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. Oy

    " I am insulted for my brother Marine! I am offended beyond belief!"

    Omg. Get over it already. The President is not REQUIRED to salute anyone. Get your knickers out of their twist. it's not the end of the world.

    May 26, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  2. Fladabosco

    No one seems to notice:

    1) He's wearing a very nice suit
    2) He made the honor guard guy smile and I bet the first chance he gets he'll call his parents and tell them he shook the hand of the POTUS
    3) Is it just me or does that helicopter look like it was made in the Soviet Union about 40 years ago?

    May 26, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  3. jean

    It's a dignified sign of respect. BTW, for those who bemoan the way Obama is treated, I'd love to know if you gave/give the same support to George W Bush and told those that that were just as, if not more, vile towards him during his presidency to shut-up and/or leave the country.

    May 26, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  4. LivinginVA

    "Each and every President of the United States of America is Commander in Chief of the military. We lead by example and respect. Of course he should salute."

    Eisenhower didn't. Kennedy didn't. The first President to do so was Reagan and his military aide advised against it.

    May 26, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  5. bolden21

    I think that people who dislike the president will think this is a big deal and those who are indifferent or like him, think this is ridiculous. It's just goes to show you what our priorities are in America. The market is going up, the housing market is improving, unemployment is now less than it was when he took office, we are pulling troops out of "war", gas prices are holding steady, whether you like it or not, every American will have access to sick care within a year and all the arguments that he will cause the destruction of America that people have had since President Obama first ran are quickly fading, so we have nothing better to do than judge him for what is a gesture and not even procedure. I'm really disappointed and I think people enjoy fighting and don't really want to see progress which is really what holds us back.

    May 26, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  6. Mike Buck

    Later that night OBAMA also used the wrong fork at dinner to eat his salad. Where is the outrage over this incredible blunder?

    May 26, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  7. Tomek

    It looks ridiculous when civilians salute. It goes against the historic reasons why soldiers do salute.

    May 26, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  8. Signy

    "aerial power unit" - I think you mean auxiliary power unit. This is the correct name for the device that provides power when the engines aren't running.

    May 26, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  9. jason

    Umm last time i checked that dude isn't an officer

    May 26, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  10. flex chesterson

    speaking of insignificant slip-ups that only a jerk would take the time to point out, there is no such thing as an 'aerial power unit' on a helicopter. Its an auxiliary power unit. Pot to kettle, come in kettle.

    May 26, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  11. RAGE67

    Some of you people will take anything...and MAKE it a scandle!!! Those on the right have sunk to a all time low.....

    May 26, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  12. Cindy

    If you look closely it looks like he saluted late. He seems to salute as he gets to the top of the stairs. Or is he saluting the pilots?

    May 26, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  13. us_1776

    President salutes about a billion times and so he misses one.

    No big deal. I missed a few of my own in my time.


    May 26, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  14. d. l k

    Nothing this president does seems to bother our fellow liberal Americans with all due respect. Honestly had you served in the military perhaps your underwear would be in a twist. I find that condescending comment disrespectful of all who have served. As for our rock star president, he hasn't laid his life on the line for one single American, so why don't you just step back and show just a little more respect for the Marine who could be saving your tail end some day.

    May 26, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  15. Eli

    And of course the GOP is having a hissyfit. You people will stop at nothing to destroy this country so just go live in a cave with your philosophical kin.

    The handshake is better than a salute. Rather than saying "I am your commander, treat this instance with formality," it sends a message of casual respect. More important than taking orders from the president is that soldier's job as a citizen – one of the president's employers. And the president owes that respect to the people that elect him.

    May 26, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  16. Peggy Gardner

    I think POTUS should always salute a person in uniform out of respect. I was glad to see that he came back off the helicopter to shake the marine's hand after spacing out the salute. I bet he apologized when shaking his hand.

    May 26, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  17. troyy0206

    As Commander in Chief, the military personnel are to salute the President. It is my opinion, the President should return the salute out of respect and it shouldn't be a question of whether the President "is required" to. In fact, it shouldn't be a question of whether he should or not, he SHOULD out of respect and that's it. Perhaps he wanted to be more personable a and less formal in this setting, who knows. It is my OPINION, he should have saluted, then shook his hand. I'm not sure why it should be made into a big deal or even newsworthy, unless he did something disrespectful. I disagree with most of the Obama Administration's policies and agendas, so I'm not talking about President Obama and agreeing or disagreeing–I'm talking about the President, no matter who it is.

    May 26, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  18. jj

    It depends upon whether one is focused on service or just taking a trip. People all slip from time to time, but if one wishes to empower people then leaders serve and a salute is an acknowledgement not only to that service member but to all for their sacrifices.

    May 26, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Much ado about nothing. People should get a life !!

    May 26, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  20. Karen Shelton

    No it is not requirement to salute the military, but not doing so only shows how dreadful America is today. Those are men and women who have fought, and are fighting for the freedoms you have today. No, I won't get over it already. It is a total shame.

    May 26, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  21. Momma of Many

    I have several family members who have served our country in the military. I find it very insulting that the Commander in Chief of our country does not show the military that small sign of respect. They put their lives on the line for us and the president everyday.

    May 26, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  22. mdharbison

    A Salute is a sign of respect. No respect, no salute.

    The Military makes it compulsory for Officers, but for the rest of us, it is optional.

    May 26, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  23. Guest

    First, you don't salute when you're out of uniform. So a president in a suit should offer a salute.

    Second, the lower-ranking service member initiates the salute; the higher-ranking one returns it. So the Marine would have been the one to start things, not the President.

    So, no, President Obama (or any other president) should not salute anyone. Salutes are signs of respect among members of the military, and the president is a civilian. (that said, if someone were to salute him anyway, he should return it)

    May 26, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  24. marlene hendon

    Yes the President should of Saluted Out of Respect for the Military as they Had the Respect to Salute him as the President.... it's About Respect.....God Bless Our Military, they All make America safe and Have Honor thought to them.... so why should they not have the Same

    May 26, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  25. David

    He is not in uniform and is un-covered. No salute..

    May 26, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
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