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. Bell

    It seems to me like the President forgot to salute the Marine outside and went back to acknowledge him. Seems very respectful. I can't imagine the pressure a President feels with everyone watching his every move.

    May 25, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  2. BD

    He does salute, right as he breaches the doorway, watch the video again.

    May 25, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  3. Swatguy

    First, the "officers" the President encounters at the chopper steps are enlisted personnel rendering the required military salute to a superior in their chain of command. Next, the Commander-in-Chief (ie the President) needs to return the salute as courtesy and not shake hands like he's making a back room political deal in Chicago.

    May 25, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  4. Vicky

    Should he salute is the question: Yes, he is the commander in chief. Act like it.

    May 25, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  5. henry

    The president should salute the troop guarding the helicopter as a gesture of respect too. Just because you are the president, there should not be any exemption from that. After all, it's the ordinary people who put him in that position. A president should bear in mind to be humble and respectful to others.

    May 25, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  6. ReggieMoto

    Even though he is the Commander-In-Chief, the President is a civilian and shouldn't be saluting anyone. It's why he places his hand across his heart during flag raisings and the singing of the National Anthem. People who get caught up in this stuff are nuts.

    May 25, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  7. Hal E Peno

    The President, as CINC, receives a salute from ALL military members (officers and enlisted) as a sign of respect for the position. The President isn't saluting the Marine, he's (or he should be) returning the salute rendered to him by the Marine.

    A civilian equivalent is placing your right hand over your heart, like when standing for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance (gee, remember those days gone by...). As CINC, President Reagan felt it appropriate to return salutes offered to his position, and chose to use the traditional hand salute vs. the hand over the heart.

    I've seen President Obama return salutes many times prior to this. I think he simply forgot this time and was reminded by the aircrew when he got he went back out and offered a handshake and some words to the young Marine.

    May 25, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  8. ed cantor

    The reason for the handshake was that he forgot to return the salute before he boarded and came back.

    May 25, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  9. Jerry

    Absolutely. The President should salute. A salute is an exchange of respect and allegiance. In the President's case, he is returning a salute that is rendered by one of his Marines. Salutes should always be returned when rendered. It is an acknowledgement as much as it is a sign of mutual respect. Semper Fidelis.

    May 25, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  10. jerrylax

    another photo opportunity made out of a show of disrespect. This guy is all about appearance...all talk and empty shirt. Go away barry...or at least shut up for once.

    May 25, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  11. zacharyba

    Here's what I think...unlike the piece here says, most of those Marine's, are not "officers."

    May 25, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  12. Neutral Observer

    This really should not be news. I am a regular critic of the President, but this is foolishness.

    May 25, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  13. Phil Gauthier

    My take on this when I first watched it was that he came back down to apologies to the soldier for ignoring him when he first walked by. Something more respectful than a saute.

    May 25, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  14. Former Regular Army

    The Marine was to hold the salute until it was returned. The president is the commander in chief of the military and should return the salute. It is more than tradition. The military has protocol that do not seem to make sense to civilians however, the protocol have deep meaning and purpose. As commander in chief, any presidential candidate should be required to have military service.

    May 25, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  15. oldman

    Does Reagan outrank Obama.......of course not. The POTUS, CIC, etc, makes the call. This particular marine may have had something extra special happen (birthday, got married, etc) that merited individual treatment. OR....... this CIC may have decided that he agrees with all the CIC's prior to Reagan. And.... also.... was it an aerial power unit or an auxiliary power unit?

    May 25, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  16. Tim Swenson

    WELL ?, he is called commander in chief!

    May 25, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  17. Bill Williams

    Clearly Obama forgot to recognize the marine when he was boarding the helicopter and he went out of his way to de-board the helicopter and go back and recognize him. I think it shows that Obama is a real human being because he shook his hand. Shaking another's hand is personal. I understand that there are military protocols, but I would perefer to have a handshake from a President over a salute.

    May 25, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  18. Daryl

    Of course he should! I've tried to give the President the benefit of the doubt over all these mishaps but I just can't defend the guy anymore. It's going to be a long 3 years...

    May 25, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  19. Harvey Herman

    I think it should be optional, whatever feels natural.

    May 25, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  20. Humm

    It's refreshing to have a President without a military background, or at least one who didn't pretend he had one.

    May 25, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  21. straighttalk

    Every candidate for President of the USA should have served in the US military. This is a basic requirement like having been born in the USA.

    May 25, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  22. Bill

    Absolutely...where would we be without their ultimate sacrifice down through the years. How would President Obama like it if someone didn't show him the respect he deserves as our him or not!!!

    May 25, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  23. Melissa

    I think we as a country have more important concerns than whether the President saluted or shook hands.

    May 25, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  24. Sam

    It is customary for the senior ranking individual to return the salute of the junior rank. As the commander in chief he IS technically in charge of the armed forces therefore customs and courtesies should apply. I don't think it was a deliberate slight but I would prefer to not see it happen again.

    May 25, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  25. Kerry

    There is so much more in the world to worry about. If people focus energies on the important issues mankind could make huge strides. Let us move forward and not sweat the little stuff.

    May 25, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
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