Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Salute silliness....

Ok... on the latte salute thing...


This, is what you want to make a thing out of?

Ok yes, the guy is commander in chief, has been for six years, and he SHOULD know the basics of military honors and courtesies by now. It was a MINOR gaffe.

But if the president hadn't returned the salute, all y'all who are bitching about the latte, would just be bitching about him not saluting instead... because of course, the point isn't what he actually did or didn't do... it's that he's "the bad guy".

And don't give me some garbage about disrespecting servicemembers, and how as a servicemember or veteran you're personally offended etc... etc...

That's bull.

He was attempting to acknowledge the salute, he just didn't know the proper form for the situation, and reflexively returned the salute without thinking.

This is not some giant issue of disrespect, to the Marine, the corps, servicemembers, or veterans. If anything, it's an embarrassment to HIM

Guess what... I've accidentally rendered salutes with something in my hand... and so has every other service member, ever.

I'm reasonably certain that everyone who has ever served more than a few months, has accidentally rendered a "coffee salute" or a "cola salute"...

...and in so doing, earned themselves a bit of pain, a moderate to severe amount of embarrassment, possibly an ass chewing, and likely a big dry cleaning bill.

I've also accidentally rendered a "sharpie" salute, a "wet paint brush" salute, and on several occasions "lubricant" salutes. I've even rendered more than a couple "briefcase in the face" salutes (and seen many more).

I have thankfully been spared the joys of the "firing pin in the eye" salute, the "m9 slide" salute, and the "field knife salute", but I have witnessed them.

And of course, there's the ultimate faux pas, the "grenade" salute (live, smoke, teargas, or otherwise)... which yes, has actually happened, many, many times (though I've never witnessed it, I have Army and Marine corps buddies who have).

In no case were my improperly rendered salutes disrespectful to the recipients; they were embarrassments to ME personally.

Saluting becomes such an ingrained reflex that it is totally automatic... it's muscle memory...  and you actually have to remember to stop yourself when you need to (for example, when you have a coffee cup in your hand). You also end up developing the habit (out of self defense if nothing else) of keeping your right hand free whenever possible, and of scanning other peoples right hands, to see if they're occupied or not.

In fact, it's one of the reasons I developed the habit of wearing my watch on my left wrist, and wearing no rings on my right hand, even though I'm right handed. I don't like having anything on my right hand, wrist, or forearm to grab or snag. When you need to wear a lanyard, a retention strap, a ground strap etc... (anything tied, strapped or clipped to your hand wrist, or forearm), you develop the habit of wearing it on your left when possible.

I've known commanders to have semi-official policies in their commands specifically NOT to salute  anyone in that command (or return salutes, no matter the rank) when they have certain things in or around their hands (drinks, POL, paints and solvents, open containers of any kind, sensitive electronics, weapons, ordnance etc...), specifically to avoid this sort of thing happening by reflex.

Obama has never served, he's never had the saluting rules drilled into him, nor has he ever developed the habit of keeping his right hand free when possible, and checking it before saluting.

So he made a minor gaffe.

... Oh that's leaving aside the fact that by the conventions of military courtesy, HE DOESN'T ACTUALLY HAVE TO RETURN THE SALUTE.

I keep saying, stop making this piddling stuff an issue... and YES IT IS PIDDLING STUFF. It just makes you... and by extension everyone associated with you... look petty and stupid.

There are plenty of good reasons to dislike Obama. There are plenty of REAL, important, BIG issues to raise hell over. The fact that he doesn't know when NOT to salute isn't one of them.

He's just started another shooting war for gods sake, and we're talking about COFFEE.


You can stop reading now if you like because I'm going to get into the obscurity of protocol etc... but the next bit might interest you...


So... What exactly is the proper rendering of military honors and courtesies in this situation?

That's not as simple as you might think... there are actually a rather large and complicated set of rules, regulations, conventions, and traditions; and they vary by service, circumstance, and occasion.

FIRST: The Personal martial salute, is an honor and a privilege, accorded only to those who serve, or have served, honorably. 

There are many formal and personal military honors and courtesies which may be accorded to individuals, entitled by their official status or position. There are even many different types of personal and formal honors which are considered salutes.

The personal martial salute is unique among them, in that it is a privilege only accorded those who serve, or have served, honorably; in the service of, or in command of, the Uniformed Services of the United States.

Uniformed service members in honorable standing, veterans in honorable standing, and under certain circumstances civilians in the military chain of command (The president {and former presidents in honorable standing}, any person currently exercising constitutional and statutory national command authority {this is not always the president. It may be the VP, Speaker of house etc..}, the secretary of defense and the service secretaries while acting in their statutory military command duties, and Ambassadors while exercising their ambassadorial rank and duties as the highest representative of the U.S. government within their accredited sovereign territory); are accorded personal military honors and courtesies, including the privilege of the personal martial salute.

