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. Knucklehead

    Not again!! Way to go, Obama!!

    May 25, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  2. scarf

    I work with a woman who was a military brat and lived with her father (an Air Force lt. colonel) in a number of pretty significant posts. She is actually mad that the President salutes members of the military. She says that the salute is military protocol, and the President is a civilian, so the salute is actually inappropriate. A show of appropriate respect is all that's called for. And any "tradition" that can only be traced back to Reagan is not much of a tradition. Also, some of the "traditions" begun by Reagan are nothing but fluff, paying tribute to people in the audience during the State of the Union address being one of them.

    May 25, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  3. John Smartman

    The President is a civilian, not saluting but offering a handshake would be proper. I am always bothered by politicians who are too close to the military, reminds me of banana republic presidents (Noregia, Kim or worse Hitler, Mousselini, and assorted others) who dress and act the part of "Grand Leader" ... ditch the salute.

    May 25, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  4. Richard

    You know I do not like this President.

    Some things just stand out as nitpicking,. The man has never served in uniform so to forget a salute would be normal and he did return for a handshake to a enlisted man. Hate to point this out but he is the President...the handshake or not would have been plenty for this vet...that is not what I would have been there for anyway.

    A Sincere Thanks to all of those who have served this great Country. Not all wore the Uniform, and all that died to protect and serve her were not Military.

    2 foxtrot charlie out.

    May 25, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  5. Willy100

    OK – is this important ? – give the guy a break !

    May 25, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  6. Jean-Sartre

    No, a handshake is much more personal and appropriate... only wacko-birds follow Ray-Gun...

    May 25, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  7. Wilma

    Dont we have bigger issues to deal with?

    May 25, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  8. betty

    If he wants to, he should. A handshake is ok too. People just look for drama

    May 25, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  9. michael lander

    Absolutely, without question. Moreover, I wear a baseball cap with my military ribbons on it so technically I am out of uniform as I give a salute to other veterans that I encounter. It is a sign of respect between veterans. I also think that it is proper for me to salute the flag instead of placing my hand over my heart if I so choose.

    May 25, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  10. Greg

    Well, it appears to me that he saluted the pilots as he entered the chopper, realizes he forgot to salute the marine on the ground and went back to apologize. I am sure the President has a lot on his mind. There is not a military protocol for the President to salute. Trying to make something out of nothing.

    May 25, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  11. Will S

    "But to not salute is not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule."

    Well, that pretty much sums up the entire article. The rest is just fluff.

    May 25, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  12. Paul

    Who cares!?!?!?!?! Another example of the Repubs trying to make something stick so their gross negligence can be ignored. The President is a civilian, no two ways about it. Saluting or not is HIS option. Who knows what he said to the marine? Perhaps he thanked him for his service? Stop looking for a scandal. Start compromising. Our founding fathers did it, why can't all you Obama haters?

    May 25, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  13. Bill

    So Reagan started it 30 years ago, so what, just by that it is irrelevant.

    May 25, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  14. Hoolio

    As CIC he can do what he wants. Since there is no protocol breach I see nothing wrong with the handshake but would prefer to see him salute.

    May 25, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  15. Colmery

    If we try hard we can probably think of quite a few things that matter less, but you'd have to guess that there are an awful lot that matter more.

    May 25, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  16. sregiec

    Although not a fan of the POTUS or his administration; I as a US service member see no problem with the POTUS shaking the young marine's hand.

    May 25, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  17. Adam

    As a former Army enlisted and NCO and current Army Officer, I find it asinine that any time is spent on this. The Commander in Chief has no obligation to salute any one, but he typically does, and when he recognized that he did not salute the young Marine at the base of the stairs he instead goes down actually shakes his hand and talks to him. if anyone has a problem with that they not worth consideration and should be ignored.

    May 25, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  18. patrick

    wow he forgot to salute someone. it doesn't matter.

    May 25, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  19. mike

    The Marine didn't seem to mind, so much ado about nothing from our 24 hour news cycle, that has nothing more important to report.

    May 25, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  20. PeterD

    What can you expect from a Community Oraganiser?

    May 25, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  21. TJ

    Who cares? He is the C in C and he can do what he damn pleases. I served in the U S Navy, the U.S.Army and the U.S. Marin Corp reserves, a total of seven years from 1942 'till 1950 and I say " Who cares?"

    May 25, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  22. jacqueartist

    The proper protocol of a President that did NOT serve the military is to NOT salute. So, you mindless Republicans trying to serve up another scandal, get used to the thoughts of Hillary in 2016

    May 25, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  23. Andy

    I dislike Obama immensely, but this is just idiotic. It's not like he went up and spit on the guy. He actually went back out to shake his hand.

    May 25, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  24. J

    Actually I think he should not. I don't think it's disrespectful. I think hand shaking and thanking them is a very nice thing to do, but I think for the sake of symbolism, a civilian leader should not salute the officers he meets.

    May 25, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  25. Stephen Bradley

    Yes, he raised his right hand to be sworn in as commander and as commander should return the salute to those that are sworn to protect him as their commander.

    May 25, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
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