May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
7 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. Michael

    He should do what he wants.

    May 24, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  2. ChicagoDan

    Guaranteed if this had been W or, if Romney had been elected, the mainstream media would be ALL over them. Now, I don't believe this was an intention slight by President Obama. He did turn around and shake his hand. We have bigger problems facing the country.

    May 24, 2013 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  3. duke

    I meant he boarded the helicopter.

    May 24, 2013 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  4. Republican AF Vet

    As a Republican and a vet, I agree that this is a non-story. He didn't salute, nor is he required. However, the fact that he exited the aircraft and shook the Marine's hand indicate that there was not an intentional slight. He's the President of the United States, and may have something on his mind and just missed it. I missed a salute or two in my military days, none of them intentional, as others have as well I am sure.

    May 24, 2013 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  5. buongiorno

    an insult hands down

    May 25, 2013 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  6. Ken Knerr

    The President probably didn't salute because he hasn't been trained to do it right. If he does it wrong he would take heat for that. A nod is acceptable. A handshake doubly so.

    May 25, 2013 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  7. DCfromCT

    He may not have to but Yes he should, it's a sign of respect to the ones who are laying down their lives for our freedom. The best way to gain respect is to show it. You can say what you want about Bush, but he understood this and the troops respected him.

    May 25, 2013 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  8. marc

    He's the Commander in Chief. While saluting shows the military his respect and honor, actually shaking a soldiers hand and engaging them even briefly isn't a slight to the military. If anything it's more personal, making the soldier more then just a guy standing there...

    May 25, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  9. Paul Monroe

    All service members of the Armed Forces salute the President. If the President responds with a salute, this is a great show of professional respect. The choice to instigate a salute to a subordinate is at the President's discretion. However, I would urge the President to salute personnel that exemplify extraordinary service.

    May 25, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  10. Army Officer

    The President is a civilian, not a soldier. He should not be saluted unless he was formerly a Colonel or higher.

    May 25, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  11. Mary

    Oh, what a shame! What a serious offense!. Almost as bad as the drone killing and the indifference to climate change on his part.

    May 25, 2013 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  12. tobereal

    Of course he should of saluted! Every single member of our armed services deserves that much!

    May 25, 2013 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  13. brian

    no kidding, report something real please.

    May 25, 2013 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  14. Zack R

    I absolutely love everyone who says the republicans are getting desperate. In case ya'll haven't noticed we are having the times of our lives. We are just waiting til mid-terms so Mr. Obama can learn to quack. Think about it folks, Republicans have (on average) a higher IQ, better education, better salary and a better plan for the future. so while you're sitting at home whining about money woes, why not consider doing something different with your life? come to the Right side. We're all smiles over here.

    May 25, 2013 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  15. Army Officer

    Pardon, I wrote that wrong. A president should not be offering salutes unless he was formerly a Colonel or higher.

    May 25, 2013 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  16. aertzc

    It looks like the Attorney committed perjury, but this gets more airtime. Sure

    May 25, 2013 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  17. D

    No salute necessary. Obama is not military.

    May 25, 2013 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  18. Timothy Lewers

    If I was the military man I'd prefer the handshake. I had the honor of shaking President Johnson's had on the bridge of the USS Northampton when he was aboard and on his way to sign an agreement with Canada,. Warm human contact of that sort with any President of our country is an electrifying memory. A salute, which is a sign of both recognition and mutual respect which should always be initiated by the lower ranking member of the military is fine but not nearly as personal and strong. It's clearly the Presidents choice as to what he wants to do, if anything He is the "Commander in chief" but he is also a civilian and thus not under the restrictions of the "Uniform code of Military Justice." He doesn't need to be saluted by the military, just recognized as the boss.

    May 25, 2013 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  19. Doyle Wiley, MI

    As the President, Commander and Chief, it's absolutely not an issue if he does not solute. It's only an issue if the lower ranking individual does not solute. I assume the person that wrote this article did not serve in the United States military.

    May 25, 2013 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  20. Daniel

    Guy has a lot on his mind, he is running a country you know. I think we can let this slide this once.

    May 25, 2013 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  21. KDW

    What a shame that we have to even ask this question. To all of the members past and present of the armed forces I will apologize for the disrespect this President has had for our troops. I hold all of you in my prayers and thank not only you but your families for the sacrifice’s you give this country. May God watch over us all as we are losing the true beliefs this country was built on.

    May 25, 2013 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  22. jk

    I believe it should be left to the elected President presiding over the military. Neither are a slight, and a handshake is certainly a warm, friendly way of being gracious and saying thank you. To all of your news people,,, hardly journalists,,,, it must be a slow news day for you if all you have to do is try to stir the pot on everything every President does. Frankly I would rather have all the presidents tell the press to blow off and go get a real job! Walter Cronkite certainly would not be bothered with such dribble,,, but then, Cronkite was a JOURNALIST. You and your ilk are a big part of what is desperately WRONG with this country. Presidents, whether they are liked or not, popular or not, should be held in esteem and honored for holding the highest office in our country, and be at ALL TIMES, shown respect... To the author of this my advice would be to grow up! Get a real job picking up trash, you are more suited to that!

    May 25, 2013 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  23. Cody Wood

    It seems to me that the Honorable Mr. Obama just forgot to do it. He clearly realized his mistake and exited the CH-53 and shook the hand of that hard charger. It also looked like he apologized and the Corporal said that's alright sir. Also APU is Auxiliary Power Unit, not aerial.

    May 25, 2013 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  24. Wayne

    From watching the video, the Marine is at attention and salutes his commander - which is ignored. Can't hear what Obama says when he returns to shake his hand, but I hope it is an apology!

    May 25, 2013 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  25. Buscuss

    The President is not in the military, so the salute he should give is the civilian salute, ie, the right hand brought up in front of the body and placed over the heart. He is the Commander-in-Chief, however, and all military personnel must salute him. As there is no hard nor fast rule, I think he is free to make a military or civilian salute, or not, as he wishes.

    May 25, 2013 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
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