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. hender1123

    Salute? They did say Obama, didn't they? And the military tradition is a salute. Don't expect much from Obama. Look at the crowd he grew up with. Don't expect much when it comes to the military, tradition, or anything else from the old ways.

    May 24, 2013 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  2. OKIE

    This guy in not a REAL commander in chief, only a placeholder till we get a real one so, a salute would be out of place for him.

    May 24, 2013 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  3. Gloria

    As a civilian commander-in-chief, the president does have the right to salute a person in the military, especially since it seems to have become a tradition started by President Reagan. But our president also has the right not to salute. And I really don't think that he meant any harm in giving a handshake instead of a salute in this instance. But bringing this triviality up in an article only serves to fuel the fire of "Obama Haters" who will take EVERY and ANY opportunity they can to disparage our president, who is working so hard for the good of the people.

    May 24, 2013 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  4. Dan Pendleton

    Have we become this petty?

    May 24, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  5. pittx

    It's the auxiliary power unit (APU) ... not the "aerial" power unit you hear.

    May 24, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  6. at

    break every American tradition

    May 24, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  7. solowd

    no sane person cares

    a handshake is respectful, a salute is respectful

    May 24, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  8. Patrick

    Now don't get me wrong.... I'm no fan. However, the presidential salutes in the past have been returning the salutes that have been rendered to them first. It is not some grand gesture to the troops, nor would it be appropriate to salute first.

    May 24, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  9. Tarcil

    I think they mean "auxiliary power unit" instead of "aerial power unit."

    May 24, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  10. Ron

    Barry didn't have a teleprompter to tell him what to do !!!!!!!!!!!11111

    May 24, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  11. David M. Cleland CPT, JA

    As an officer,I find no problem in what the President did. It may be customary to salute, but you are not required to provide a salute back. A salute is merely a sign of respect and a greeting. The President may be the Commander and Chief, but he is still a civilian. And to be honest, thank God he is.

    May 24, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  12. Jose

    If you look closely, right after the president enters the aircraft the first Time, he salutes with his right and THEN he shakes hand with the pilot. Afterwards he exits. So he did salute the cdr of the aircraft.

    May 24, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  13. Tony

    I think the President should salut the troops any chance he gets. Maybe even salut them with more money. They seriously don't make enough....Nice recovery though.

    May 24, 2013 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  14. Steve

    I have not been in the service, but deeply appreciate and respect all service men & women. I absolutely believe the Commander-in-Chief should salute every service person he comes in contact with, as a sign of respect.

    May 24, 2013 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  15. WildOmar

    As a Vet, I'm qualified to have an opinion on this issue. I choose to keep it to myself.

    May 24, 2013 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  16. wrm

    You mean "Auxiliary Power Unit?"

    May 24, 2013 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  17. Tom

    I'm a twice wounded Vietnam Veteran. I believe that the President can choose to salute or to shake, it's his choice as our Commander and Chief.

    May 24, 2013 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  18. Name les Breisblatt

    When not in uniform, you do not salute. JFK, a former naval officer, never saluted, bot always acknowledged the slalute. This is the correct protocol. Of course, if Obama stopped saluting, all of the right wing no nothings would accuse him of treason.

    May 24, 2013 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  19. ccw

    I see nothing wrong with this...matter of fact, it shows just as much respect and care for the military. Did it upset the marine? more than likely, no

    May 24, 2013 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  20. Bill Adler

    I feel he should return any salute he receives from military personnel but also feel that's his decision. After all, he is the president of the US.

    May 24, 2013 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  21. Randall

    Obama usually does salute them and I think a president should, as he is the commander in chief – their highest commanding officer. In this case, I bet he was saying thank you – in other words, something more personal. That's fine too. Bush used to ignore them, which irritated me greatly.

    May 24, 2013 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  22. Name

    Yes. A salute is respect to ANY military personal,and should be done so by ANY person toward them.

    May 24, 2013 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  23. Enoch

    He was going to Annapolis to speak to Academy grads. While this Marine is Enlisted and not an Academy graduate, a personal handshake and thanks seems incredibly appropriate at this time.

    May 24, 2013 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  24. Andrep

    I'm glad he didn't salute. Having never served in the military, he does not deserve the HONOR of exchanging a salute with the brave men and women whose dedication and sacrifice have made it possible for him to sit in the Oval Office.

    May 24, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  25. Tom

    Yes he should. Our brave men and women of the military will gladly give up their lives if needed to defend our freedoms (and frequently the freedoms of others) on a moments notice if president gives the command. Personally, I would do anything possible to honor that commitment if I were president.

    May 24, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
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