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. Mike Davis

    As a retired Navy Corpsman who served with the Marines, I feel that the President was right in offering his hand to the Marine. Although it is customary to salute the military members on ground before boarding a flight, I feel that given the job of being the President Of The United States has a lot of responsibilities that come with the job. And I feel it was appropriate that given the fact that although the President did not salute the Marine before boarding the helicopter, the President did come back to the Marine out of respect and offered his handshake. I feel both the President and the Marine did their jobs to the best of their abilities and both were professional in such a manner.

    May 25, 2013 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  2. Mr. X

    Worst "president" ever.

    May 25, 2013 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  3. Anonymous

    Let's face facts: It is appropriate for the President to salute the "Troops". But it is not appropriate for Obama to salute them since he holds the military is disdain.

    May 25, 2013 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  4. Frank Lyons

    The President doesn't salute the Marine. He returns the salute of the Marine as is always the case when a lower ranking military member encounters a higher ranking member. As Commander-in-Chief of all the Armed Forces it is perfectly appropriate and proper for the President to return a salute.

    May 25, 2013 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  5. james breen

    Give him a break! He's been busy covering up all the scandals and probably forgot to salute

    May 25, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  6. Ralph Moerschbach. r

    Of course he should return the proper salute of someone showing him respect. The military traditions of this nation are far more important than any one person. I am not sure this President has the respect of our nation and those who serve her.

    May 25, 2013 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  7. fuzzback

    Waiting for Republicans to launch a Congressional Investigation...

    May 25, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  8. Honest John

    Were I the Marine NCO, I would have felt a bit slighted.

    May 25, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  9. Blair Signey

    A disgrace – although expected for our "Commander-in-Scandal"

    May 25, 2013 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  10. iHack

    It appears from the video that even the handshake was a secondary thought. That seems to be what caught the serviceman off guard.

    May 25, 2013 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  11. Amarjeet

    It is not a bad gesture to solute a person who is commanding your life in a helicopter or aircraft. It puts him in a more responsible actions in excel his capabilities besides other good feelings of self esteems and national; commitments.

    May 25, 2013 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  12. francis grapperhaus

    You always return a salute when given, unless un noticed, how could you not notice.

    May 25, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  13. ROCKWOOD

    So what..... Yes, he's Commander In Chief, but he's more intimate with people than many past presidents. At least he didn't fist bump him........

    May 25, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  14. doc77

    Uh...he shook hands instead of saluted...any more big news today? wow

    May 25, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  15. Chad

    He is technically in the chain of command and merits a salute but the return of one is not required. The Marine he didn't salute was not an Officer he is an enlisted Corporal, a Non-Commissioned Officer and the backbone of the United States Marine Corps.

    May 25, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  16. Tom

    Technically, the President would be RETURNING the salute of the Marine – Since Commander in Chief outranks, well, everybody. I think its a good idea – it shows respect for the traditions of the military who serve under him.

    May 25, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  17. Wayne Rollins

    Who cares

    May 25, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  18. Randy J Clifford

    If I were that Marine I would much rather have a President come back to me and say something to me and shake my hand than give a cursory salute. I was an pilot/officer in the USAF for 6 years and had a crew of 17 on my USAF Air Sea Rescue plane at times and I am sure my crew preferred I actually talk with them and shake their hand for a job well done than barely look a them as they salute me. Marine one pilots seemed to understand and the smile on the Marine's face outside seemed to show he appreciated the President (and I don't care who that President may be or what party he belongs to) coming back and actually talking to him.

    May 25, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  19. Katherine

    Are you sure it is "the aerial power unit" or the auxiliary power unit used while on the ground to provide power to the aircraft?

    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 aerial power unit on the helicopter running ahead of engaging the rotors.)

    May 25, 2013 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  20. Jonathan

    Since there is no formal protocol, I would Hi Five or knuckle bump with the officers. Much cooler than handshake.

    May 25, 2013 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  21. sqeptiq

    Salutes go with uniforms. Marines salute the President. I was a little put off when Reagan began saluting. I believe saluting began as a respectful gesture from low rank to higher, and should remain so. A brief nod in return or, on special occasions such as honoring a soldier with a medal, a handshake should be sufficient.

    May 25, 2013 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  22. Jack

    I'm an airline pilot. What the heck is an "aerial power unit"? If you mean "auxiliary power unit" maybe so. If you mean "engine" yes. The engines are running and the rotor brake is engaged. "Aerial power unit"...don't volunteer information you're not positive about.

    May 25, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  23. jorgath

    I think it's an individual choice. In some ways, a handshake is MORE respectful than a salute: a salute recognizes them as military, while a handshake recognizes them as the whole person.

    May 25, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  24. Pam

    What a friggin moron-and disgrace to this country.

    May 25, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  25. woody

    Too bad the Marine didn't have enough time to give Barack Hussein a "Geraldo Handshake".

    May 25, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
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