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. Turbulent

    Impeach Obama. Repeal Obamacare. Lets get this country back to the basics that our founding fathers meant for it.

    May 24, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  2. Wazademokrat

    I think, as President and Commander in Chief, the troops salute the President. He SHOULD return the salute. (Remember you salute the rank/office, not the man.)

    May 24, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  3. D.L. Kisting

    The presidency is so far over Obama's head, I'm sure he forgets he even has a head!

    May 24, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  4. Sgt. Pepper

    He didn't salute? WHOA, the Tea-Repubs will impeach him for this for sure.

    May 24, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  5. OldAsDirt

    Having a President who never served salute is ridiculous. He's given the role of Commander in Chief to ensure the military serves the voters, and certainly gets to make policy choices regarding actions taken by the military, but a President who's never chosen to serve in the military is at best a pretender, but more likely just posing.

    May 24, 2013 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  6. abmri60

    So what, he forgot to salute, next time better.

    May 24, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  7. Larry L

    I'd be honored to have the President shake my hand. That Marine will have the photo on his desk forever.

    May 24, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  8. dave

    The Marine is an NCO(non-commissioned officer). As a good Marine he will react with respect to the officeholder regardless of who it is. The man entering the helicopter is in fact the highest member of the Marine's chain of command so he is bound by military protcol to salute him(OR her, should that day come) Believe me, he could care less whether the salute is returned or not.

    May 24, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  9. Skarphace

    Rick McDaniel: "No matter how much you try to make Obama into a President"

    You don't "make" someone into a President. You vote them into the job. Obama is President, no matter how much you try to deny it. The question you should be asking yourself is: why are you denying it? I know, that was a rhetorical question.

    May 24, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  10. works4me

    As President he can salute whoever he pleases. It's not like protocol is the first thing on his mind. When he caught up with his thoughts he jumped right back out and gave a firm handshake. Something a little more human, after all ...

    May 24, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  11. T. Lee

    So the POTUS showing fondness and appreciation for a Marine guard.

    And that is "sparking debate"??

    The absurdities the Republicans and their supporters sink to (a) in losing twice to Obama which obviously is keeping them awake at night plus (b) trying to ramp-up for 2016 is just that – absurd!!

    May 24, 2013 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  12. William

    The GOP's response... Impeach him, impeach him!

    May 24, 2013 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  13. davecu

    What I think of Barry isn't the question.

    The Commander In Chief not saluting a person in his command shows the disdain in which he holds their lives.
    What arrogance!
    These men and women are who keep this country great. It's a courtesy and a sign of respect.

    May 24, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  14. Rob

    Who the heck cares. Non news

    May 24, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  15. OldSchool

    He wanted to go a little farther to thank troops close to Memorial Day, this is a problem?

    May 24, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  16. DB

    A salute in my mind is for the uniform, for which it stands, one nation, undivided, for all. (you can add under God if you wish).

    May 24, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  17. Larry L

    Those who find reason to be offended will continually find reasons to be offended. I served under every CINC for the past 34 years and President Obama tops my list. He listens to his Joint Chiefs, applies intelligence data wisely, leverages technology to save lives of Servicemembers, and acts decisively. He is the terrorist's worst nightmare.

    May 24, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  18. Bill

    No..It's the Marine's fault, not the presidents fault. It can NEVER be his fault!! He's perfect!

    May 24, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  19. Jonus Grumby

    Just a gaffe. Hopefully he'll do better next time without a teleprompter.

    May 24, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  20. SPC

    It may be respectful to salute a member of the military but making an entire article of the POTUS for not saluting an officer? BTW That Marine is a Corporal, which is a non commissioned officer rank in the Marines.... in the military you don't salute non commissioned officers in other than certain situation IE: board for promotion in NCO ranks or special events like promotion ceremonies.

    May 24, 2013 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  21. Anjouan

    "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."

    So why even write the article?

    May 24, 2013 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  22. Adom

    OK, so let's say it is a slip-up but his sensitivity in going back to try to correct his 'mistake' says a lot about the kind of person he is.

    May 24, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  23. Vashti

    Doctrine and Covenants 121:9

    9 Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.

    May 24, 2013 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  24. dw1650

    Enlisted personnel are the ones that greet the President in most of these scenarios. As a former enlisted Marine, not only would a return salute be respected, it would also be considered a source of pride and honor to those individuals being acknowledged by their Commander In Chief.

    May 24, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  25. chris

    as commander a chief he can do what he wants. even grow a beard. or have side burns. he sets the etiquette rules for the armed forces.

    May 24, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
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