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military salute

A Salute to the Armed Forces

February 1, 2015 by
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A public sign of respect and recognition of rank—the military hand salute is a tradition steeped in history. Chivalrous knights once greeted each other by raising their visor with the right hand to expose their face. This gesture signified friendship and confidence as the knight moved his hand away from the weapon customarily situated at his right side. The British navy adapted this custom for practical reasons—to conceal the tar and pitch that often dirtied their gloves, naval officers turned their hands palms down. The U.S. military adopted this practice and follows special guidelines (that we’ve outlined below) for this courtesy.

How to Salute

The hand salute is a quick, one-count movement performed at the command “present, arms.” On the word “arms,” the right hand is raised sharply to the visor, fingers and thumb joined and extended, palm facing down. The right forefinger touches the rim of the visor beside the right eye. The outer fingers slightly turn downward so that the palm and the back of the hand are not visible from the front.

When to Salute

When acknowledging a superior officer in uniform, a salute is often the appropriate response. For a more thorough understanding, we’ve provided a list of situations when it’s appropriate to salute:

  • When greeting the President of the United States, medal of honor recipients, officers of friendly foreign countries, and commissioned officers and warrant officers
  • When the United States National Anthem, “To the Color,” “Hail to the Chief,” or foreign anthems are played
  • To uncased National Colors outdoors
  • On ceremonial occasions
  • At reveille and retreat ceremonies during the raising or lowering of the U.S. flag
  • During the sounding of honors
  • When the Pledge of Allegiance is recited outdoors
  • When rendering reports
  • When relieving an officer or turning over control of formations
  • When you see officers in official vehicles

When NOT to Salute

On some occasions, it isn’t necessary or appropriate to offer a salute:

  • Indoors, except when reporting to a superior officer
  • When the senior or subordinate is wearing civilian clothes
  • When you are driving government vehicles
  • When engaged in athletics or assembled for recreation
  • In public places (i.e., theaters, restaurants, etc.)
  • In formation, except on command
  • On work detail

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