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)

    The founding fathers were wise to ensure the Commander-in-Chief must always be a civilian. He should not salute.

    May 25, 2013 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  2. Anonymous

    wow, really? this is journalism?

    May 25, 2013 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  3. Name Uche Agonsi

    Greeting is not a sign of love either. I the also the POTUS address should have equally touched the Cyber/computer in the drone policy.

    May 25, 2013 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  4. MsMaybe

    Frankly, I think if this is what we are worried about, we need to re-evaluate our priorities.

    May 25, 2013 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  5. Operations

    The President is the President. He does not "salute the troops". The troops salute him, and he returns the salute in whatever manner he determines is appropriate at the time.
    That doesn't change, whether the President is Regan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, or Obama.

    May 25, 2013 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  6. Jonathan

    In other words, there is no story here, so why is it here?

    May 25, 2013 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  7. Rich Mayer

    And this is a story because...?

    May 25, 2013 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  8. Jax

    And this is

    May 25, 2013 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  9. OnionEaters

    He's the President. He can salute or not as he wishes. Who cares what that draft dodging, America hating Raygun did?

    May 25, 2013 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  10. themalaysianman

    For a president to salute a soldier is to humble himself as equal to the soldier , each with a duty and responsibility of his own. The president is not above anyone but a responsible job to lead a nation.

    May 25, 2013 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  11. JJJay

    Traditions are overrated.

    May 25, 2013 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  12. John

    Any sign of respect is acceptable.

    May 25, 2013 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  13. Name Uche Agonsi

    Greeting is not a sign of love either. I think also the POTUS address should have touched the issue of Cyber/computer war in the drone policy.

    May 25, 2013 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  14. Steve

    Who cares? Slow news day? Seriously!

    May 25, 2013 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  15. ItSoNlYmE

    Oh I can't wait for what Faux does with this one... Just glad this is the worst problem confronting the American people right now. Things must be pretty darn good all around.

    May 25, 2013 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  16. Ideas, Ideals, and not ideologies

    First of all, the serviceman receiving the handshake is NOT an officer; he's an enlisted personnel. Secondly, in the Marine Corps, someone receiving a salute is under no obligation to return the salute unless he's also "covered" i.e in full uniform including a hat. MPs at the entrance of bases will salute the occupant of any car with a blue decal entering the base, irrespective if the occupant is the Marine office officer, his wife, his child, or hell his dog.
    One has to learn the rules before firing off his mouth.
    A little story. Enlisted personnel walking on base will sometimes space themselves as they cross path with an officer and they will salute him while yelling out "good morning sir" and the officer will return the first few until he realizes they are messing with him and the officer will would stop returning hand salutes. The officer will instead yell back "carry on". No one ever gets a court-martial for not returning a salute. So technically, we are dogging Obama over a rule that the military itself leaves the discretion of the higher ranked person.

    May 25, 2013 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  17. Justin

    The author needs a better hobby...

    May 25, 2013 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  18. Courtney

    And this is news because?.

    May 25, 2013 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  19. Patrick in Minnesota

    Ricky, only you would inject your vile hatred of our President at a time so irrelevant as this. As a member of the Air National Guard, can it, seriously. He is OUR President and my Commander in Chief. If he wanted to shake my hand as opposed to a salute, that would be fine by me (though I personally would love to salute the President just to say I did).

    May 25, 2013 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  20. jan

    He gave a speech to future military officers and this is what you cover?

    May 25, 2013 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  21. val

    I should think as he is Commander in Chief he should first be saluted by the Marine guard. He certainly didn't do anything wrong. He broke a tradition...a relatively young one at that.

    May 25, 2013 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  22. Frank D

    He's the Commander-in-Chief. He salutes who he wants, when he wants, if he wants. The Marine, on the other hand, is bound to salute. God bless the United States Marine Corps, God help the United States of America. ex-LT, USN.

    May 25, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  23. Peg

    Are you trying to tell us that Pres. Obama is the first president that has gone up the steps into Air Force One and forgotten to salute the Marine standing at the bottom? Really? this is news? It must be terrible to live your life in such a way that every single thing you do is scrutinized by the press, just in case you happen to do some little thing that they can make a mountain out of...

    May 25, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  24. khalie

    No Big deal, things happens

    May 25, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  25. Jim

    He should kiss the Marine's feet in thanks.

    May 25, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
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