional America is thriving and will live on long after he is out of office.

    May 24, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  2. Gary

    Seriously talk about making something out of nothing. Gawd.

    May 24, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  3. Bob

    Ok, I am a republican and this story is just dumb... come on CNN get it together!!!!

    May 24, 2013 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  4. rudedog

    The Tea Party will have a field day.
    Just heard a hate radio D J say Obama killed Amd. Stevens because he ucovered sales of stinger missiles to Al Qaeda. Don't need much to get the paranoid delusionals going.

    May 24, 2013 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  5. roy

    The president should salute the uniform not the person wearing the uniform.

    May 24, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  6. Randall

    He is not saluting the soldiers, but returning the salute from them.

    May 24, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  7. Curt

    He is President. He can do whatever he wants. Shaking hands is respectful. Even just saying thank you would be respectful. A civilian saluting always seemed a bit odd to me anyway.

    May 24, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  8. Greg Morgan

    What to I think? I think there must be some people very desperate to find things about Obama to find fault with.

    May 24, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  9. Lynndel

    He is the President. He decides what is regulation. Besides he corrected any breach of protocol.

    May 24, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  10. KlintzCNN

    Tradition: Officers salute enlisted Medal of Honor recipients first instead of the enlisted member saluting the officer.

    Tradition: President returns military members' salutes.

    Is either required by law or regulation? Nope.

    As you see in the video, the President approached the helicopter from the rear of the aircraft rather than the side. His eyes look into the helo's entrance rather than at the Marine in front of him. He returns the pilots' salutes and realizes his mistake and goes out to correct it. The President apologized and shook the Marine's hand.

    If you want to get into protocol, why did the Marine not salute the President after having shaken his hand? A junior member salutes after a superior finishes talking to him/her.

    May 24, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  11. reldra

    I think it was a more personal gesture. Maybe that marine is often given that same duty. Looks fine to me. The right wingers have insulted how The President salutes anyway.

    May 24, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  12. dale larson

    I think he should shake, salute, hug, whatever he likes–he is the President. I think those military guys deserve special attention and respect, which I think Barack offers does by not being perfunctory in his salutations.

    May 24, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  13. your mama

    no respect....

    May 24, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  14. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    It just goes to show how low the gop morons will stoop to insult our president who got more votes then any of you gop losers. You lost the last to presidential elections. I just though I would remind you , because you haven't figured out you lost yet. The. Gop party of stupid proves. It every day. !!!!!!

    May 24, 2013 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  15. Ken

    The POTUS, as Commander-in-Chief, should salute. Other civilian's need not.

    May 24, 2013 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  16. Jenn

    Since President Obama was never in the military, I do not see a reason for him to salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  17. Name

    I think the potus should acknowledge the people around him, it's just manners.

    May 24, 2013 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  18. USMC01

    This is a very petty article. Even more ridiculous, are some of the comments being offered up. For starters, each of the services have a different set of rules for saluting. For example, a Marine not in uniform does not salute nor return a salute from a service member that is in uniform. When a salute is rendered to an officer not in uniform by a junior officer or enlisted Marine that is in uniform, a comment like "carry on" or "good afternoon/morning" is entirely appropriate and acceptable. Therefore, the Marine Corporal in the picture here is required to salute the Commander-in-Chief, but the CIC is not required to salute him back. The hand shake was very appropriate and even down right personal in nature. How many Marines can say they have shaken the Presidents hand?

    When I was an MP and stood gate duty at Camp Lejeune, we were required to salute un-escorted females when they drove onto the base. Meaning, women who drove onto the base without a males escort (husband, boy friend, whatever) in the vehicle with them. Don't know why we were required to do it. Its not in any handbook that I'm ever read.

    Additionally, Marines don't salute when not in uniform or when in doors and not under arms. When on duty and wearing a duty belt, they will salute senior officers.

    May 24, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Leaving the copter to shake the hand of the service member shows GREAT RESPECT. He could have stayed inside but he did not.

    Find something else to nit pick about.

    Bill F

    May 24, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  20. Ron

    Oh boy! Can't wait for all the flack from Tea Partiers and Republicans on this.

    May 24, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  21. Bill Filstead

    The fact the he left the copter to shake the service man;s hand shows GREAT RESPECT. He could have stayed on board. Find something else to nit pick about.

    May 24, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  22. R.W. Tank Ward

    If a Hand Salute is rendered it should be returned in the appropriate military manner. FM 22-5.

    May 24, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  23. T

    He saluted the pilots on board why not the standing Marine?

    May 24, 2013 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  24. Mike

    He does salute at 0:19, just before entering the aircraft. He may have been late on his delivery, but he certainly wasn't slighting the marine at the foot of the stairs. As pointed out in the article, the Commander in Chief does not need to return salutes; it is a relatively recent occurence considering the long history of the presidency.

    May 24, 2013 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  25. Greg Morgan

    Interesting news: the tradition used to be that the President didn't salute military officers, and Ronald Reagan broke with that tradition. What an outrage! How dare he do such a thing? Let's all be shocked and offended! Let's call for the posthumous impeachment of Ronald Reagan!

    May 24, 2013 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
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