By convention (though it is not absolutely required), unless diplomatic protocol supersedes, military honors and courtesies (including personal honors and courtesies such as the personal martial salute), are extended to equivalent persons of allied or friendly foreign powers (foreign heads of state, senior officers etc...); and may be accorded to those of honorable and lawful hostile powers.
Note: For many years, the honor and privilege of the personal martial salute, was not accorded to veterans or servicemembers out of uniform (except under certain special circumstances). A few years ago standards were revised to allow those not in uniform, who would otherwise be accorded the privilege of the salute; to do so when appropriate to the honor of the service, and the nation, at their own discretion. 
Appropriate times might generally be (but of course are not limited to): 
  1. At formal ceremonial events, retreats and reviles, service events, veterans events, commissioning or decommissioning and retirement ceremonies, funerals, memorials and the like.
  2. When making certain official or recognized oaths or pledges of honor or service. 
  3. When receiving certain official or recognized awards or honors.
  4. When it is appropriate to honor the colors, the service, or the nation (raising, lowering, commissioning, retiring, presentation, or formal parading of national, state, and certain ceremonial, official or service flags or "colors". Playing of the national anthem. Playing of the service song of ones service, or ones brother services).
The privilege of the personal martial salute, does NOT apply to government service civilians of assimilated rank (regardless of other personal or formal honors), unless they are otherwise accorded the privilege.

Although other government officials may be accorded formal military honors and courtesies, including some personal honors and courtesies, they are not accorded the privilege of the personal martial salute. By convention however, service members will often offer the personal martial salute to high government officials (VP, cabinet members, Speaker of the house, Senate majority leader, state governors, ambassadors, service secretaries etc...) on ceremonial occasions of greeting, or as a token of respect.

It is not appropriate for these officials to return the salute, unless they are otherwise accorded the privilege; though acknowledging the salute with a polite nod or personal salutation such as "Good Morning Sergeant" is courteous and appropriate.

SECOND: This unique honor and privilege can be stripped. It can also be restored.

Prisoners, confines, or detainees who have not been convicted of any crime which might bring dishonor on the service or the nation, (including lawful military combatant prisoners of war), are accorded the privilege of the personal martial salute.

The privilege of the personal martial salute is not accorded to any detainee, prisoner or confinee, who has been convicted of an offense against the honor of the service or the nation. If, on discharging all punishments and conditions of any sentence for such crimes; the servicemember is allowed to return to honorable service, or is dismissed, separated, or discharged from service under honorable conditions; they are once again accorded the privilege.

The privilege of the personal martial salute, is not accorded any service member, or veteran, currently in any other than honorable status or condition (including uncharacterised discharges, dismissals, and separations). This may also include servicemembers and veterans who are legitimately convicted in recognized civilian courts, of offenses which would bring dishonor on the service or the nation; unless they are through some action returned to honorable status (reversal of conviction, pardon, commutation with restoration of honorable status, petition for upgrade of discharge etc...).

Yes, if a veteran who was honorably discharged is convicted of a serious crime after they are discharged; even if the offense is in no way connected to their service or the military, they MAY be considered to be in an other than honorable condition, for purposes of military benefits, and military honors and courtesies.

This determination is by no means certain, and in general honorable status or condition can be restored after all penalties and conditions of any criminal sentences have been fulfilled or discharged (though this is also by no means certain).

THIRD: Saluting is required of and among, all members of the SEVEN Uniformed Services of the United States... but is never REQUIRED of Civilians. 

... Wait... SEVEN?

Yep, that's right, there are seven Uniformed Services of the United States, not just "the military" as most think of them.

  1. United States Army
  2. United States Marine Corps
  3. United States Navy
  4. United States Air Force
  5. United States Coast Guard
  6. United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
  7. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps
As a courtesy, the privilege of the personal martial salute (and other personal military honors and courtesies) may be extended to the commissioned and warrant officers of the United States Maritime Service; however this is not required.

FOURTH: Who is required to salute, when?

Unless otherwise noted or excepted, all service members on duty, or in uniform; when outdoors, or traveling in or on vehicles (official, or personal if the servicemember is clearly visible), or horseback (but not vessels, which have their own special rules); are required to salute commissioned and warrant officers (and civilians accorded the privilege), upon meeting, or when entering or passing through their immediate presence or nearby line of sight (by convention, within range of a spoken conversation).

Unless otherwise noted or excepted, those of lower rank should first render the salute to those of higher rank(including the president, or person exercising national command authority or performing constitutional or statutory military command duties, but not other civilians), and should hold their salute until it is returned or otherwise acknowledged, or until the senior has left the juniors immediate presence or nearby line of site.

