Saluting protocol: Q for officers, soldiers, airmen, sailors, etc.

I work next door to a Boeing office, so they apparently get numerous visits from Air Force people. My curiousity was piqued today when I noticed a small knot of people walking from the Boeing building to the parking structure where the cafe is. Two men were in uniform; one was a major with the oak leaves on his shoulders, and the other was an airman in camoflauge. My question is this:

Under what circumstances is the airman required to salute the major? Does it make a difference if the major is not in the direct chain of command over him? What if they chanced to meet in the cafe or between the buildings, that is to say, not inside a military office, base, or other installation? Outside the AFB or other installation, and outside of an aircraft completing an AF mission, does the enlisted man have to salute the officer, or can they address one another in the same way as two poeple who work in the same office, where one of them just happens to be higher up in management?

And finally, what’s the answer to the questions above if the person with lower rank is also a commissioned officer?

You salute the uniform, not the person. Generally, when working say, in an office, where enlisted and officers work together, there is no saluting, except perhaps once in the morning. When outside, junior officers salute senior officers, and enlisted men salute all officers. In my day The Air Force was a lot less strict about saluting than the Army.


Whenever they are both outdoors and wearing their covers (hats) and not in a no-salute area.

No-salute areas are predefined by the ranking officer. For example, when an office has their picnic, military members might show up in uniform. Because it’s outside, they’d be wearing covers. The ranking officer would make it clear before the picnic that the picnic area is a no-salute area.

Not for purposes of saluting. If the airman knows the major, he might greet him by name and rank (“Good TIME_OF_DAY, RANK LASTNAME,” vice “Good TIME_OF_DAY, SIR_OR_MAAM”). But under all circumstances, the airman is required to salute and greet the ranking uniformed officer in any gaggle of people he sees.

If I’m at the mall after work, and on my way through the parking lot when I come across a higher-ranking officer, I am required to salute.

On a flight line, one either wears no cover (because it might get sucked into an engine) or a helmet (if you’re a pilot). If both the enlisted man and the officer work on the same plane, such as a tanker where the crew is three officers and an enlisted man, some of the customs and courtesies are politely ignored. For example, an aircrew might all go out to dinner after a mission, out of uniform, and call each other by first names.

Officers of equal rank are not required to salute each other, but may choose to, especially if they’re acquainted, or if either has recently been promoted. Officers are required to salute other officers who outrank them. This is sometimes ignored between second lieutenants and first lieutenants, on the grounds that any lieutenant is still a very junior officer. Among officers, a firstie who demands a salute from a second lieutenant – especially one with whom he’s a friend or coworker – is regarded as a prick.

A few examples:

Airman Doors is walking with Captain Morgan; they are each in uniform and come across

  • Colonel Knowledge and Major Payne. Captain Morgan salutes for both of them and says “Good afternoon, colonel,” or “Good afternoon, gentlemen” or “…officers.”
  • Captain Hook. Captain Morgan says, “Howdy, captain.”
  • SSgt. Slaughter. SSgt. Slaughter initiates the salute to them and greets the Captain.
  • Lt. Smash. The Lt. salutes the Captain.
  • A colonel in civilian clothes, walking with his friend a major who is in uniform. The Captain salutes the major and greets the major. If he knows the colonel he might greet the colonel as well.

In my day (not too long ago) in both the Marines and the Army, if I were in uniform and recognized a superior officer in street clothes, or PT gear, I salute that superior officer.

This came to a head in 1989 at Ft Bliss, TX, when the Commanding General was jogging, and a soldier in uniform greeted him with “Good Morning, General!” but did not salute. He bemoaned the lack of knowledge regarding military customs and courtesies on that base, saying the Marine Corps Admin Detachment was the only unit that knew what to do.

It is still customary to salute a superior officer in civilan clothes, (especially a General!) however, it is not required and if I’m not mistaken, it never was.

A hand salute is a greeting exchanged between military members, each saluting the other person in the uniform, not the uniform.

No saluting indoors; not even in the morning. In certain situations there is saluting indoors but not as a morning greeting.

Navy boot camp.
Company drill instructor.
‘You are the lowest of the low until you leave this command. If it MOVES, you salute it!’

You salute the rank, not the uniform.

