Military Protocol: Uniformed Services
Customs and Courtesies
Saluting is one of the most common and basic forms of military courtesy. It is basically an exchange of greetings between military and/or uniformed services personnel.
The History of saluting has many plausible origins. Some believe that during the "Age of Chivalry" when 2 knights met, they raised their visors to expose their faces. This allowed the Knights to recognize their allies vs. their enemies. The raising of the visor was always performed with the right hand. During the "Middle Ages", men wore heavy capes to conceal their swords. When 2 men would great each other they would raise their right arm to show that it was not on the sword hilt. Greeting someone without raising your right arm could potentially mean that you are about to attack. During the days of the "Borgias", assassination by using a knife or dagger was common. When greeting someone the right hand was raised to show that the person was not concealing a dagger.
The current salute used by naval personnel has its origins from the British Navy who in turn borrowed their hand salute from the British Army. British as well as French soldiers will salute with their right hand turned outward. Some believe that this custom allowed the person being greeted to see there was no weapon in the hand of the person.
Since the first days of military organizations, juniors have always uncovered when addressing seniors. This was done by touching the hat or cap with the right hand or taking it off. If the person was not wearing a hat or cover, they would grab a "lock of hair".
In the late 19th century, Queen Victoria decreed that the hand salute was to be used instead of taking your hat or cap off. This decree came about because military members would uncover in the presence of the queen during official ceremonies and this was considered unsatisfactory.
Whatever origin of the present day hand salute you subscribe to, it is extremely important that you are able to render and properly return a hand salute. Failure to do so not only reflects negatively on the officer but the Corps as well. People have often asked "What do you never get a second chance to make"? The answer is "A first impression". This holds true for your ability to properly render a hand salute. It has been said that a sloppy salute is worse than not saluting at all. Your technique and your confidence to apply your saluting skills are directly proportional to how much you practice. Not every officer will be detailed to an "Armed Service" where saluting is an everyday occurrence, but you can practice at your current duty station and if possible visit your nearest military installation in uniform. It is expected that you will make mistakes, but this holds true for any learning process. Practice and a sincere effort will decrease the number of mistakes and help you to avoid embarrassment.
Execution of the Hand Salute is performed as follows: "the right hand is raised smartly until the tip of the forefinger touches the lower part of the headdress or forehead above and slightly to the right of the right eye, thumb and fingers extended and joined, palm to the left, upper arm horizontal, forearm inclined at 45 degrees, hand and wrist straight; at the same time turn head toward the person saluted. To complete the salute, drop the arm to its normal position by the side in one motion, at the same time turning the head and eyes to the front"
It is also appropriate to accompany your salute with "Good Morning Sir or Ma'am" depending on the situation. In the Navy and Coast Guard, Officers below the rank of Commander (0-5) are usually addressed as "Mister" or "Miss" depending on the situation. Officers who are at the rank of Commander or above are usually addressed by their rank i.e.. "Good Morning Commander Jones" or "Good afternoon General Smith". You can never go wrong by using "Sir" or "Ma'am", but it is a nice touch if you can properly address a senior officer.
Salutes are usually rendered between 6 and 30 paces. If you are running you should slow down to a walk prior to saluting. If you are standing, you should face the individual to be saluted, come to the position of attention, then render a hand salute. Salutes are also exchanged when to members first meet and again when the conversation is completed just prior to departing.
Salutes must be rendered and returned to all members of the Uniformed Services: The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Public Health Service, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
If two officers or an officer and enlisted member approach with the intent of conversing, salutes are exchanged and then also after the conversation is completed. Forgetting to salute after conversation has ended is a common mistake. It is the junior person's responsibility to initiate this courtesy prior to departing just as the junior person should salute if passing someone senior to them.
Saluting when not in uniform and uncovered is not usually performed by members of the Naval Services. You may see this practice in the Army and/or the Air Force. If you are saluted and you are not in uniform or in uniform and not covered, tradition dictates that you do not salute. Instead you may great the person saluting you with "Good Morning", "Good Afternoon", or "Good Evening" depending on the situation. If you approach someone who is senior to you and you are in civilian attire, you do not salute. Instead, you may say "Good Morning Sir or Ma'am" depending on the situation.
