Saluting: A courteous exchange of greetings

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jeannie McLean
  • 39th Mission Support Group superintendent
Being the proud mother I am, I tell everyone my son is a second lieutenant. Usually, officers respond with, "What's that like having to salute your son?" and enlisted members ask, "Chief, do you HAVE to salute your son?" Hmmm, since the salute is steeped in military customs and courtesy, and is probably the most widely known courtesy of all, what's significant about a salute that would bring up these types of questions? According to the brand new Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, "The salute is a courteous exchange of greetings, with the junior member always saluting the senior member first." There's nothing in that definition that would seem to make my saluting him a problem. Do you think it's the junior member/senior member part that concerns everyone? 

A salute is a military greeting not only between enlisted and officers, but between junior and senior officers. Enlisted personnel salute all officers and officers salute their senior. That means a second lieutenant salutes almost everyone they come in contact with. Their right arm is probably sore by the end of the day. Many misunderstand the salute as a sign of inferiority because the junior member (often an enlisted person as there are more enlisted personnel than officers) must initiate the salute. But look at it this way, someone must initiate it so custom dictates the junior person do so. This is not a sign of inferiority, just recognition of rank. 

Maybe some of the misunderstanding happens when officers return the salute and say, "Thanks" as if the junior person is doing something nice by saluting. An often overlooked part of the custom is that the senior officer is REQUIRED to return the salute. It's not optional, they must return the greeting. So again, this is a required greeting between military members where the junior member initiates the greeting. 

I was my son's "Silver Dollar Salute." For those of you who haven't heard of this, it means at his commissioning ceremony, I was his first salute as an officer. I saluted him; he returned my salute and presented me with a silver dollar. There is quite a bit to this tradition and I won't go into all the meaning, but to simplify, this coin represents more than a dollar in currency. To every new officer, it holds a special significance. It represents the symbolic receipt of respect due a newly earned rank and position. It also signifies a deep sense of gratitude for the knowledge enlisted personnel, especially non-commissioned officers, have passed on to them during training. 

Don't get hung up on the junior/senior rank piece. The instant my son put on his gold bars, he outranked me. It doesn't have anything to do with age or experience. By saluting first, the person is demonstrating deference to the senior rank, NOT inferiority to the person being saluted. 

This chief master sergeant proudly salutes her second lieutenant son, and after that exchange, he hugs his mother.