That is actually a partial quote of a longstanding military policy with regard to new recruits:**If it’s on the ground, pick it up.
If it moves, salute it.
If it doesn’t move, paint it.**Carry on.


[Slight hijack]

In the Navy, how is the Captain of a ship addressed, when his actual rank isn’t Captain - say his rank is Commander? Is he addressed as Captain while on his ship, but as Commander while off the ship? Is it different for people who aren’t members of his ship’s crew - i.e. would one of his crew always call him Captain on or off the ship, but anyone else would call him Commander when he’s off his ship?


Just to throw some confusion on the fire…

Being with a higher-ranking individual with exempt a lower-ranking individual of the requirement to salute. Otherwise every time groups of people met everyone would be saluting everyone and it would look silly. An enlisted man walking with a major would not be required to salute a captain walking toward them, but the captain would salute the major. Two (or more) captains (or any rank) walking together would both salute a ranking officer walking toward them, and would do their best to salute in unison.

Oh, and I didn’t see this explicitly stated (maybe I missed it) but enlisted men and NCO’s don’t salute each other - a chief master sergeant doesn’t get a salute from an airman. Not sure what the rules are regarding warrant officers in the services that have them - my knowledge is mostly Air Force based.


If a group of airmen has just finished lowering and folding the American flag, and the airman carrying the flag happens to walk by a four-star general, the general will salute the flag. The group of airmen with the flag are considered to be a detachment performing flag honors, and are not required to salute the general, since the presence of the flag means they are in the company of the ranking “individual”.

Does a Medal of Honor recipient still rate a salute regardless of rank? From what I recall, when in a uniform that displays award ribbons, if you spot the Medal of Honor ribbon (which is always worn first in precedence - top row, toward the left…if they’re wearing a uniform in which wearing the actual medal is appropriate, it’s hard to miss the only one that is worn around the neck…) that person should receive a salute, even if you happen to outrank them. Dunno if this is still accurate.

Yes, it may look silly, but unless the officer is the head of a formation with enlisted people, such as the grunts are all lined up in rows and columns for an inspection, everyone salutes. That means you the airman, walking into the PX with the major, both salute the colonel.

Warrant Officers of all services are officers - they get saluted just as an Ensign or 2nd LT would, under the same circumstances.

It is most assuredly correct. An enlisted MoH winner will get saluted by officers. And usually feel damn proud to do it. In some cases, when the uniform doesn’t require the ribbons (MoH has a ribbon too, just so ya ain’t wearing that clinky big medal around all the time) there may be a pin that the MoH wearer has on.
And muldoonthief the Captain of a ship is addressed as “Captain”, but introduced using his formal rank. “This is Commander Bond, Captain of the USS Martini.” You would then refer to him as Captain Bond, if you want to be polite, or Commander Bond if you want to be correct but insulting.

Finally, 20 years of yelling at people about rendering honors pays off.

You can do what Sean Factotum said, or, I believe, use the shortcut of “skipper.” In Navy flying squadrons, the commanding officer is almost always a commander and is colloquially referred to as (directly) “Skipper” or (indirectly) “Skipper Jones.”

From my experience, this is seen more in the Air Force than in the Navy. I’ve been flying (and eating, and partying) with multi-person flight crews for the last nine years and rarely have I ever heard an enlisted called by his first name by an officer. We think it breeds too much familiarity between the O’s and the E’s. Which service are you in, Jurph?

For example, if you are reporting to an officer indoors, you would salute them.

Another example of when enlisted people recieve a salute is if they are part of a promotion board. The promotee would enter the room and salute the board, IIRC.
-Demo, who came out of seven years in the army as a specialist. :wink:

I agree with flyboy88 that the casual mingling of flight crews is more prevalent in the Air Force than the Navy. I would always go out and eat, drink, etc with my crews no matter where we were. Whenever we were on a Navy base, however, things changed. For example when going through Keflavik we were directed to have our enlisted crew members sit at a separate table while eating in the chow hall. No mingling of the officers and the enlisted allowed.

And this is the same prick who will later answer the phone as “Major select Dickweed.”

Hey, you know what we call major-selects around here? Captain!

