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Hand Salute Essay


Saluting is a required act of military courtesy that though simple and dignified, is a greatly significant gesture. It is a symbol of respect and a sign of comradeship among servicemen. There are several types of salutes including hand, gun and rifle salute. This essay focuses on the hand salute to reveal its origin, evolution history and significance in the military today. Saluting is an honourable demonstration of courtesy and a show of mutual respect and pride in military service (Hasson n.d.). Courtesy in the Navy takes on more importance given the close proximity of the Navy quarters, and practicing the courtesy will not only make an officer self-assured but will also enable the officer to make favourable impressions among his colleagues.

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It is unclear where exactly the custom of making a right hand salute originated from. Historians believe it began in the late Roman era when assassination of public figures was common. According to this theory, common citizens approaching a public official were expected to raise their right hand to ascertain that they carried no weapon (Hasson, n.d.). In early American history, officers sometimes removed their hats during saluting. This practice evolved with time from a simple raising of the right hand to removal of the hat and latterly to the touching of the hat. Today, it has become what is recognized worldwide as the Hand Salute (Powers, 2018). Another theory states that the practice began during the chivalry days when knights dressed in armour were required to raise their visors to their friends for identification (Hasson, n.d.).

In early 19th century Britain, the Coldstream Guards came up with yet another move for saluting. In the move, they clapped their hands to their hats as they passed by. To stop the speedy wearing out of the hats, other regiments also abolished constant removal and replacing of their hats and by the middle of the 19th century, the new move was to raise the open hand with the palm facing the front. There has not been any further evolution since then (Powers, 2018).

In the United States, the military salute is believed to have borrowed from the British Navy. The American variation, instead of the open hand, involves twisting of the palm such that if faces downwards over the shoulder. This can be traced from the early days of sailing ships when tar and pitch were used to seal timber from sea water. After handling tar, it was dishonourable to salute with stained palms hence the hand was turned downwards. A salute is a courteous exchange of greetings normally initiated by the junior officer and returned by the senior officer (Powers, 2018). When returning the salute, the saluting person turns towards the person or colour being saluted.

The workings of the US military hand salute
Saluting is simple in action but complicated in terms of the elaborate procedures involved. Most basically, saluting in different occasions depend on whether an officer is in uniform or in civilian clothes. For officers in civilian clothes, there are two ways of saluting:

i. Hat in front of the left shoulder for men;
ii. Right hand over the heart for men without hats and all women.

These forms are used the flag and the national anthem but for fellow officers. The navy personnel salute the flag, the national anthem and fellow officers by performing a series of actions as indicated:
i. Raising the hand such that the tip of the forefingers touch the lower part of the headgear or forehead just above the right side of the eye;
ii. Extending and joining the thumb and the fingers;
iii. Turning the palm slightly inward until the person saluting can just see its surface from the corner of the right eye;
iv. Turning the upper arm such that it is parallel to the ground and the elbow is slightly in front of the body;
v. Inclining the forearm at a 45° angle to align the hand and wrist; and,
vi. Completing the salute after it is returned by dropping the arm to its normal position in a sharp and clean motion.

Naval customs dictate that the junior officer stands at attention and establishes eye contact with the senior officer before saying a greeting depending on the time of the day.

Further regulations exist explaining procedures of saluting for officers on ships, in boats, in a group, when overtaking another officer, when reporting, while in civilian clothes and so on. Yet more regulations guide on who to salute and who not to salute depending on their position. For example, the President demands a full salute by virtue of being the commander in chief of the armed forces. All enlisted officers must always salute their seniors, and the trend climbs the positional hierarchy in order. Prisoners are not saluted since their position is not honourable and is therefore regarded unworthy of a salute.

The elaborate rules and regulations on saluting have led to confusion of junior officers at times. Decisions on whether to salute or not are sometimes difficult to make especially when the other party too is not sure what to do, or has initiated a salute when not required. In December 2014, American President Barack Obama saluted a marine as he alighted from a helicopter while holding a cup of coffee. According military customs, one cannot salute with a cigar, pipe or cigarette, or just anything else in the mouth. In fact, it is regarded worse to salute sloppily than not to salute at all according to the rule of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, which also salutes even though it is a non-military organisation (BBC News, 2015). Similarly in the Navy, a bad salute is worse than a non-salute. When both hands are occupied, an officer is expected to complete the saluting by establishing eye connection as if in a real salute situation, or nodding the head in acknowledgement of the gesture.

The military in the US and the world over have a long history and many traditions and customs are based on such long history. Saluting being one of the more established customs, attract significant attention as it is present not only in military but also in some non-military organizations in the US, like the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. This multi-presence indicates a special importance of the custom. Most importantly, the rigours of going through the elaborate procedures creates a sense of mutual respect amongst servicemen, enabling to engage in a respectful, friendly manner both within the work environment and while off duty. Additionally it helps officers to maintain an orderly service life thus eliminating unnecessary confusions. This interaction is important to maintain discipline within the service. The members of the Navy live closely together, and to maintain good personal relations that translate into good relationship at the workplace, the hand salute is probably the most important gesture to create the required environment.

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Works Cited
BBC News. (2015). Who, What, Why: Why does the military insist on saluting. Retrieved from
Hasson, E. Customs and Courtesies. Retrieved from
Powers, R. (2018). Origins and Use of the U.S. Military Salute [Blog]. Retrieved from

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