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. Anonymous

    The president doesn't salute, he RETURNS salutes. When he graciously returned to the bottom of the stairs there was no salute to return, he thus did what he could, and he did it well. Learn some protocol before you go spouting off.

    May 25, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  2. petroskies

    some people call that hallucination . lose the face momentarily .

    May 25, 2013 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  3. Sylvain

    I'm not an Obama fan, but I don't see what the deal is... He was polite and friendly to the crew....

    May 25, 2013 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  4. kevin

    why not a kiss hello?

    May 25, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  5. JayHobeSound

    Pres Obama realized pretty quickly he forgot to acknowledge the marine. In fact he can be seen gesturing to the pilots to wait while he walked back to the marine. Pres Obama acknowledged the marine and shook his hand, a far more personal and respectful gesture than a rote salute.

    It figures the tradition of the president saluting military personnel started with Ronald Reagan. Reagan was good at staging backgrounds, using television to his advantage and following the scripts written by his speechwriters. Reagan as the commander-in-chief started a hollow tradition for theatrics, not respect; if Reagan respected the US military he would have used them for death squad training throughout Latin America.

    May 25, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  6. jon

    President Obama is the very best president we have ever had. The rest of those bozos were either womanizers or just plain dumb.

    May 25, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  7. Jeff Roblyer

    The salute has evoled from signaling no weapons to a sign of acknowledgement and respect. I think the president should salute. As a civilian, he probably forgot in this instance but had the good manners to recognize and apologize to that Marine. Well done.

    May 25, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  8. Henry Gonzalez

    We have historic unemployment with no solution in sight. We continue embroiled in costly wars in the middle east with no solution in sight. The rich and powerful in this country are turning the US into a third world country by eliminating the middle class by pushing us all down into the sub-basement of the economy and outsourcing our jobs to India, China, and every other third world country where slave labor is basically encouraged. And the press is concerned about whether Obama does or doesn't salute the US Marine on duty for his protection. Justice will be when the press in this country finds themselves amoung the unemployed when their jobs are also outsourced to the third world.

    As a US Marine, I can tell you that a US Marine is prohibited from saluting without wearing a cover (uniform hat). This includes while being indoors or out of uniform. A US Marine would never expect to receive a salute from any civilian. A US Marine salutes the President of the US because he or she is the Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces and therefore at the very top of their chain of command.

    A lot of the problems in this country today would be greatly resolved if all government employees, particularly members of both houses of congress and all state and local goverments would be required to pass US Marine Corps basic training. Most of the spineless crooks running this country today would never survive US Marine Corps basic training. This country would be much better off.

    May 25, 2013 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  9. Chris

    So he forgets to salute ONCE out of the gazillion times he's gotten out of the plane? Who the hell cares?

    May 25, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  10. OK_Move_On

    handshakes are more personal and humbling. Since the writer admits this is something begun under Reagan and not really a tradition with all presidents, I fail to see what all the hoopla is about. What's wrong? The right couldn't come up with anymore "scandals" against the president?

    May 25, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  11. sione tahaafe

    If it is a military rule than he failed but if not its a plessure for the guard to shake hand with him ..

    May 25, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  12. Guest

    What do you expect from a President who never served..... he doesn't have any idea of military protocol.

    May 25, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  13. Maggie McDuh

    Awesome Mr. President! Y'all try walking in his shoes for a bit before judging such a small non traditionality so harshly.

    May 25, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Commander and Chief? What a joke........

    May 25, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  15. popeye1128

    Worst president we have had? I guess some do not know our history.

    What President Obama did was very respectful and besides, doesn't the Commander-in-Chief make the rules?

    May 25, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  16. Nik without a C

    No I think the Handshake was great, but in all due respect to the Military Branches, yes a salute even to the Marine standing
    in front of him, should always salute.

    May 25, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  17. Gordon Jeffries

    Soldiers always salute the Commander -in-Chief,( or superior officer). They are not saluting the Man. They are saluting the position.
    The Commander in Chief should return the salute as a courtesy.

    May 25, 2013 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  18. Irony

    Haha at worst president. Comatose during 2000-2008?

    May 25, 2013 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  19. Todd

    President's did not salute till Reagan – The President is a civilian, as it should be..

    May 25, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  20. 2Bob

    For a President to take the time and shake hands with the Marine is a far greater tribute than a cursory salute as he walks past.

    May 25, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  21. joedog

    The Emperor has no clothes and apparently no class or respect.

    May 25, 2013 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  22. Todd

    Flag lapel pin – started by Nixon and the salute started by Reagan is political and wrong. You do not need to reinforce you are the Commander and Chief – we get it.

    May 25, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  23. Michele

    obama is the Commander in Chief and a salute is a gesture of greeting, courtesy and respect. An enlisted member gives the personal hand salute to a warrant officer or a commissioned officer and by a lower ranking officer to higher-ranking officer. A salute is always returned or acknowledged by the officer saluted. This is not his first rodeo, you would think he would have it down by now...but I guess it is like not wanting to wear the flag pin!

    May 25, 2013 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  24. Kenny

    To shake a man's hand is the greatest respect, you can show.

    May 25, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  25. Greg

    It's been many years since I did Air Force basic training. But, I think I recall them saying, that when you salute an officer, he's not technically required to return your salute. It's a "customs and courtesies" thing. A lot of the "customs and courtesies" really vary depending on the location, situation, etc. For example in boot camp and in post boot camp tech school, any time an office enters the room, you call the room to attention. Once you're at a "permanent" duty station, nobody does that anymore. Except, maybe for a Colonel or a General.

    May 25, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
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