As stated before, the junior person must salute the senior officer present. This is straight forward if there are only two individuals present. Confusion can arise if there are more than two people present and of different officer ranks. The general rule that applies is that you always salute the senior officer no matter how many other officers are present. If you are outdoors and with a group of officers an/or enlisted and an officer senior to all the officers present approaches, all of the members must stop what they are doing, face the senior officer, come to the -position of attention and render a hand salute. To avoid missing a senior officer passing close aboard you must be attentive to people around you while outdoors.
Saluting the "Colors" refers to paying tribute to the United States Flag. There are two daily ceremonies in which uniformed service personnel will salute the colors (national flag). The first is at the beginning of the day (@ 0800). This ceremony involves raising the national flag while the national anthem is played. The second is at "Sunset", and consists of lowering the national flag will "Retreat or the National Anthem" is played. During both situations if you are outdoors, you must stop what you are doing, face the flag or the direction in which colors are being held, come to the position of attention and render a hand salute. You must hold this salute until the last note of the music; then you may proceed. On Army and Air Force installations it is customary to stop your vehicle, get out, come to the position of attention, and render a hand salute if colors or retreat is sounded. On Naval or Coast Guard installations and colors or retreat is sounded, you must stop your vehicle and sit at attention until the last note of the music is sounded; then you may proceed. If you are in doubt as to sit at attention or exit your vehicle, it is better to be formal than disrespectful. Therefore it is recommended that you exit your vehicle, face in the direction where colors are being held, come to the position of attention and render a hand salute.
Whether you are driving your vehicle or walking through a military installation, you should never dash under cover to avoid paying respect to the flag. Dependents and civilians should face in the direction where colors are being held and stand at attention (placing right hand over their heart is optional). Talking during colors or retreat is forbidden and considered disrespectful.
Another common ceremony is the Cannon Salute. This form of salute can be rendered to an individual such as a "Flag Officer" (Admiral or General), or to recognize a particular day such as "Memorial Day". On this particular day, a twenty-one gun salute is fired at three second intervals and occurs at 1200 hours. If you are outdoors on a military installation during this ceremony, you must stop what you are doing, face in the direction of the national flag, come to the position of attention and render a hand salute (if in uniform). You will hold the salute until the last gun is fired; then you may proceed. If you are in civilian clothes, you will face the flag and come to the position of attention until the last gun is fired. On "Independence Day" a fifty gun salute is fired. You must observe the same customs and courtesies as "Memorial Day".
Other times in which a cannon salute will be fired is when "Honors" are payed to visiting Flag officers and or high ranking dignitaries. The specific number of guns fired for visiting officials may be found in the appendix. If you are in the immediate vicinity where honors are being held, you will also come to the position of attention and render a hand salute until the last gun is fired or the command "Order Arms" is given. Other situations include the occasion of the death or funeral of a President or Vice President. You normally do not salute at this ceremony because it occurs after the colors are lowered.
There are four different names for the National Flag:
- Flag - "The Flag"
- Color - "The Colors"
- Standard - "The Standard"
- Ensign - "The National Ensign"
When Boarding and Departing Naval vessels you must salute the national ensign (flag). The two methods for boarding a naval vessel will be with "The Quarterdeck" on the pier and with the "quarterdeck" onboard the ship. The quarterdeck is considered the "seat of authority" for a vessel. The OOD (Officer of the Deck) will be located on the quarterdeck and he or she represents the Captain. The commanding officer of a ship is always referred to as "Captain" regardless of their rank. If the quarterdeck is on the pier, you will salute the officer of the deck and say "Request permission to go aboard sir". When permission is granted you may proceed onto the "Brow" (passageway) from the pier to the ship). At the top of the brow you will stop and turn towards the national ensign (Usually located at the rear of the ship-stern), come to the position of attention and render a hand salute. After dropping your salute you may proceed aboard.
