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. jdoe

    The president is a civilian. The armed forces answer to him. There's no need for him to do a military salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  2. Dominick Giguere

    Saluting is a way of showing acknowledgement and respect, as is shaking someone's hand. Obama respectfully acknowledged the marine and that should be all that matters.

    May 24, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  3. Dave

    He's the president, the commander in chief, so he can do what ever he wants when it comes to things like this.

    May 24, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  4. John Jingle

    Just more failure from the Worst President in the History of the United States.

    May 24, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  5. Tim Barnett

    do you expect proper conduct from this community organizer from Chicago with no leadership or military training? You get the government you deserve when you vote incorrectly without using good judgement!

    May 24, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  6. Bob Michalak

    He doesn't respect our military other than in politically beneficial sound bites.

    May 24, 2013 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  7. Ajax

    "Former military officer" is correct in regard to military personnel, however the President is not technically a civilian. He is the only member of the government which includes all branches of the military, in the special one of a kind position of CinC. He can choose to acknowledge in a variety of ways. This IS all written down and there is an office for protocol that you should have checked before you wrote this silly article.

    May 24, 2013 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  8. Jodi

    Yes, I believe the President should have saluted the Marine. Why break the tradition.

    May 24, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |

    The salute is a nice gesture for the sake of tradition but, a handshake, in my opinion is more personal, would suggest a better appreciation for those that are serving him personally and address the presence of the man or woman serving at the moment.

    May 24, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  10. Ericke

    do not salute !

    May 24, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  11. kswsting

    I think it it is a nice tradition, but when forgotten let's not become silly about it's absence. I was an NJROTC cadet in High School (I AM NOT A VET) so I find myself saluting people at the oddest times and using military lingo like "squared away" and "the head" for bathroom, but unless you had this influence it's easy to forget.

    May 24, 2013 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  12. Marc Griffin

    I spent 23 years of my life in a military uniform and went to 3 war zones. Mr. President- SALUTE!

    May 24, 2013 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  13. Ruth

    I think if you are to become Commander -in-Chief you should have served in the military,then you would understand what freedom in this country is really about,not rule this country as an arrogant idealologist

    May 24, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  14. Erik

    Reminds me of Jimmy Carter.

    May 24, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  15. Surprised

    I'm really surprised there's only one clown so far lambasting the President for this. It's a little refreshing. Customs and courtesies fall under regulations for uniformed members. The President is not a uniformed member of the military. The civilian service secretaries (Army, AF, Navy) don't have to salute, any civilian supervisors a military member might have wouldn't have to salute (civilian superiors are common in areas such as medical and intelligence where civilians and military often work together), and the President shouldn't have to render a custom that was always specifically reserved for the warrior class. He shook the guy's hand, and whether or not you like the President, I can tell you as a former military member that would be far more memorable, personable, and respectful than just another salute.

    May 24, 2013 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  16. Fuzzy Thinker

    If I was that marine, I would consider a handshake to be a memory to keep.

    May 24, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  17. Robert Patterson

    I think that the President should salute only if he/she was a Commissioned Officer prior to becoming President. Otherwise, a simple verbal acknowledgment or greeting would suffice....several of our Presidents since Eisenhower were Naval Officers....

    May 24, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  18. Brian

    He IS the POTUS. Who cares?

    May 24, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  19. chuck

    He forgot, then remembers and tell the Marine sorry shaking his hand. Good Move, he does not have many.

    May 24, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  20. jeffrey dauber

    If I were that marine, I would feel very honored the President of the United States even noticed me, let alone went out of his way (re-exiting the chopper?) to shake my hand. A handshake beats a salute any day, especially if the salute was gonna come from a civilian anyways.

    Probably Obama was thinking about all the dead soldiers who's hands he wished he could have shaken.

    May 24, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  21. Ron

    I think a handshake is far more personal and will be long remember by those that receive it. While it is POTUS choice to do either or nothing, the fact that he came back off the aircraft to say "thank you" speaks volume about the person.

    As an aside, my personal opinion is the article is a silly waste of time...must be a uber slow news day.

    May 24, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  22. protocol

    Absolutely nothing wrong with what he did. He made that Marines day by going back and giving a handshake.

    May 24, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  23. shamgar50

    I'm sure the "Baggers" will find something to rage about.

    May 24, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  24. CanAm

    It is a tradition worth carrying on. Reinforces mutual respect, bonds & discipline. As for this instance, indeed a noble and well meaning gesture by President Obama.

    May 24, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  25. Bob Ward

    This is trivial nonsense. Presidents are not in uniform and therefore should not salute. Get on with reporting the country's important business.

    May 24, 2013 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
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