In fact, President Obama’s apathetic attitude deserves some scrutiny, so let’s examine that salute a bit more. Those two young Marines were chosen for that duty because they exemplify the finest of our military forces. They represent every man and woman who gets up in the morning and puts on that uniform. Their uniforms are impeccable from head to toe every single minute that they have it on. They stand at the ready, symbolizing our military’s respect for the highest office in the land—the office of the Commander–in-Chief. That salute is an extension of every military man and woman, signifying their will to both respect and follow the oath of allegiance they took when they put that uniform on for the first time. The salute offered by those Marines was picture perfect—smart, crisp, and offered with the utmost respect—the way it is presented each and every single time the President arrives or departs. That salute, considering what is behind it and what it stands for, deserves far more acknowledgement than a wave of the coffee cup.
President Obama never served in the military. From all accounts, he has little use for the military—any military. He knows nothing of the dedication, allegiance, sense of duty, or the willingness to sacrifice these young men and women bring to their jobs on a daily basis. Oh sure, he has coaches and advisors who whisper to him and tell him how he should act or behave in particular situations. Anyone can learn those things and implement them for the optics of pomp and ceremony if they really want to. But that seems to be where the President’s appreciation for the “salute” stops—at the pomp and ceremony level.
As a former military officer, I was taught from day one to acknowledge and return a salute with the commensurate level of pride and respect with which it was offered. I am quite sure those Marines were left wanting, given the picture-perfect offering of their salute. Think for a moment: How would you feel if those Marines refused to salute the President? You just might lose a lot of respect for our military should that happen. That salute is due to the Office of the President—to the Office of the Commander-in-Chief, and it is the duty of whoever is filling that role to return the respect of the office. In this case, Obama’s coffee-cup-casual -brow touch failed.
There is no definitive history of the military salute but there are examples of the ways in which the tradition has come about over time. In the days of the Romans, a show of the right hand sent the message that the approaching person had no weapon or ill-intent. Knights traditionally used their right hand to raise the visor of their armor when encountering their comrades. Over time, these gestures became “signs of respect” between those in military service.
There is a particular formality to the process of “saluting.” Salutes are initiated by those in a subordinate role and returned by those to whom the salute is directed. The subordinate offers and holds the salute until the superior acknowledges and returns it. This exchange silently acknowledges respect between the parties. In addition to the President (or Commander-in-Chief) the Military salute protocol defines three distinct classes that require a formal salute. They are: Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the U.S. Military, All Medal of Honor recipients, and Commissioned Officers of Allied Foreign Nations. While there are only three classes, believe me, when you are the subordinate, those who should be saluted seem to be everywhere. I say this to point out that one can easily develop a lackadaisical attitude about saluting—to put it mildly. That, by the way, is exactly what President Obama did in returning that salute with a wave of his coffee cup.
The words behind the Marines’ salute would be something like this: Greetings, Mr. President. On behalf of the men and women of the U.S. Military, I acknowledge and salute your office with respect and pride, wearing my uniform to the levels of utmost presentation, and executing my salute to you with a precision and sincerity that will fill the hearts of my peers with joy and pride. Your acknowledgement and return of my salute will let me know your awareness of my presence here before you, and confirm that my presence is both necessary and appreciated. Your return salute will signify your appreciation for not only my service, but that of my peers. Sadly, your half-hearted wave of a coffee cup leads me to suspect that my presence is of little concern to you—it’s just pomp and ceremony.
If this incidence stood on its own as a singular occurrence in the term of this President, I could probably ignore it or just write it off to distraction. But, with Obama, that is certainly not the case. Since taking office, he has repeatedly ignored our traditions and ceremonies with disdain and disregard. It’s not just a salute, it is far, far more. It is the constant trampling of our Constitution. It is the selective use of the Rule of Law. It is the designed undermining of the balance of powers within our government infrastructure. It is the abuse of fiscal policy and the unwillingness to compromise in creating and implementing a budget. It is the blatant abuse of the private sector with government intervention at every turn. All of these things and many more were conjured up by Obama’s indifferent wave of his coffee cup at that Marine. It would appear our “fundamental transformation” is manifesting itself at the simplest level—the salute of respect has become arbitrary, a sort of yeah, whatever.
For all that any President might do while in office, in that one moment when he or she is in the presence of a military salute, time should slow to a crawl and urgency should fall by the wayside. The President—be it Obama or any other person filling that office—should take the time to return that salute with his best and most respectful effort, first time, every time. The American people expect their leaders to love and respect this nation, its history and its heritage. When they witness the moment in which such mutual respect is rendered, it goes a long, long way to gaining their support and trust.
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