Enlisted personnel are not generally required to salute each other.

The services have varying rules and conventions about saluting when they are wearing headgear or not, whether they are under arms or not (carrying a weapon), whether they are under colors or not (carrying a flag, guidon, pennant etc..) and whether they salute while indoors or not (excepting when formally reporting or certain other formal interactions). They also have differing definitions and conventions about what is or is not considered indoors or outdoors.

To avoid excessive saluting; unless otherwise required (as listed below), it is the general convention in most services and commands, to only salute a higher ranking officer the first time one sees them for the duty day.

Certain formal interactions may require salutes to be rendered even when it would not otherwise be required to do so (either in general, or by specific exception as noted below).

These may include (depending on the customs of the service, and the command in question):
  1. Formally reporting to an officer or command (this may include saluting those of lower rank, if they are the commander of, or official designate for the officer or command being reported to).
  2. Formally relaying an order or command, or delivering a report or official communication, to an officer or command (or their designate).
  3. When acting as the leader or commander of a formation, detail, or other organized group of servicemembers; to render salutes and other honors and courtesies as appropriate. 
  4. Formally assuming, relieving, or being relieved of command or responsibility (whether temporarily or permanently), for a command, formation, detail, post or watch command, or other organization, or official or formal command duty.
  5. Formally assuming, relieving, or being relieved of certain other official or formal non-command, "non-line" or "outside of normal chain of command", responsibilities or duties 
  6. Formally assuming, relieving, or being relieved of custody or responsibility for certain items and materials such as keys, badges, codebooks and codekeys, classified documents, and other such items of sensitivity or importance
  7. Formally assuming, relieving, or being relieved of a guard or sentry post or duty.
  8. Formally assuming, relieving, or being relieved of custody of, or responsibility for, a prisoner. detainee, or confinee (including lawful or unlawful foreign combatants); or any formation or group thereof.
  9. Formally assuming, relieving, or being relieved of custody of or responsibility for a "color", "honor", or other ceremonial item or duty.
  10. Awarding, presenting, officially citing, or receiving; military, diplomatic, governmental, or other officially recognized citations, honors, or awards (medals and commendations for example)
  11. Formally rendering military, diplomatic, or other recognized honors and courtesies.
  12. Formally participating in the swearing or affirming, of certain oaths or affirmations.
  13. Participation in official commissioning, decommissioning, retirement, discharge, separation, and other similar events and ceremonies. 
  14. Participation in courts martial, administrative or command disciplinary or investigative actions, or activities thereunto.
  15. When legal, political, or diplomatic protocols, require that formal or personal military honors and courtesies, or other specific saluting practices, protocols or conventions be observed.
  16. When lawful orders, command policies, or service conventions and traditions; require that formal or personal military honors and courtesies, or other specific saluting practices, protocols or conventions be observed.
Except in certain formal interactions such as above, those of higher ranks (particularly very senior officers) are not absolutely required to return the properly rendered salutes of lower ranks; though they should generally make every reasonable and appropriate effort to do so.

No matter the rank or circumstance, if at all possible, any properly rendered salute, honor, or courtesy, from anyone accorded the privilege; should be returned or acknowledged with appropriate respect and courtesy.

That said, the higher the rank, and the greater the rank differential; the greater consideration given of the seniors time and attention.

The servicemembers who salute the most aren't privates... they rarely see or interact with senior officers; they're colonels and generals. Almost everyone they see, all day, every day, has to salute them, and many of those salutes have to be returned.

Many, but not all... generals would spend all their times doing nothing but, if they were always required to return every salute.

If a general is busy, rushing out of his chopper, and has his briefcase in his right hand, and his left on the bird, he's not expected to stop, swap hands, and salute the airmen manning the stairs. He might... and he might not... and honestly, nobody gives a damn either way.

It is the custom of all the services, that recipients of the medal of honor, whether in uniform or not, are to be rendered the personal martial salute first, by all those accorded the privilege, regardless of rank (including the president, if a veteran, or at his own discretion if not). They are only required to return the salute (as per regulations and conventions of the service) if they are on duty, or in uniform; though as with all accorded the privilege, they should acknowledge salutes with appropriate respect and courtesy.

It is also the custom of all the services, that all proper salutes rendered by recipients of the medal of honor, to those on duty, or in uniform; be returned with an appropriate personal martial salute, regardless of rank (excepting those not accorded the privilege, such as prisoners; and under the exceptions noted below).

