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. John B Parungao, USNRet)

    Since I'd joined U.S. Navy, through Boot Camp in San Diego,, Calif (1957) the question when to salute or when not to salute had been taught in Boot Camp Training and the rules applies after training until the last of your retirement day.. Blue Jacket Manual say: During play of National Anthem–place your right over your heart and looks where the flag is. On street, salute anyone who's in Uniformed with hat especially having more rank than you. Render salute to all officers of the Armed Forces Service. In a situation that you are hesitating to salute or not to salute-- salute anyway-- it's better for you than being reprimanded In case of President Obama, leaving or boarding the Air Force 1 or Presidential Helicopter the President is not required to salute as initiated by Marine Guard. The rule is "if uncover you must not salute but must have eyes contact or simply by nodding to the person as for acknowledgement. Not unless new rules have changed the old ones these i remember and I am totally still agree with it.#.

    May 25, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    People, give it up. He is the President. Stop trying to find fault with everything that the president does. Get a life.

    May 25, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  3. Ohenry

    Its a unique situation, as a commander in-chief, saluting the troops is in order.
    As a civilian, shaking hands with troops us equally in order.
    Being a civilian, "not in uniform" commander in-chief, a president should be cut loose to chose when to shake and or salute troops in and out of uniform.
    However, the subject here is "troops" what will mean more to them, salute or shake?

    May 25, 2013 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  4. RESISTNCE

    Obama's lack of respect to that Marine was infuriating and par for the course on how the military gets treated. He still has not fixed the problems with the VA processing claims for the wounded coming back from Afghanistan. He has put every other two bit issue before this.

    My fellow veterans fighting for the country should have the highest respect from his office and they don't. They sacrifice everything for this country and get little in return when they need something. Meanwhile Congress sits on it's idiotic collective butts and collects boatloads of benefits at will. I have lost all respect for the office of the President and Congress. It's makes me sad to think of how this country is going down the drain and nobody in Washington seems to care at all.

    May 25, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  5. Joe

    He should not only salute he should kiss his feet also . Our men and woman are giving their lives up for us .

    May 25, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  6. emb3dd3d

    Being prior military ,A salute isn't required.. A handshake speaks volume over a salute, to me it was a recognition of a person/human being than a salute of a uniform.

    May 25, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  7. Fred

    There were lots of marchers against Monsanto today saying no to GMOs.. Where is the CNN article about that?

    May 25, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  8. Steve

    Actually, since the President is a civilian, he is not supposed to salute. I was in the military when Reagan started this tradition and many officers complained that he should not be returning salutes because even though he is the Commander-in-Chief he is not an officer.

    May 25, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  9. mike reier

    as much as I dislike obama, I have to say I admire this. one of the few things I have seen him do that wasn't scripted. he forgot to salute, recognized his mistake, and made the day of that young marine. well done.

    May 25, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  10. hender1123

    Obama was just caught off guard. These military traditions are new and confusing to Obama. Someone must have told him the cameras are running and he'd better get back out of the helicopter and make amends. At least whoever was coaching him gave him the push that he needed. Even though Obama does not care one way or the other it made a good showing.

    May 25, 2013 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  11. T.C.Wolfe

    1.) The marine was facing AWAY from him.
    2.) Imagine you are president. Imagine the things weighing upon, preoccupying your mind.
    3.) Look closely. When the president's eye focuses on the marine, he goes out and shakes the man's hand, one citizen to the other. What would that marine prefer to say to his grandchildren? The president and I saluted one another; or, grandchild, when you shake my hand you shake the hand that shook the hand of President Obama–and he went out of his way to do it?
    4.) If, say, a President Ron Paul had done that, the Koch brothers would have commisioned sacred icons of Paul with a halo round his head!
    5.) These people who are so eager to believe the worst about Barack Husein Obama, will, 20-30 years from now, see that he was a true patriot, and that the self-styled patriot/tea partiers were sold a bill of goods by their present day heroes.

    May 25, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  12. NameGoose

    Yes, most definitely the President should salute the military. Truthfully, it should be a requirement that to be President you must have had served in the U.S. Military.

    May 25, 2013 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  13. Carol

    A handshake is more personal, and if that is what our President was conveying I like that.

    May 25, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  14. impeach him

    I'm not a fan of his but you can see him give the pilots a salute when he boards. I don't think he meant any slight.

    May 25, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  15. cdr

    As I recall from formal military training, a salute came from a tradition whereupon one military man approached another, he salutes to signify that he is not armed and therefore not a threat to an approaching fellow soldier...or did I dream that? Regardless, as president (CINC) he gets to decide. I'm not an Obama fan either but give him a break!

    May 25, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  16. Jeb

    Republicans will no doubt launch a full congressional investigation of this incident. I'm sure they'll be calling for impeachment within 48 hours.

    May 25, 2013 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  17. Hardie Johnson

    He should not salute, he gets saluted. To show respect for a military person a civilian should imitate the Roman salute and clasp his right hand to his left chest. The hand shake was cool, but the poor guy did not know what do do next.

    And it is not an 'aerial power unit', APU means 'auxiliary power unit'.

    May 25, 2013 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  18. MM

    A hand shake is sooooooo much warmer than a salute. I hope he keep this up because I'm sure the solders appreciate that touch from the president. I vote for change.

    May 25, 2013 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  19. okiestud21

    I will admit i'm not a fan of Obama, but this was a class act in my opinion. If more people would stop to at least TRY to remedy their mistakes, this would be a much better country. I think it shows a great deal of respect when the president was already on board only to walk back out and shake the soldier's hand. I bet that handshake meant a lot more to that Marine than a typical salute.

    May 25, 2013 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  20. Bill

    Who cares! (That's a statement, not a question).

    May 25, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  21. Clyde Ricks

    I dont know why he would bother saluting at all – he despises the military and from those that I have spoken with, they return the sentiment.

    May 25, 2013 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  22. maria

    He is the commander in chief, he salutes. His rectification was in line. Check the military protocol first and don't believe everything u read in the news at first hand.

    May 25, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  23. Jason Plastow

    Anyone who says Obama needed to salute is a moron. As a former artillery sergeant, I can say with certainty there is ZERO obligation for a commissioned officer to salute back, let alone the Secretary of Defense or the Commander in Chief. Check the regulations. The enlisted man is required to salute upon being approached by an O-1 or above, and the enlisted man must hold the salute until the officer has gone six steps past. If the officer extends his hand for a handshake in lieu of a salute, which happens frequently in ceremonies where a promotion or award are presented, the enlisted man should return the handshake. How is this even news? Obviously the people who made this news have never served in the military.

    May 25, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  24. Dionne Robinson

    I respect the heck out of President Obama. What this video illustrates is that he is a man of respect she quite humble. It would have been easy for him to completely disregard the young marine and his oversight, but instead he apologized for his action. Apologies in the world of real men are cemented by handshakes which he offered. What continues to get under the skin of those who dislike or maybe even hate him, is our president is his own men who makes decisions that are not always agreed to but align with his beliefs as a person. I respect that over anyone whose decisions are not rooted in their fundamental core of self....get over it folks, he'll be around for some time. Use your energy to raise better children or become more loving neighbors.

    May 26, 2013 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  25. furianxo

    just news fodder... he can care less about that Marine, what he thinks, or his future.

    May 26, 2013 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
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