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. Kyle

    The President is a civilian. It's rather odd that he would salute at all. Further, in the USMC, we weren't allowed to salute without a "cover" (hat) on.

    I'm sure the right wingers will point to this as evidence the president is a socialist communist fascist capitalist kenyan indonesian samalian dictator sith lord, of course.

    May 25, 2013 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  2. matrosscbc

    He doesnt know where he's at most of the time.

    May 25, 2013 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  3. Maddiecait

    I think he should work with Congress to effect tax reform, balancing the budget, and implement improved standards for government efficiency rather than worrying about whether he salutes some guy. Cnn – why feed into our declining give a poop level about our DC officials and not push for accomplishing the difficult tasks our elected leaders were sent to DC to do for us?

    May 25, 2013 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  4. Gerry

    A Personal Thank You handshake is all I see, handshake not required.

    May 25, 2013 01:36 am at 1:36 am |
  5. Jan Hetterly

    I do not think he has to salute.

    May 25, 2013 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  6. WakeUpUSA

    For those liberals who say this article is a Republican attempt to attack the president........................COME ON, Who needs it.....Benghazi, Fast & Furious, AP, IRS, Gun control, The failing

    May 25, 2013 01:40 am at 1:40 am |
  7. randy

    It's because he's a pervert and a closet communist. THERE I said it.

    May 25, 2013 01:40 am at 1:40 am |
  8. thislittlepiggywentweeweewee

    Oh, puleeeze, the President shouldn't be bound by insignificant protocols that take his attention away from whatever might be occupying him. He's not a puppet. That's a Republican notion, a leader for show, not a leader of action. If the Repubs ever make it back into the Oval Office, they can parade around like the show horses they love to be. My president is a real leader, not a marionette.

    May 25, 2013 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  9. YeahISaidItSoWhat?

    Obama's just fine. As an Air Force veteran who served through the full terms of Reegan through Clinton, he didn't miss a beat. Why? Because he took the time, care, and respect for the young Marine and in turn, all his Brothers and Sisters-In-Arms in all Services worldwide to forgo all other considerations as the powerful man in the world and go back outside and thank the GI for his service, sacrifice, and so much more. And you can bet anything you possess that's just the message he conveyed. Now THAT was a salute. Nothing else to talk about. Period.

    While others may doubt,those who serve and have served, we know. For sure, President Obama saluted properly, and did so with honor and respect.

    May 25, 2013 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  10. Andrew


    May 25, 2013 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  11. Sn0wjob

    What's the deal with CNN these days?!? Do we really need a Faux News wanna-be channel? Do we REALLY need another "news organization" with the sole purpose of slinging mud at the POTUS and ladling out more slop for the neo-con pigs to feed on??

    May 25, 2013 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  12. cjacja

    Ronald Reagan was an actor with Alzheimer's. For 200 years presidents remembered they were civilian leaders. Eventhose who were generals took their uniforms off. Obama got it right. It is best to have a very clean line between the military those who the civilian leadership they serve.

    Think of al the places that line was blurred, North Korea, Nazi Germany, and 100 other pleas where the "president" wears a uniform covered in medals. Better to get away from that, not closer.

    May 25, 2013 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  13. kelster

    this is all you got?

    May 25, 2013 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  14. Georges

    I think we should stop giving importance to every little stupid mistake a human being makes and turn it into news for selfish purposes. Give the guy a effin break.

    May 25, 2013 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  15. Jim8

    It is still little understood that Reagan was one of the founding fathers. Everything he did was perfect, and anything that happened before Reagan does not count.

    May 25, 2013 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  16. Name

    Our president has made it clear that he has the utmost respect for our troops when he stated, repeatedly, that his hardest decision he has to make is putting our troops in harms way. His respect for their service and his concern for them is his highest priority.

    May 25, 2013 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  17. j0eschm0e

    I do not like obama at all, but who cares if he shook the guards hand or saluted him. it is very petty.

    May 25, 2013 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  18. sam

    what is the prob now ? 🙂

    May 25, 2013 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  19. Linda

    As a proud Naval Officer with a long history of being enlisted I feel that our President was by no means disrespectful. Generally when a service member is in uniform and salutes the senior Member/Officer in civilian attire may return a verbal salutation or hand shake. It is NOT customary to return a salute uncovered or out of uniform. Thus President Obama acted quite appropriately.

    May 25, 2013 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  20. WJP

    Is there anything else more trivial CNN can write about the Commander in Chief ?

    May 25, 2013 01:47 am at 1:47 am |
  21. Andrew

    As a US Navy vet I personally don't see the problem with this. He doesn't wear a uniform and shouldn't render a salute.

    In fact, wasn't there a time in the past when people complained when the president DID salute?

    Guy got a handshake, he should feel honored.

    May 25, 2013 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  22. Bob

    Yes, the President should salute the troops; out of respect.

    May 25, 2013 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  23. Russell

    Obama, as Commander in Chief, needs to show respect and honor to all in the service of our great country. The handshake showed disrespect. But, what's new with our President.

    May 25, 2013 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  24. Bill

    As Commander and Chief, the President is saluted first, as protocol requires. It is the military personnel who are saluting him out of respect and because of his non-military rank as CIC. Protocol also states that you do not salute without being covered (wearing a hat). So, from a military standpoint, being a civilian and uncovered he does not have to salute. As a matter of courtesy however, since he is being saluted, he should return the salute.....................purely as a courtesy.

    May 25, 2013 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  25. FubarObama

    It's a slight, because this guy has no idea what it isometric to lay your life on the line.

    May 25, 2013 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
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