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. stephanurus

    Slow news day. Report a handshake as news?

    May 25, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  2. Darrell Hokrein

    I think saluting is both inappropriate and over-the-top. The president is, afterall, both a civilian, and out of uniform.

    May 25, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  3. stormkite

    If it were to happen that President Obama were to go for a stroll across the Potomac some morning, Faux News would headline it "Kenyan Marxist Can't Swim."

    May 25, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  4. Wendy

    Honeslty if you re look at the video he does salute his in flight crew then shakes there hands I honestly think what happened was he realized in hind sight that he forgot to acknowlege the Marine so in stead if ginving him an informal salute when he went back to greet the marine I suspect he shook his hand ans appoligized

    May 25, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  5. john k

    my personal opinion:
    When i served in the military we recognize those appointed over us by saluting as stated in the UCMJ. We cannot go to at ease until a salute is rendered back. In terms of honor a salute holds the utmost of them all. To me it was a dishonor to not render those that serve a salute.

    May 25, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  6. John the Historian

    The right-winged nutcases will be all over this. We have civilian control of the military and since many presidents have not served who cares. President Obama was very respectful with a handshake. Besides the USa needs to control the military-industrial complex. And considering Bush II never served and used Americans as cannon fodder in Iraq. Talk about disrespect. Where are the weapons of mass destruction ?

    May 25, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  7. Doug

    ....another example of this guy's arrogance. Required no, but how could he have not seen this soldier standing 3 feet from him...leadership is defined by how we treat those we lead.

    May 25, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  8. Nissim Levy

    This is grounds for immediate impeachment.

    May 25, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  9. Mark

    Salute???.....Our PRESIDENT saluted!!! Because it was at the door to the HELO, done is done. If he did not salute at all, then we can talk, PLEASE!!! Lets spend our time focused on more REAL things to fix like our economy , jobs and the money wasting political conflicts we give ourselves. Let's get CONGRESS working for our country vice against it.

    May 25, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    good job o

    May 25, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  11. John ONeil

    He is not a member of the armed forces, so saluting is a no no.

    May 25, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  12. bejo

    Not being in uniform, a handshake seems to be the right thing. It is personal, friendly, and what men do as a sign of respect or friendship.. go for it.

    May 25, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  13. Jrae1


    May 25, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  14. Terry Vann

    The President take a moment to offer a personal handshake to a Marine; and CNN and others think this is somehow a "debate". Who was debating CNN? The President has a 100% record of respect for the military and each individual. really need to start covering the news!

    May 25, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  15. Ken

    I agree with Helen! Why is this a story? Must be a slow news day. Give us a break!

    May 25, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    I hope he did it on purpose, to show that his vision is bigger than the war machine.

    May 25, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  17. Jeff

    I hope he did it on purpose, to show that his vision is greater than the war machine. But, of course, it's just the media making something out of nothing.

    May 25, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  18. Jeb

    In other news, the President sneezed today. Republicans quickly responded with total outrage declaring that sneezing is un-American.

    May 25, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  19. John

    While not a formal policy, it is widely expected for POTUS to salute now. But I also fail to see why this is a story. If he is just doing it because he thinks he is expected to and not because he actually means something from it, then I would rather he did not. This is coming from a Marine who has served for over 15 years. I was much more upset by have a young Marine hold an umbrella for him than hearing he did not salute the Marine before entering the helicopter and then coming back out and shaking his hand and talking to him.

    May 25, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  20. Jim970

    Obama is a civilian. Despite being "commander in chief", he is still a civilian. This is how our military works. I have always felt (with 20+ years of military service as my backdrop) it is improper for civilians to salute. Though I may not agree with Obama on much, I agree that he should shake hands and not salute.

    May 25, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  21. Evelyn

    He should have saluted out of respect. As someone else stated it does acknowledge the corporal's service to our country. But then again Obama doesn't respect anyone or anything American.

    May 25, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  22. kdbroom

    This is only an issue if you're already an Obama hater. Otherwise, no requirement exists for him to salute, and he did make it a point to go back out and even shake the hand of the Marine. I see no issue here.

    May 25, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  23. noteaparty4me

    The President, black or white, is the Commander in Chief, as in "the top job" or "big kahuna" or "the one" as right wing tea baggers like to call the President. The President came back and shook his hand and that was it. But the way this story is written is PRESIDENT Obama forgot to bow down to his superior white soldier. Ignorant. It was a kind gesture for the President to acknowledge this young man by shaking his hand. But as President he had absolutely no obligation to come back and salute a soldier as commander in chief. Thank you Mr. President for acknowledging soldiers by not sending them into wars for weapons that do not exist all for the sake of welfare war contracts to contributors. .

    May 25, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  24. kdbroom

    This is only an issue if you're already an Obama hater. Otherwise, he has broken no rule, or even any protocol. I see no story here.

    May 25, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  25. Windrays

    It's a handshake. In a way, it's a more personal, friendly greeting than a salute, and I personally think it's a fine way to go about things.

    Stop finding ways to nitpick about *every* *single* *thing* the President does, and focus on the big things.

    May 25, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
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