FIFTH: Depending on the customs and conventions of each particular service or command, servicemembers are generally not required to render or return a salute if:

  1. On duty, but in civilian clothing, and not otherwise required to salute as above (servicemembers may serve in roles allowing or requiring them to wear civilian clothing while on duty. In these circumstances they may salute if appropriate, but are not generally required to do so except certain formal circumstances as noted above).
  2. Engaged in routine work, duties, or activities (playing sports, physical exercise etc...); whether on or off duty, in or out of uniform; where doing so would unduly interfere or cause a safety hazard
  3. In a public non-military place, or at a public event, outside of a military context (church, non-military social functions, theaters, sporting events, in public or mass transport, etc...), even if such places or events are owned, operated, controlled, or administered by the military.
  4. In a public or group gathering, such as a meeting, and not otherwise required by specific convention or regulation to salute (as you would when delivering a formal report)
  5. Acting as a member of, but not leading, a formation or detail (unless so commanded)
  6. The act of saluting would block or impede safe and free movement through a portal or passage (one should safely clear the portal or passage, then salute if required)
  7. Their hands are required for a railing, line, handgrip, or otherwise for safety or movement
  8. Their hands are full, and their right hand cannot be conveniently and safely be cleared; UNLESS what they're full of is a "signal" (signal flags, whistles or other visual or audible signaling devices which can be used to render a salute) a "color" (an official or ceremonial flag, pennant, guidon, standard, baton, or other official or ceremonial symbol of command, office or authority) a weapon (in which case the appropriate personal martial salute should be rendered, if safe and appropriate to do so), or other item which can be used to properly render a personal martial salute (there are literally hundreds of possible items and salutes). 
  9. Following a lawful command, order, or policy, to not salute, or to follow specific saluting practices and conventions.
  10. Required to follow legal or diplomatic protocol superseding military protocol, which would render a salute improper or inappropriate.
  11. Doing so would cause the servicemember to present an unmilitary or unprofessional appearance; would appear to or actually be disrespectful, discourteous, insolent, or mocking; or might otherwise be prejudicial to good order and discipline (for example, if a servicemember were on duty, but in costume as santa claus). 
  12. Doing so would otherwise be unsafe, unreasonable, or inappropriate
If any service member, regardless of rank, is for any reason unable to render or return a salute when it would otherwise be appropriate or required (or if any person is rendered a salute when they are not accorded the honor and privilege to return it); they should acknowledge the salute (or the presence or passage of the individual due the courtesy) with appropriate respect and courtesy.

Conventionally, this consists of a polite nod, and optionally (STRONGLY recommended for juniors acknowledging seniors) offering a verbal salutation (by rank, rank and name, or rank name and title or honorific) if and as appropriate i.e. "Good Morning Sergeant", "Good afternoon General Banks Sir", "Good evening Mr. President" etc...

Uhh... yeah... that's... a lot of stuff... 

Yes... yes it is... and I'm pretty sure I'm missing or forgetting some stuff, or never knew it, and couldn't immediately find it in the standard manuals and references (I did check before writing this).

It get's REALLY complicated when you are dealing with joint service, and international joint service situations... Remembering who salutes what, where, when, and how... or doesn't; when there's officers of varying, possibly unfamiliar rank, from 28 different nations, plus their corresponding diplomats and elected officials... it's really not very fun.

There are literally entire military and diplomatic career fields who figure out nothing but this stuff...

Honestly though, most servicemembers don't need to know most of this stuff most of the time... there's 5-8 basic rules (depending on the service), a few reasonable exceptions, and some well known traditions and conventions; with the servicemembers expected to always do their best to behave in appropriate, professional, courteous, respectful, and military manner.

Much as it seems, the military doesn't ALWAYS treat everyone below the rank of Colonel, as if they were a particularly stupid child with behavioral problems... Just most of the time.

So... Back to Obama and what he should have done?

By general convention, exiting a vehicle, descending a stair, and with a cup in his hand; the president should not have returned the salute by hand.

As I noted above, when it is reasonable and appropriate to do so, anyone accorded the privilege should try to appropriately and properly return any salute properly rendered them; however, a senior officer is generally not expected or required to stop what they are doing, clear their hand, and return a salute rendered to them by a junior officer or enlisted man.

It is a nice courtesy if they do, but it's not offensive or disrespectful not to.

It is entirely appropriate to acknowledge a salute with a respectful nod, and optionally an appropriate verbal salutation.

So he shouldn't have saluted; he should have nodded, and if he had time, said "Good morning Sergeant" or something similar.

After reviewing... or more likely skimming... all the protocol above... it's really not quite so simple huh?

Not exactly surprising that someone who doesn't the proper saluting protocol and habits drilled into them for thousands and thousands of hours; and who is extremely busy, and has a lot on their mind; gets it wrong now and again?

Understand... I'm not defending Obama... I don't have to, because in this, he requires no defense.

He's just initiated another shooting war, and we're talking about lattes?

How do you defend that?