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. Paul Grisham, SMSgt (ret)

    The salute is a sign of respect in the military and should be returned when offered. The video appears to show the Commander-in-Chief was distracted and forgot to acknowledge the enlisted marine's salute. It's possible he retraced his steps and appologized–only the young marine knows. A mistake in military protocol, not overt disrespect.

    May 25, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  2. Trent

    Uh, sorry CNN, but it's an AUXILIARY power unit. You were close though.

    May 25, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  3. Dnzo

    This is what makes news? What's next? "BREAKING NEWS – Obama doesn't leave the toilet seat down!"

    May 25, 2013 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    I love my president!!!

    May 25, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  5. WhatDafrak??

    This is ridiculous, the Commander in Chief can salute or not salute who ever he pleases. Now as military custom and courtesies dictate its appropriate to render a salute when one is given. Why are people even worried about this, I bet if it was President Reagan it would not be an issue.

    May 25, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  6. Egads

    I agree with Helen..

    May 25, 2013 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  7. AceGirlshusband

    He is commander in chief. He can salute; he can shake hands; he can smile and nod his head. And if he's in a hurry, he may just pass by. The form of decorum and courtesy is up to him.

    May 25, 2013 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  8. joe mauro

    not important

    May 25, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  9. Kevin Barbieux

    In the military chain of command, a superior officer is not required to return the salute of lower ranking personnel. It's that simple.

    May 25, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  10. Nick

    I would be happy if the President would fix the Veterans Affairs Hospitals. No salute neccesary.

    May 25, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  11. Kevin Barbieux

    In the military, higher ranking persons are not required to return the salute of lower ranking persons. It's that simple.

    May 25, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  12. dilberth

    Civilians are not required to salute anyone. I'm proud to be a civilian and never stooped that low to learn how to kill strangers. I loathe the military and all of its stupid rules and regulations.

    May 25, 2013 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  13. Dnzo

    Let's play a game, it's called 'Breaking News: What small and irrelevant action did Obama do?'

    I'll start – Breaking News: Obama Washes Hair, Rinsed but did not Repeat as directed on bottle.

    May 25, 2013 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  14. Jen

    I totally agree with Helen. Why would the president purposely disrespct a member of the service? He's human like the rest of us and he occasionly makes mistakes. Obviously, no disrepect was intentionally showed.

    May 25, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  15. Texasmike

    This is another media induced piece of rightwing garbage that is being created again because for some reason in the white man's world, THIS President's every movement is analyzed to the nth degree by racists looking desperately for a reason (adding to the thousands they already have) that he shouldn't be President...despite the election results. There is no way ANY other Presidents have been subject to THIS type of behavioral scrutiny. From lapel pins, to the mustard he uses, to him having a burger to having a game of golf, from his using a teleprompter to him, OMIGOD having a white marine hold an umbrella for him or he "disrepectfully" forgetting to salute even though the respect is supposed to go the other way. In all this the baggers still think he wasn't born American, is a muslim jew athetist socalist communist tyrannical dictator who is afraid to do anything a dictator would do one day and is merciless the next. ANY praise or sorrow he expresses for the American people is called into question as being disingenuous. When I see this much unreasonable reasons to attack the man, I start to look at the mentality of the attackers. Matt Drudge expresses his racism in the typical cowardly fashion. Hiding behind code words that NEVER are used against Clinton, Reagan the Bushes or Jimmy Carter or Ford.

    May 25, 2013 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  16. Dave

    yet another non news story being blown severly out of proportion by a controversy driven media with nothing better to report on a Holiday weekend. This is getting beyond ridiculous.

    May 25, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  17. Joe

    It looks completely accidental to me. As a military man, I would not take offense to this. I give President Obama big kudos for noting the error and apologizing to the Marine.

    May 25, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  18. Redeye Dog

    Russ – you are not correct. The Commander in Chief is required to return the salute. Other VIPs or members of the cabinet are not required. However, since the President is the top of the military chain of command, he is not only required but shows disrespect to ignore the salute of any subordinate military members.

    Unfortunately, it is not an impeachable offense. If he thinks that soldier is his friend, he is seriously mistaken.. The military hates President Obama and his masked wife..

    May 25, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  19. mmk

    Do you want to tell me that there is no better story on OBAMA; like for example why he is not paying a visit to his home land his country of birth and if he denies this Kenyan fact, at least he could make a stopover to see his grama SARAH OBAMA on his planned trip to Africa 0n June 26 2013. Why miss out on a place that propelled you to greatness?

    May 25, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  20. Brandon

    Who cares, quit playing tug of war. Use some common sense and focus on what really matters. Instead of sensationalizing LGBT and formality infractions. FIX AMERICA!

    May 25, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  21. Brian

    The salute is the subordinate recognizing the superior officer or ranking individual. The president (regardless of who) is the Commander in Chief and all military members are required to salute him. He doesn’t owe them a salute but only acknowledges a salute being rendered to him, not acknowledging the individual by not returning the salute would be disrespectful. As much as it pains me to say it, he did nothing wrong and only looked to be personally thanking the military members. No News to report here move on.

    May 25, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  22. ICE

    In reading the responses to the question, I am saddened to find that we have so many uninformed people as to the proper way a civilian responds to military personnel.

    May 25, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  23. Fulghn

    I think the President of the United States acknowledging an individual on a more personal level is far more an honor than a perfunctory salute from a superior to a subordinate.

    ...but then the Republicans have always been more about demarcating status – I wonder if Republican Presidents don't care about 47% of soldiers either?

    May 25, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  24. Bolaji

    Check the video archives. Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2009, President Obama approaching Marine One glaringly (I thought) broke with protocol (I also thought subserviently) when he went for the saluting rigid marine with an extended hand. The poor marine was obviously confounded. He accepted the president's hand and promptly reverted. I didn't see the president do it again. That early in his historic presidency the gesture must have attracted substantial feedback to nix a repeat.

    May 25, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  25. Doctor

    This is news worthy....WHY? Who cares, at least he acknowledged the soldier with a hand shake.

    May 25, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
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