Leaving the ship, you will salute the national ensign, proceed onto the brow. At the end of the brow you will face the officer of the deck and say "Request permission to go ashore sir" After permission is granted, you may proceed ashore. If the Quarterdeck is on board ship, you will proceed onto the brow. At the top of the brow you will turn towards the national ensign and render a hand salute. Next you will turn towards the officer of the deck salute and request permission to go aboard. After permission is granted you may proceed aboard. To leave the ship, you reverse the order in which you came aboard. You will salute the officer of the deck and request permission to go ashore. After permission is granted, you will proceed onto the brow, turn towards the national ensign and render a hand salute. You may then proceed ashore.
Other occasions where you would salute the national ensign would be if it was being carried by a "Color Guard". This usually consists of approximately four service members. Two of the members will be carrying flags while the other two will be "Under Arms" (carrying rifles). If you are sitting, you must stand, come to the position of attention and render a hand salute if in uniform and covered. You must hold the salute until the colors pass by. If you are in civilian attire, you must also rise and come to the position of attention. Placing your right hand over your heart is optional. Like the salute, you will hold this position until the colors pass.
If you are attending a Military Funeral in Uniform, there are certain courtesies that must be adhered to. You will render a hand salute if you are in uniform and covered (wearing your hat) during the following situations:
The casket is being moved
While the casket is being lowered into the grave
During the firing of the volley (usually seven members firing simultaneously three times)
" TAPS" is being sounded (this is usually one bugler)
If you are attending the funeral in civilian attire, you will come to the position of attention and remove your headdress if appropriate and place it over your heart. If no headdress is worn, you will place your right hand over your heart.
Military members who are "Active Pallbearers" (assigned to carry the casket) will remain covered and do not salute during the ceremony.
"A Badge of Military Mourning" may be worn during military funerals, but this at the discretion of the commanding officer. If so prescribed, the mourning badge will consist of a straight band of black crepe or plain black cloth approximately four inches wide. This is worn on the left sleeve of the outer garment above the elbow.
The Military Funeral may have slight variations but there are basic components which remain constant. The ceremony starts with the casket of the service member which is draped with the American Flag being loaded onto a hearse (Caissons are used at Arlington National Cemetery - A cart which carries the casket and is drawn by horses). The hearse is driven to the burial site where six military body bearers remove the casket from the hearse and carry it to the grave site. The flag is held waist-high over the casket by the body bearers. The Committal service is read by the chaplain which is followed by the firing party firing three volleys. A bugalar then sounds "TAPS". The flag is then folded in a prescribed manner and presented to the next of kin. The above ceremony is conducted regardless of the military members rank.
When to be Covered vs. Uncovered is a common question among uniformed service members. Each military installation has their own unique regulations regarding when to be covered, but you can never go wrong if you are "Outdoors and are wearing your cover (hat). The real confusion lies in defining what is considered "Outdoors". The term "Outdoors" includes:
Drill Halls (When used for drilling purposes or official ceremonies. Normally these Gymnasiums are considered "Indoors".
Covered Walks or Overhangs that extend over the sidewalk
The term "Indoors" refers to:
- Orderly Rooms
- Bathrooms (called a"HEAD" in the Navy - Latrine in the Army)
- Inside Airport Terminals
Travel in Military Aircraft can be for official business or for the purpose of annual leave (Vacation). If you plan on flying for "Vacation" you will fly under the classification of "Space Available". This means if there is space available on board the aircraft and barring mission requirements, you can travel at a vary minimal expense. Further requirements and specifications may be found in book entitled "Space - A".
The Aircraft Commander has the final authority aboard the aircraft despite the rank of the passengers. Boarding the aircraft usually proceeds by rank unless you are called in a specific order. When in doubt, it is best to let the senior officers board first. If VIPS (Very Important Persons) are on the flight, they will be loaded and off-loaded first. The next priority goes to dependents. Barring the above situations, those members seated near the exit will off-load first.
There has been many questions regarding whether or not to wear your cover on the "Flight Line". In the Coast Guard, covers are not allowed on the flight line because if a cover blows-off, it could be sucked into an aircraft engine causing serious damage. The best advice is to ask the service member at the passenger counter if the flight line is a "Covered Area" (Meaning do you need to be Covered).
