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. Don

    A salute, in the military, is a sign of acknowledgement and respect to a superior. The president, being commander and chief of the military, is the Marines' superior. The president should have returned the salute to acknowledge the respect that the Marine showed.

    May 25, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  2. PushingBack

    If I were a Marine I would be delighted if the POTUS took the time to stop and make it personal with the handshake. Either way, he is showing respect to those men!

    May 25, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  3. Jim Cejka

    I agree with the non salute. Marines do not salute except under cover or under arms. This differs somewhat from the Army and Air Force from what I understand. It actually bothers me when the President salutes when not under cover since I know it is not part of Marine culture. Semper Fi!

    May 25, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  4. Paul

    Yes I do believe he or she should. Regardless of what is officail or unoffiicial policy, the men and women of these United States military branches are required to render a salute to the commander and cheif, regardless of ones personal feelings toward the current offiice holder. Thus the salute should be returned in respect.

    May 25, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  5. Richard E. Tolle

    You focus on the wrong side of the coin. As Commander-in-Chief of the military, the President merits a salute from every military member, whether either or both are wearing a uniform or not. The President does not initiate the salute, he shows courtesy by returning the salute rendered to his position. The hand salute is a form of respectful greeting and it should always be returned. In the military, enlisted members are required to salute commissioned officers (active duty and retired) and the officers are equally obligated to return the salute. A Medal of Honor recipient always merits a salute by every military person.

    May 25, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  6. DM

    Who cares?

    May 25, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  7. Greg C.

    To salute or not salute...really? How about to impeach or not to impeach....more appropriate question...

    May 25, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  8. Former Army Enlisted Veteran

    No need for the political brew haha. If the POTUS wishes to salute or not, he must at least show some respect to service members that have volunteer their service to protect our country. I find it more respectful that he at least stepped of Marine One and stood eye to eye to the solider with a firm handshake.

    May 25, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  9. Jerry Frissell

    I don't see a problem here. Even if he is the CIC, military practices are (at least when I was in), you don't salute if you are not in uniform and/or or "covered" (wearing a hat).

    May 25, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  10. Manuel J.


    U.S. Army Vet

    May 25, 2013 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  11. Drew

    I agree with many others that this is a non-story for a number of reasons, a major one being that anyone could have a slip up once in a while and say that this is not that big deal. Something that I think people are overlooking is that he got back off the helicopter to shake the marines hand and has a word with him. Seems like after greeting the pilots he realized that he bypassed the marine outside and he got back off to correct it. Having never been in the military my first instinct would shake someones hand rather than salute them. Especially if I thought that I had accidentally slighted them.

    May 25, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  12. Truther

    Reagan, who? Good for Obama, for having his own way of greeting the soldiers.

    May 25, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  13. Edie Simmons

    People must be really bored when they come up with these stupid stories,President Obama can shake hands , The President makes the rules the rest of you tatel tales mental two year olds it's time you grow up and respect the President

    May 25, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  14. Robert

    I am an enlisted member of the United States Navy. While in uniform we give salutes to any officer in uniform or not. The officer only returns the salute when in uniform. When out of uniform they at least acknowledge you. This is what the President did, the President does not wear a uniform and therefore is not required to return any salute. People need to stop stressing over the stupid crap that does not matter.

    May 25, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  15. Tim Mershon

    I think it's a great tradition, however, having served in the USMC, I know the rules, just like any other serviceman. Civilians are not required to salute. Military out of uniform, are not required to salute. The respect that President Reagan showed us with his salute, was his personal choice, and I don't know about y'all, but I would not take a handshake from any POTUS as an insult. If that's how he chooses to show respect, I'm good with that.

    May 25, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  16. Dennis

    As a Navy vet I've always thought it was odd to see someone in civilian clothes – without a cover – offer a salute. I get that the President is the CnC but he is not in the armed forces no is he in uniform. When I served we never saluted if we were out of uniform. I think a nod, or a handshake in this case is fine. It helps keep the line between the military and civilian parts of the CnCs job.

    May 25, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  17. pep

    Who the heck wants to follow a tradition by that ham Reagan?

    May 25, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  18. davearose2013

    The president should not salute unless he is wearing a cover ( hat ), as is the custom in the Marine Corps.

    May 25, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  19. Michale

    A tempest in a teapot. Yes he can salute, no de does not have to salute.
    "Oh, Ronald Reagan saluted..." Gee that's nice. Ronald Reagan never served in the military.
    It is a nice touch if he wants to, but a major political faux pas , I don't think so.

    May 25, 2013 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  20. sandy

    Without a doubt, a hand shake...bravo, Mr. President.

    May 25, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  21. gus galan

    He's the president, he can do as he wishes.

    May 25, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  22. Crusher

    Seems to me saluting is a military courtesy. Those who have never worn the uniform may have the right to receive a salute but I don't believe they have the right to return it. A small thing perhaps but those who did not serve were never subjected to the rigors and discipline of military life or deliberately put in harm's way.

    May 25, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  23. veronica

    Obama is in higher Authority, he don't have to salute.

    May 25, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  24. Sheila

    I also concur w/ Former military officer & California gary – the cic should not have to salute !! especially IF he has never been in the military!!

    May 25, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  25. Bill

    I'm not an Obama fan but, god grief, find something important to criticize.

    May 25, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
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