You caught me! I’m Air Force. My experience with this comes from a summer tour with a KC-135 flight crew. The crew is three officers and one NCO; the officers sit up front, and the NCO sits in the waaaaay back (operating the tanker boom). There is a heavy sensitivity among the officers on the flight crew-- they don’t want the NCO to feel like they’re “bossing him around.” To that end: if you want something and you’re not busy, get it yourself. If someone else isn’t busy, officer or enlisted, ask nicely regardless of rank. I found this out on a mission with them, when the NCO was busy doing the fueling and the navigator wasn’t really doing much. It gets cold in the boom, so the Major–who had some free time–was making coffee for the NCO. He explained it to me as a cross between “courtesy for a teammate and a friend” and “taking care of your troops.”

The focus of the aircrew was on being a team, and they viewed their separation of ranks as an artifact of the Air Force career structure. If they landed somewhere away from home and all had to go out for dinner, they would just be four guys eating dinner. When the uniforms were back on, so were the customs and courtesies. I thought it was an elegant solution to a prickly social situation.

I’m sure each flight crew handles this differently, but they said that their arrangement was pretty common. I know that the Navy and the Marine Corps are incredibly prickly about rank, and with good reason: in many cases, Naval and USMC officers are placed directly in charge of groups of enlisted people and need to command them to put their lives on the line. Because Air Force officers so rarely are in a position where they must lead enlisted men in battle to risk their lives, there’s a much more casual approach to the rank divisions.

Nitpick to pilot141: it’s “majors-select,” like “sergeants major” or “attorneys general.” And I call 'em “captain,” too, until they’re out of earshot. Anyone who insists on being called “Major Select” in today’s Air Force is unlikely to ever be a “Lieutenant Colonel Select”.

Whether or not you agree with the traditions behind a salute, it is still correct, proper, right, and all that to salute when regulations say you should. On the sub piers at Norfolk Naval base, it was common for enlisted guys who earned their dolphin pins to pointedly not salute junior officers who had not yet earned their dolphins. (“Dolphins” are basically insignia, silver for enlisted and gold for officers, that show you have qualified as a crewman on a submarine. From what I’ve been told (having never being assigned to subs) it would take a person their first 6 months or so onboard the boat to get qual’ed.)

When I was a little squidling, and later to the guys and gals that worked for me, I stressed the whole military courtesy thing, because:

  1. It’s the right thing to do;
  2. It kept me from dealing with the inevitable ball of shit rolling downhill when the officer felt he was disrespected, and;
  3. Hi, Opal! (sorry - I’ve been waiting to do that).

The Navy anti-fraternization rules that govern relationships between officers and enlisted, also apply between chiefs and the junior enlisted ranks. (Chiefs are the NAVY NCOs, and have their own messing and berthing (sleeping and eating) areas onboard ships. I can’t say I’ve always seen it enforced, especially out on the town away from a work environment, and I’ve been guilty to varying degrees of violating it too.
Hey, no one’s perfect.

I work next door to an AF base and we have officers of various ranks scattered throughout our facility. I’ve never seen any of them salute each other, with the single exception of one meeting where a brigadier general was present, and then I think they just stood at attention until he sat down.

Well, when I was in the Army (59 -62) a Warrent Officer Deserved one salute in the morning. That was all.

There are a few good reasons for this. They need to be

  1. of differing ranks,
  2. outdoors,
  3. in uniform (and wearing their covers), and
  4. approaching each other (vs. walking together).

If your military population is sparse, top-heavy, and lackadaisical about wearing the uniform all the time (my office has me in khakis and a polo from Memorial Day through Labor Day) then you’re not likely to see many salutes. Also, if your facility’s walkways between buildings have awnings or any sort of shelter, there’s an argument that the walkway is still “indoors” and is therefore a no-cover zone.

This would be a good time to point out customs and courtesies differ from service to service. Marines (and Navy) ONLY salute indoor if under arms (sword, pistol belt) at which point they would be covered (wearing a “hat”).
If indoors normally, even reporting to the CO, Marines do NOT wear covers, and do NOT salute. Army salutes indoors without covers.
Marines do NOT salute in the field. At least one Army Captain I ran across in Desert Storm seemed to want to know if there were snipers about when he requested I salute him (I was a 1stLt). I do not know if this is common, as I tried to avoid higher ranking Army officers after that, just in case the sniper might sneeze at the moment he pulled the trigger and hit me. Air Force seems to avoid saluting whenever possible.