May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
8 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.

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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. bentav

    "Aerial Power Unit"? Not only is the press trying its best to puff Obama up with this marshmallow story rather than the serious issues of incompetence and arrogance, they can't even get the APU right. Obviously journalism school is for left wing dummies.

    May 24, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  2. dan

    he needed to salute. he is a POS for not doing it. he is the commander in cheif.

    May 24, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  3. Frank Garcia

    embarrassment! not commander in chief material

    May 24, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  4. bob

    Who cares?

    May 24, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  5. Todd Willis

    is not the President of the United States, commander in chief,?

    May 24, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  6. John

    It doesn't matter one way or the other.

    May 24, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  7. John Roche

    It was an honest mistake,he realized it and made a u-turn went back out,shook the hand of the marine.No one is perfect,we all make mistakes.

    May 24, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  8. George

    You people need to get a life. I cannot believe the garbage that you feel is important enough to report as news.

    By the way.. was this an EXCLUSIVE report?

    Give me a break.

    May 24, 2013 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    The Marine standing outside the helicopter is not an officer.

    He's a non-NCO enlisted Marine, in this case it is a Corporal which is 2 ranks above Private. No one normally solutes these guys except for, apparently, the president when boarding his helicopter.

    May 24, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  10. TomNPitt

    The President should give each Marine his autograph. They can sell it when they retire and maybe get a free meal out of it.

    May 24, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  11. Tom Vines

    The President of the United States does not salute the troops. The President returns the salute given by the troops. The President does salute the flag of the United States and an individual that has been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    May 24, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  12. James Clark

    Yes!!!! Its just another sign of how liberal our society is today. Sad!

    May 24, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  13. A&P

    "Aerial Power Unit"? Is there a special place on bathroom walls where reporters get their facts when they don't have access to Wikipedia?

    May 24, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  14. FKAM

    I seems to me, it was a drug deal!!

    May 24, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  15. john lannefeld

    As a retired military member, I have always thought it somewhat out of line to salute an individual who does not wear a uniform. However, I'm guessing that since the president is "Commander-in-Chief" whether previous military service or not, he/she warrants a sign of respect for the rank.

    May 24, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  16. Col B

    The POTUS is the Commander In Chief–CINC. Military protocol dictates that the junior officer or all enlisted initiate the salute as a form of greeting and respect. Therefore, the CINC would not initiate the salute. Saluting the Sergeant at the foot of the steps is a tradition unique to the situation.

    May 24, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  17. ugh

    What do you expect from someone who thinks there are "53 states"....

    May 24, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  18. Foothill Web Design

    The President is a civilian. Hand-shaking is an appropriate sign of respect.

    May 24, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  19. Scott Christner

    Although not considered by the reporter a very likely aspect is that the President was extending a thank you to the service member based on the approach of Memorial Day and consistent with recognizing the graduates at Annapolis.

    May 24, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  20. JK-Houston

    As a president, he has more serious things in his mind; he is human; people do forget protocols.

    May 24, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  21. Tim W.

    I do not see why this is even in the media......come on is there nothing more important to follow ?

    May 24, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  22. Booty 007

    These men and women put their life on the line for us I feel thats the least the President could do is salute our military I he is part of who they protect

    May 24, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  23. Foothill Web Design

    The President is a civilian so no, it's not necessary, a handshake is fine.

    May 24, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  24. GOP = Greed Over People

    The President is the CIC and he is a civilian and all the military serves under him, all military branches must salute the President, the President does NOT have to return the salute.

    It is completely at the President;s discretion. While rambilin' Ronny did salute, that is certainly no precedent. Dwight D never returned a salute, and he was a 5 star general with obvious previous time in the military.

    The President may chose to return the salute, simply to acknowledge the service member, but a hand shake does the same thing.

    May 24, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  25. Lee

    What's with this feeding of the crazy Fox "News" loons?

    This is not news.

    Presidents did not normally salute until that grade B actor put on the "show" to cover up his cutting of veteran benefits.

    May 24, 2013 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
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