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. Bib Boogg

    Don't we have bigger things to worry about? What difference does it make. You're all a bunch of racists!
    Isn't this the constant narrative? All of these "little" anomalies added up equals one BIG FAIL!

    May 25, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  2. Rebecca

    He is commander and chief. He should salute. He commands the military. He should do out of respect. It is a slight to the military.

    May 25, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  3. Yeta Notherone

    ... Obama never had the honor being part of the military, so when he actually does salute, with him it looks fake anyway. He does it half-heartedly anyway. And since he's from Kenya, he's probably simply following their protocol. Though Muslims don't usually salute, do they?

    May 25, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  4. Roy

    Although all presidents are Commander-in-chief, he is, more importantly, a civilian.
    It's one of those things that distinguishes the US from TOO many other countries.

    Besides that, why does one person start doing something one way (in this case, Reagan) and then uptight people decide they like that person or how he does it, and decide we have to continue doing it that way because of "tradition"?

    May 25, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  5. Norma Vessels

    Good grief, is there not anything our President can do without controversy? He did not let the soldier stand there without any notice .. he went back to the soldier. Handshake or salute .. this is the President of the U.S. How many Presidents would have gone back to apologise to the soldier like he did? Think about it.

    May 25, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  6. Zooompilot

    Oh, in addition to a story about nothing....its called an AUXILIARY POWER UNIT, not "aerial power unit." The APU provides bleed air, as well as air conditioning and electrical power with the engines off. The bleed air is used to start the turbine engines also. Stellar CNN reporting as usual. As to the handshake, it was a good gesture of respect and thanks to the men and women of the military who fly a zero fail mission for the president and make sure he's always safe. The headline was misleading and unnecessarily sensational.

    May 25, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  7. sally

    The handshake seems more appropriate to me. It's a warmer and more human gesture.

    May 25, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  8. Zooompilot

    Hello....its called an AUXILIARY POWER UNIT, not "aerial power unit." The APU provides bleed air, as well as air conditioning and electrical power with the engines off. The bleed air is used to start the turbine engines also. As to the handshake, it was a good gesture of respect and thanks to the men and women of the military who fly a zero fail mission for the president and make sure he's always safe. The headline was misleading and unnecessarily sensational.

    May 25, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  9. PacerDawn

    You don't salute without a cover on to begin with. The president saluting has always irked me because it is actually against military protocol. This is a good thing.

    May 25, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  10. Peter Hale

    The President is both civilian AND Commander in Chief. He can do as he sees fit.

    May 25, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  11. David

    You people need to get a life! Was it really such a slow news day? Whether you like the President or not, he did a nice thing by coming back out of the helicopter to recognize and show respect to the Marine.

    Why are you trying to turn this into bad thing?

    Please...PLEASE find some actual news to report on.

    May 25, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  12. Curt

    He is not in a military uniform wearing a cover, a salute is not required. The fact that he acknowledged the marine is all that matters.

    May 25, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  13. dale zalewski

    When I served in the Army, I was taught that a salute must always be returned. Nowhere is this more evident than at military funerals; you'll see the deceased's casket saluted, you will also see the attending officer return the salute. The President may, however, have some wiggle room. As a CIVILIAN commander in chief, it may be his prerogative to return the salute personally, or not to do so. In the event that he does not, I'm willing to bet that any officer present...there's almost always at least one, will return the salute.

    May 25, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  14. eviltaxpayer

    Just another example of how arrogant and useless obama is.

    May 25, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  15. WhiteSites

    Nice story, I am sure the Fox News version would include profanity, and Obama throwing a bird to the press corps. With some GOP guy wanting to start an investigation for his unpresidential behavior

    May 25, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  16. wavlet

    Don't you have more important issues to report on? This is nonsense.

    May 25, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  17. Alex

    This is stupid and not newsworthy. He clearly immediately realized he messed up (it is customary for every military officer, or in his case, the Commander-In-Chief, to return the salute of a subordinate), he went back down to apologize with a hand shake, and probably tell him he's doing a great job, blah blah etc. Really not a big deal. What was he supposed to do, go back down up to the Marine, ask to be saluted again and return it then? That would have been moronic. Just like this article.

    May 25, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  18. Paul

    I believe the noise in the video is the "Auxiliary" Power Unit.

    May 25, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  19. us_1776

    Let's see.

    4 billion salutes the president has to make and he misses one.

    No problem.


    May 25, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  20. yeager

    The news story here is that it took so long for someone to notice. I never felt right seeing obama salute a uniformed service member anyway. Its like he is not worthy and he knows it. Time to just fess up to it is what I think he is doing.

    May 25, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  21. Chuck washington, dc

    I agree with Helen, why is this even a story. People are always finding something that is not important to bash the President of the US, like the US will never ever change when CNN let people like this post articles on their website. I could see this article on Fox news but not CNN.

    May 25, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  22. Fish

    With all the President has on his plate it is amazing that he remembered at all much less go back off the Bird and apologize to the marine. He is the consummate gentleman if nothing else. I'm proud of him for his support of our troops at all times and returning a salute shows respect but remembering tat he forgot shows how he places priority on respecting others. Not a huge thing but significant.

    May 25, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  23. Dennis

    It's a story because the far right wants to try to pain Obama in a bad light, using anything they can. So there it is.

    May 25, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  24. keeth

    Right-wing false outrage starts in 3, 2, 1.... bring on the red whine!

    May 25, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  25. seven kowalski

    This is just another glaring example of the total lack of respect "president Yobama" has for our country, it's military, and it's people.
    Lets tell it how it is....yobama and his anti american actions along with his appologetic speech is not how we real Americans want our Commander in Chief to conduct himself!
    Show some respect "Mr. President"!

    May 25, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
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