How do you salute properly and what are the rules? The salute is a very old tradition that predates America by many centuries. In American military tradition, the salute is said to have come from Roman times when it was common to raise the right hand to show friendly, unarmed intent.
In more contemporary times, the salute has evolved out of that utilitarian need into what military members refer to as “customs and courtesies”.
It is customary for an enlisted person to salute an officer, it’s customary for all ranks to salute the flag or the President of the United States, who acts as the Commander-in-Chief and thereby earns the salute as the leader of the entire U.S. military.
Those in uniform salute during the playing of the National Anthem, they may render a salute to honor a Medal of Honor awardee when they wear the medal, and uniformed service members salute at military funerals and related ceremonies.
But how does one properly render the salute, and under what conditions?
Military Salute Protocol
There are three things to remember about the military salute. The first is that the lower-ranking or junior member initiates the salute. The senior member does not, nor should they be expected to.
The second is that military members in full uniform salute. Civilians, those not wearing headgear, and those indoors do not salute superior officers.
There is one exception to the “no salutes indoors” rule–when a military member is ordered to report to an officer, a salute is rendered with or without headgear. In general, those on military duty indoors do not wear headgear unless they are armed.
Those in civilian clothes are not saluted, nor should they render a salute. It is considered inappropriate to salute with items in the saluting hand or mouth. The tradition of the salute may be suspended in combat, as such customs easily identify to an enemy who the top ranking officials on the battleground are.
Who Gets A Salute?
- The President of the United States
- Commissioned Officers
- Warrant Officers
- Medal of Honor Recipients of any rank
- Officers from other friendly countries
There are circumstances which may require a salute. They include:
- When the National Anthem is played
- On ceremonial occasions including changes of command
- At reveille and retreat ceremonies
- During raising or lowering of the flag
- During the sounding of honors
- When the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag is recited outdoors
- When turning over control of formations
- When reporting
Military Salute How-To
Knowing how to salute properly involves understanding the physical process. Just as there is a prescribed method for uncasing, raising, and lowering the flag of the United States, there are also guidelines that cover how to salute.
The military salute is described in some texts as a “one-count movement”. The right hand should be raised sharply, fingers and thumb extended with the palm facing down. The the tip of the right forefinger should meet the rim of the headgear visor to the right of the right eye.
The outer edge of the hand is held slightly downward, with the hand and wrist straight. A proper salute will have the elbow slightly forward with the upper arm horizontal. The salute ends with the right hand sharply returned to the side, and the position of attention should be maintained.
The American salute is not the only one used in military environments; the same way there are other ways of marching in formation or rendering other customs and courtesies, the militaries of other nations have their own unique traditions surrounding the salute.
The British Army and French Army have both rendered a palms-out salute, and in Russia the salute is rendered palm down.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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