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. peterrumm

    This is a non story. He is the Commander and Chief. He has bigger things to worry about than recognizing this marine.
    If you wish to considered disrespect consider the deaths of thousands of our service men and woman in a totally fake war. Mental illness, disability that was the ultimate disrespect.

    May 25, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  2. Tasch

    Hey Russ: When was the last time you wore a uniform. Every officer returns a salute from a subordinate. The subordinate salutes, and the higher ranking person returns the salute to recognize it.

    May 25, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    This is ridiculus! Evidently the President simply forgot to have his morning coffee and was momentarily distracted by recent events within his administration. Upon realizing his error he quickly aknowledged the Mariine soldier standing gaurd outside the chopper and offered him a handshake instead of the customary salute.

    May 25, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  4. Richard Severance

    It is not a requirement for the President of The United States to render a Salute to his Marines. I myself being a Retired Marine, find it just as respectful that the President shook the hands of His Marines. It shows the respect and trust that he (President Obama) has for his most trusted Military Members. I am a hard core Republican also. So for me to say that I admire this activity is saying quite abit.
    Richard Severance
    USMC Ret.

    May 25, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  5. Jeremy

    Thank you Helen! Russ you must have forgotten checks and balances bc he has two other parties on his level. Congress and Senate buddy.

    May 25, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  6. M.Lo.

    Normally I would say something snarky about Obama...but really? It was just a mistake. It's not like he blew him off completely. I think an apology and a personal hand shake is much better anyway.

    May 25, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  7. Francisco Decastro

    Same thing happened to me. I was so embarassed at first, but I was told it happens all the time, that they consider a handskake as just as much a good as a salute. Happened to other people I know too.

    May 25, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |

    While no fan of Obama, it is required that the junior ranking individual salute first, the return salute is a gesture of respect and not required. The fact that Obama realized his mistake and returned to acknowledge the Marine and shake his hand should be enough to quell even the hardest of us who dis-approve of Obama! Nobody is perfect!

    May 25, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. Jim

    As a Naval Officer I was trained that protocol dictates to only salute or return a salute when in uniform and covered (wearing a cap). As such, returning a salute by a President should only be a polite gesture of acknowledgement to the saluting party. If the President, as commander in chief, decides to modify this protocol ok, but at least get some training in the proper salute as both Presidents Obama and Reagan and others never served and received proper training in the important act of a proper salute.

    May 25, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  10. jeff

    This guy, to a Marine of all! He earlier in one of his national speeches pronounced the branch of service the Marine "Corps" rather than Marine "Core" (phonetically).

    May 25, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  11. diane

    The repubs have no plan for this country and this just drives the point home.

    May 25, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  12. Chris

    Imagine the phone call the Marine made that evening to his mom.

    May 25, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  13. Tom

    I think Russ has summed it up beautifully. Whatever choice the President makes with respect to his actions and interactions with military personnel are appropriate. Why do we have to make news out of every issue in the world? It is just ridiculous.

    May 25, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  14. larry

    Obama did no see him because he is trying to keep all his lies straight. That would keep anyone a little preoccupied. Dear CNN, you may wake up one morning and find your guy has been impeached, so you should cover what is going on in the White House just in case.

    May 25, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  15. sparky

    Hey dumb@$$ that wrote this article! The Commander doesn't salute the Marine, the Marine salutes the commander! Doesn't matter who it is!

    May 25, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  16. M hylton

    I think giving a hand shake is also appropriate too i see nothing wrong with a hand shake than a salute

    May 25, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  17. WRONG

    Just another random act of kindness the president does for his many more years of this do we have to go through. Not only does he belittle the military and try taking away everything we have he doesn't even have the respect to render a salute that takes a second.....The man has no repsect!!

    May 25, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    A handshake is correct, even if you are the Commander-in-Chief (which the President is NOT unless a war has been declared by Congress). You never salute unless you're in uniform. This applies to everyone in the military and it applies to the President as well.

    May 25, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |

    One never initiates a salute with anyone below the rank of officer.

    May 25, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  20. Chuck

    Say huh? This is a story? Officers aren't required to return a salute from those junior to them, so why would the President be?

    May 25, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  21. happyfrenchman

    He is not in uniform... I always wondered about that. As CINC he could salute, but he is not in uniform. And that salute is a greeting between men at arms, not just everyone in the chain of command.
    And it is not an Aerial Power Unit. It is an APU Auxiliary Power Unit.

    May 25, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  22. Romy Monteyro

    When it comes to Obama, saluting or shaking hands with military personnel are one and the same-a phony, hypocritical gesture! Never forget what he said about not saluting our National Anthem and his proposal to have our military pay for their medical expenses, especially injuries sustained in combat. He refuses to salute the Star Spangled Banner but he proudly vowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, his fellow Muslim! Hypocrite! Idiot! Why are you president of my beloved country?

    May 25, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  23. Toni H.

    You don't have power when you surrender your principals, you only have an office. Our actions prove ourselves. A handshake is just that, for everyone. A salute is respect and honoring.

    May 25, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  24. Just a thought

    In a war zone you never salute...... Maybe with all the problems in the senate he feels like he is in a war zone?.

    May 25, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  25. Thorp lastenbar

    Reagan couldn’t even form sentences at the end of his term. Give Obama a break!

    May 25, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
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