The Military Salute: Tradition, Respect, and Trust

Maj. Terrence Adams salutes during a retreat ceremony May 15 at Ali Base, Iraq. Major Adams was born and raised in Tuskegee, Ala., and is now deployed to a unit in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing where the Tuskegee legend continues. Major Adams is the 407th Expeditionary Communications Squadron commander deployed from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sabrina Johnson)

The military salute is part of the tradition of honor to which all Airmen must be faithful. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sabrina Johnson)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- This is not just a job. The military is a way of life, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The first question you should ask yourself everyday: "Why did I join the U.S. military?" Your answer should drive you to want to be better than what you did yesterday. I joined to get the same sense of pride my father showed during his 20 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force and my sister showed during her 10 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force, which she continues to show as a reservist. From the three simple core values I adopted to the strength and discipline I gained during my six weeks of basic training, these skills still continue to push me in my day-to-day activities, whether I am taking my son to school, running errands, or doing the best I can to support this nation.

We are in a time of great struggle but we need to maintain the three simple "basic training standards" daily: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. Simple standards go hand-in-hand with customs and courtesies. I learned these at a very young age, calling my father and mother "Sir" and "Ma'am." I continue to use customs and courtesies throughout my work center, such as standing when someone of higher rank enters the room or comes to my desk to speak to me. These acts may be simple, but should be instilled nonetheless.

Saluting is done every day; something that, to most of us, has become a natural thing, whether it is for retreat at 7 a.m., reveille at 5 p.m., or in the daily passing of an officer. Why is the salute important? According to Webster's Dictionary, the salute is used to greet or address with an expression of respect, welcome, and or goodwill, to recognize (a superior) with a gesture prescribed by military regulations, as by raising the hand to the cap, or to honor formally and ceremoniously. This is a privileged gesture of respect and trust among Airmen.

A little history about saluting: some historians believe it began in late Roman times, when assassinations were common. A citizen who wanted to see a public official had to approach with his right hand raised to show that he did not hold a weapon. Knights in armor raised visors with the right hand when meeting a comrade. This practice gradually became a way of showing respect and, in early American history, sometimes involved removing the hat. By 1820, the motion was modified to touching the hat, and since then it has become "the salute" we use today. The salute is an expression that recognizes fellow members of the profession of arms. Saluting staff cars is another common practice we should not forget.

Peterson AFB is a different base, in that we have multiple military services serving here. With that said, all services are part of the military team and should be afforded the same customs and courtesies. Officers drive all different types of staff vehicles, but one thing that is common on all is the placard in the front where the license plate usually sits or in the front window. For example, the NORAD/USNORTHCOM commander drives a silver Yukon Denali, the Air Force Space Command commander drives a silver Cadillac, and the 21st SW commander drives a blue Dodge sedan with a white top. An important note is that, these vehicles should be saluted only when they display the appropriate placard. When the placard is removed it either means the commander is not in the vehicle or does not wish to be identified by salute.

While walking on any base, strive to be vigilant and alert at all times. Aspire to be familiar with your surroundings and you will not miss an important opportunity to pay your respects to a fellow Airman, on or off base. I will leave you with a good rule of thumb to follow: if you are anywhere, and it is practical to salute, do so.