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. vamikey

    Just a technical correction, the APU on an aircraft is an Auxiliary Power Unit, NOT an 'aerial power unit.' The APU is common on many aircraft including most commercial airliners, and is usually a small turbine engine driving a generator which can provide power to the aircraft's systems (AC, lights, etc.) when the main engines are shut down. On commercial airliners at many airport gates there is a physical link (cable) connecting the aircraft to a ground power source & the APU is not needed, but obviously on the South Lawn of the White House this is not available.

    May 24, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  2. James PDX

    I don't care, nor do I want to see a handshakegate emerge from this nonsense.

    May 24, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  3. achepotle

    I would like him to wear a powder blue uniform like Hermann Goering.

    May 24, 2013 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    I like that, being a President means if you wanna shake then shake if you are a salute' r then salute but if your both then one or the other will suffice especially if your the POTUS

    May 24, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  5. Steve

    Tripe. This 24 hour news cycle combined with the internet has really made the media even more whorish than in the past grasping at straws for anything to report on. I'm not even that old and I miss the days of news on the big three networks at 5pm with a followup at 6pm.

    Someone needs to call out the media more. They're as bad or worse than the bloody politicians these days.

    May 24, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  6. razr

    I like that, being a President means if you wanna shake then shake if you are a salute' r then salute but if your both then one or the other will suffice especially if your the POTUS

    May 24, 2013 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  7. Kevin McIntosh

    Yes I think the soldiers should be saluted and recognized for their achievements. President or not they deserve our respect and there is no in between the lines.

    May 24, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  8. DarthVaderMentor

    He's a non-military local Chicago politician that until his senatorial time had never worked with anyone who'd served his country in a military career. What can you expect from someone who's never understood selfless military service to their country and the discipline and acts of respect associated with military service?

    May 24, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  9. humberto

    You people actually believe a salute by Reagan, who attempted to film flam Congress with a select few senators and media heads, selling weapons to a foreign power to fund a private war, was respectfully ?

    May 24, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  10. G_Edwards

    They should be saluting him. He should return the salute.


    May 24, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  11. Hugh

    It may not be required by any law/rule, but it is a definite sign of disrespect by Obama that he failed to do it.

    May 24, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  12. Nancy

    It was rude and thoughtless. He is the Commander and Chief and this was protocol for anyone in the Military. But he has no respect for anyone but himself anyway.

    May 24, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  13. Al

    That happens, especially if you've never served in uniform. And it happening with Obama well that should not surprise anyone really, after all it's Obama trying to pretend that he's one of the "boys" and that he'll never be, he's office is respected by members of the Military, but he as a person is not.

    May 24, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  14. bob hawkins

    The President should return should return salutes, not give.

    May 24, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  15. jmike94

    He should salute the Marine, It's courteous and respectful. That isn't an option... it is code pretty much.

    May 24, 2013 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  16. Jim in Maine

    Any President can salute or not. Reagan started it, any president can stop it. But at least the President, as Commander in Chief has some business offering salutes should he or she so choose.

    What really rips me is seeing a poseur like John Cena, who has never served in the military, wearing dog tags and saluting on every WWE ad. That is phony and a breach in protocol.

    May 24, 2013 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  17. humberto

    A hostile foreign power.

    May 24, 2013 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  18. B24

    He is the President,it's his call–no right or wrong

    May 24, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  19. lostisland

    The president showed respect to his troops, salute? handshake? kind word? – they're all the same. You noticed the Marines smile? I think he got it...good enough for this old vet.

    May 24, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  20. Raven

    As the commander in Chief, the Enlisted soldier is required to salute. And it is Appropriate for the CIC to RETURN the salute.

    However it would be just as inappropriate for the president to Salute first.

    May 24, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  21. jmike94

    He should salute the Marine and respect the troops and procedures of this country as they were then the same as now. It is a courteous and respectful gesture. Simple as that.

    May 24, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  22. Crack

    He should have saluted......disrespectful bafoon.

    May 24, 2013 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  23. ICE

    A civilan does not have to salute military personnel. He is military commander in cheif. He has a dual role, a civilian president and a military commander in cheif. It is his choice which role he chooses to covey to the military personnel.

    May 24, 2013 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  24. Dave

    Please don't use "Reagan" and "Obama" in the same article. Obama isn't worthy to stand in Reagan's shadow.

    May 24, 2013 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Its not "AERIAL POWER UNIT" Its "AUXILARY POWER UNIT" geeesh APU, and who cares a hand shake might give more personal respect and humanize them instead of treating them like or US like Robots

    May 24, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
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