Civilians and military protocol re attention

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?

Do whatever you would do for a civilian of equivalent stature.

Here is a guide to how military and civilian positions compare on precedence. You’d probably be surprised: for example, a county sheriff is about equal in precedence as a two star general. As a civilian, are you going to spring to your feet when Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrain walks in the room?

Conduct yourself with the standards of professionalism that you exercise at all times and there is no issue.

At the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, VA, when certain events take place, the guard or one of the guard asks that all persons in uniform salute and that everyone else (including civilians apparently) stand at attention with their right hand over their heart. I’m not sure if there are legally any penalties for not doing so if you are not in the military.

As an American civilian I say I outrank them all. :wink:

As a civilian contractor hoping to land military contracts I’d damn sure stand and show respect so the military types doesn’t black ball me or my company. As a reporter I’d stand and show respect just so that they wouldn’t black ball me either.

You did the right thing. You’re not in uniform, you’re not in his chain of command, and you have no obligation to observe military bullshit. Frankly, even the civilian contractors were just sucking up.

Alessan, you may be strictly right, but you are used to an environment where the military is not particularly crazy for ritual military bullshit: here in the USA OTOH they tend to like it (and to really, really worry too much as to whether they’re seen as disrespecting the troops) and it’s always a good strategy to try and fit in.

Don’t feel bad – the military people are just primed to quickly stop what they’re doing and snap to their feet. But what will also happen in most normal circumstances is the senior officer will give a quick “as you were, carry on” so as to not disrupt the workflow too much, and the personel will just as quickly snap back to carrying on as they were.

And in any case the alternative would have seen everyone sit back down while you were still on the upstroke, so to speak, and that would have been more visibly awkward.

In general if there’s a situation in the military environment where were it in a civilian context people would rise, it’s appropriate etiquette for civilians also to rise: **but **they need not try to come to “attention”: the Position Of Attention is that of someone waiting to be given an order.

I would wager that most of the contractors were former military that couldn’t help themselves.

Thanks for the advice. I knew I wasn’t required in any way to stand, but I didn’t want to be a jerk either.

Next time I’ll have an extra cup of coffee beforehand and be ready to ping pong up and down in an informal “Hey, General!” kind of way.

No, but, in general, civilian life doesn’t really have a code where you stand for people, based on rank anyways. The closest I can think of is standing for a judge, but even that only applies in certain situations.

I would say it is fairly traditional for civilians to stand as various senior government officials enter a room or meeting. For example, civilians are expected to stand when the President or a head of state enters a room.

I think different businesses may have varying practices when it comes to meetings with senior executives – I’m not talking about people rocketing out of one’s seat to bolt to attention when the CEO walks in, but more in practice as how men used to rise from their seats as the family patriarch joins the dinner table… that sort of standing.

But I think your general point is correct, that civilian life doesn’t have much in the way of standing for precedence as a practice to itself. It seems to be more situational, such as standing as the flag goes by, or at a wedding or funeral, and so on.

Not too long ago, it was common for gentlemen to stand whenever a lady entered the room (depending on size of room, number of people, etc).

If you are going to greet someone directly then I think it’s polite to stand when someone enters your presence until after you greet each other, but that’s a bit different than the situation we’re discussing.

Pick your teeth.

–Cliffy