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. I've Served

    He is a civilian in charge of the military, I don't see why this is even a "controversy" other than the fact that people who don't like the President will use this as an example to continue to bash him.

    May 24, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  2. Pike

    I don't know why this is even "news". 39 presidents before Reagan never saluted the military, and when Reagan
    began doing it, it was seen as inappropriate.

    He seems to be bowing a bit. Now...in the spirit of blogosphere headlines that scream "OBAMA BOWS TO SAUDI KING!", how about one that read "OBAMA BOWS TO MARINE"! (?) Probably not.

    May 24, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  3. Skarphace

    Why did Obama not salute that Marine? Easy. It is because Obama has no respect for his position as President, he has no respect for our military, he has no respect for America. In fact, he hates America, he was not born here, he is a Muslim, he is a Socialist, he is a Communist, and he is trying desperately to destroy all the freedoms our great country stands for. Oh, and most importantly, he is not pure lilly White. That about sum it up, Teafreaks?

    May 24, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  4. kxr

    I wander why Obama did not bow... Did he forget how?

    May 24, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  5. Marine Helo Pilot

    I'm a Marine Helicopter pilot and I know that I'm going to get a lot of military guys who disagree with me on this... because it's Obama. But from a purely objective standpoint, this is no big deal. It actually looks like the Prez salutes getting on the aircraft, then realizes he's forgotten one and goes out to correct it. Most guys would actually say that was pretty damned descent of the guy. He's the most powerful man in the friggin world, for God's sake, and he's probably got some stuff on his mind. The fact that he was thinking of the young corporal there and took a minute to show him respect is all we ask.
    In the Marine Corps, a sloppy or missed salute from an officer is as bad as showing up to your new unit overweight or failing to achieve a 1st class PFT score. You will find the respect of your juniors' hard to win after such a breach of protocol. But that's the standard we hold ourselves to because, well, we're the baddest warfighters to ever walk the earth. But we don't expect the same from civilians... or the Air Force.

    May 24, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  6. dw1650

    Most of those individuals that greet the President are enlisted personnel. As a former enlisted Marine, a return salute would not only be respected, it would also instill pride and honor within those individuals to be acknowledged by their Commander In Chief.

    May 24, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  7. 2cool4me

    Obama should start a tradition where he throws his shoe or sandal at anyone he wishes to as a friendly greeting. It would at least prove he is not Muslim and it would work out quite well in his Middle East visits.

    May 24, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  8. Veeblefester

    No salute? Impeach him!

    May 24, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  9. 2cool4me

    Obama should start a tradition where he throws his shoe or sandal at anyone he wishes to as a friendly greeting. It would at least prove he is not Musliim and it would work out quite well in his Middle East visits.

    May 24, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  10. palusko996769

    This tradition was started by Reagan, so it is now an unwritten law. One day, it will even be a written law. Or a verse in Bible.

    May 24, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  11. dillweed7

    I'm sure it was the Illuminati hand shake.

    May 24, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  12. Steve

    A handshake strikes me as more Presidential. Keep the salutes for those in uniform. The president is not an officer.

    May 24, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  13. art

    If he learns how to salute, fine, otherwise this lame excuse for a CIC should probably enroll in ROTC somewhere.

    May 24, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  14. Emigdio Alvarez

    Handshake-gate.

    May 24, 2013 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  15. Greenspam

    If I were Republicans, I would cite this an example that Obama insults the military, and then demand hearing

    May 24, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  16. Name ron

    My name is RON. I write stuff on blogs.

    May 24, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  17. Elliott Carlin

    He's off his game.

    May 24, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  18. mfstout

    Let's worry more about not sending our troops to useless wars like Bush W did and get back to protecting America. The Commander in Chief shaking hands with a marine is just fine, and it's a lot better than sending that young man off to a war we shouldn't be in.

    May 24, 2013 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  19. Adam

    So? He saluted them the 5000 other times he's got aboard M1.

    When the President wants to shake hands, you shake hands.

    May 24, 2013 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  20. Tony T

    I am no fan of Obama and I am probably one of his worst critics.....however, being the President he probably has a whole lot on his mind (especially with 3 or 4 scandals buzzing around his administration) everyone can make a mis-step ho real harm done I think coming back and shaking the Marine's hand was the proper thing to do. I would have saluted him after I shook his hand but no big deal either way. I give him a pass on the whole thing.

    May 24, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  21. tiesha..for the RECORD

    Man I suppport RON. He right in all thangs.

    May 24, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  22. Rob

    He is the Commander and Chief and has certainly has the option to salute. But let's not make a big deal of it. Having served for over 24 years, I'm fairly confident that young Marine is not offended.

    May 24, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  23. waheid

    The country is facing many serious problems. The issue raised in this article is not one of them. Time to move on.

    May 24, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  24. ed hopkins

    Salute....stop being a goof.

    May 24, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  25. Joe

    OMG....the sky is going to fall! Go crazy, Fox Noise!

    May 24, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
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