The general rules for being "Covered" apply inside the passenger terminal (No cover), and outside the passenger terminal (Covered) except when on the flight line and covers are prohibited for safety reasons. Some "Space - A" flights require you to fly in uniform, while others prohibit the wearing of your uniform. It is best to call ahead to clarify any questions you may have.
Riding in a Car with other uniformed service members can be a common occurrence. The junior officer, enters first so the senior officer may enter last. This situation may be reversed if you are entering from the left side of the vehicle. If there are three persons traveling, the junior person will take the middle seat. The place of Honor is always to the Right, so the senior person will sit on the right. This also holds true if you are walking with two or more people (the senior person is always on the right). It is the junior person who is responsible for lining-up on the correct side of the senior officer (to the left). When it is time to disembark from the vehicle, the senior person gets out first followed by the next in rank and so on.
Who goes first in the military - the man or the women? There has been much confusion regarding this question. If a man is with a women, the women goes first except:
- when assistance is needed
- there is no one to escort you to your table in a restaurant or your seat in a movie theater
- when there is a large crowd where the man will clear the way
- official military occasions where rank takes precedence over gender
There will be times during your career that you may encounter a "Rifle or a Sword Salute". A service member who is carrying a sword or a riffle/pistol is considered "Under Arms". You must be able to recognize and properly return these salutes. In the appendix you will find an illustration of the three most common rifle salutes. You return these salutes as well as the sword salute with a hand salute.
The sword salute is distinctly different from the rifle salute. The salute is initiated by the person who is under arms (carrying the sword) by coming to the position of attention. Next, the person under arms will rotate the blade of the sword up so it rests against the front of the right shoulder (this can also be done at the same time the person comes to the position of attention). From here, the sword handle is brought from the right hip to in front of the person's face approximately a fists distance away from their chin, right elbow tucked into their side. From here, the sword handle is lowered down to the level of the right hip in line with the trouser seam, the palm is facing forward and the sword blade is angled approximately thirty degrees forward so not to touch the ground. The above sequence is equivalent to bringing your right hand up to your forehead or visor during a hand salute. The person who is under arms will hold this position until a hand salute is rendered and dropped. After this, the sword handle is rotated inboard so the palm of the hand faces the trouser seam. This is the equivalent of dropping your hand from your visor to your side during a hand salute.
Recognizing and properly returning salutes from enlisted personnel is at the "Heart of Military Courtesy". In the appendix you will find a chart with all the enlisted ranks as well as the officer ranks. Public Health Service and NOAA officer ranks are equivalent to the Navy and the Coast Guard. It is highly recommended that you become familiar with this chart in order to properly recognize men and women of the "Armed Services". It is a nice touch if you can address an enlisted member by their rank i.e.. "Good morning Petty officer Jones" or "Good afternoon 1st sergeant Smith". In general, enlisted insignia will be in the form of "Chevrons". Officer insignia have "Bars, Oak Leaves, Eagles or Stars. If you study the chart in the appendix, and make a sincere effort, you will be less likely to make mistakes.
Saluting a "Flag Officer's Vehicle" is an essential component of military courtesies. If you are on a military installation and a vehicle approaches carrying a flag with one or more stars on it, you must stop, face the vehicle, come to the position of attention and render a hand salute. You may drop your salute once the vehicle passes. The flag signifies that an Admiral or General is riding in the vehicle.
When overtaking an officer who is senior to you, tradition dictates that you must render a hand salute and say "BY YOUR LEAVE SIR or MA'AM" depending on the situation. The officer who is senior will return your salute and say "CARRY-ON ". You may then drop your salute and proceed.
NOTE: Appendix is under development.
- The Naval Officer's Guide, Mack, W. P. and Paulsen, T. D., 10th edition, 1991
- Army Officer's Guide, Crocker, L. P., 46th edition, 1977
- Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, Mack, W. P., Connell, R. W., 1980
- Service Etiquette, Swartz, O. D., 4th edition, 1988
- PowerPoint Presentation