The Hand Salute
The salute is not simply an honor exchanged. It is a privileged gesture of respect and trust among soldiers. Remember the salute is not only prescribed by regulation but is also recognition of each other’s commitment, abilities, and professionalism.
Some historians believe the hand salute began in late Roman times when assassinations were common. A citizen who wanted to see a public official had to approach with his right hand raised to show that he did not hold a weapon. Knights in armor raised visors with the right hand when meeting a comrade. This practice gradually became a way of showing respect and, in early American history, sometimes involved removing the hat. By 1820, the motion was modified to touching the hat, and since then it has become the hand salute used today. You salute to show respect toward an officer, flag, or our country.
The salute is widely misunderstood outside the military. Some consider it to be a gesture of servility since the junior extends a salute to the senior, but we know that it is quite the opposite. The salute is an expression that recognizes each other as a member of the profession of arms; that they have made a personal commitment of self-sacrifice to preserve our way of life. The fact that the junior extends the greeting first is merely a point of etiquette-a salute extended or returned makes the same statement.
The way you salute says a lot about you as a soldier. A proud, smart salute shows pride in yourself and your unit and that you are confident in your abilities as a soldier. A sloppy salute might mean that you’re ashamed of your unit, lack confidence, or at the very least, that you haven’t learned how to salute correctly.
In saluting, turn your head and eyes toward the person or flag you are saluting. Bring your hand up to the correct position in one, smart motion without any preparatory movement. When dropping the salute, bring your hand directly down to its natural position at your side, without slapping your leg or moving your hand out to the side. Any flourish in the salute is improper.
The proper way to salute when wearing the beret or without headgear is to raise your right hand until the tip of your forefinger touches the outer edge of your right eyebrow (just above and to the right of your right eye). When wearing headgear, the forefinger touches the headgear slightly above and to the right of your right eye. Your fingers are together, straight, and your thumb snug along the hand in line with the fingers. Your hand, wrist, and forearm are straight, forming a straight line from your elbow to your fingertips. Your upper arm (elbow to shoulder) is horizontal to the ground.
All soldiers in uniform are required to salute when they meet and recognize persons entitled (by grade) to a salute except when it is inappropriate or impractical (in public conveyances such as planes and buses, in public places such as inside theaters, or when driving a vehicle). A salute is also rendered:
- When the United States National Anthem, “To the Color,” “Hail to the Chief,” or foreign national anthems are played.
- To uncased National Color outdoors.
- On ceremonial occasions such as changes of command or funerals.
- At reveille and retreat ceremonies, during the raising or lowering of the flag.
- During the sounding of honors.
- When pledging allegiance to the US flag outdoors.
- When turning over control of formations.
- When rendering reports.
- To officers of friendly foreign countries.
Salutes are not required when:
- Indoors, unless reporting to an officer or when on duty as a guard.
- A prisoner.
- Saluting is obviously inappropriate. In any case not covered by specific instructions, render the salute.
- Either the senior or the subordinate is wearing civilian clothes.
In general, you don’t salute when you are working (for example, under your vehicle doing maintenance), indoors (except when reporting), or when saluting is not practical (carrying articles with both hands, for example). A good rule of thumb is this: if you are outdoors and it is practical to salute, do so. Outdoors includes theater marquees, shelters over gas station pumps, covered walkways, and other similar shelters that are open on the sides.