What’s a civilian supposed to do when a room full of Air Force officers spring to attention as the general walks in the room? Just sit there? Stand respectfully but not try to be at attention?
Here’s what happened: I was a civilian visitor in a large air base auditorium where about 200 officers were to be briefed on an upcoming mission. I was invited and fully authorized by the higher ups, there to conduct research for a magazine article. We were all sitting in the auditorium waiting for the briefing to begin when the general walked in. Instantly everyone was on their feet. Except me. It happened so fast that I was still on my butt, thinking I should probably stand out of respect, but then they sat down just as quickly and I’d missed my chance. (This writer’s body isn’t primed for moving with such speed. I mean, damn, they were fast.)
Same damn thing happened when the general left. I was too slow to even stand by the time they were all relaxed again. I felt like a doofus and worried that I had been disrespectful to my hosts and my escort.
I also noticed that there were people out of uniform, civilian contractors I believe, who also sprang to attention (not just standing). These would be people who were in that situation often, so perhaps they were in the habit of going to attention even though they don’t technically have to.
So if I’m in that situation again, what’s the protocol? Should I be on the edge of my seat ready to spring up?