evought's picture

As this is a subject which people tend to think is confusing, it gets its own section.
Saluting is a formal showing of courtesy between uniformed personnel, no different than shaking hands and saying, "Hi," for non-uniformed personnel. There are some formalities which go with it, however, which take a little care to learn and practice. Formalities differ somewhat according to branch and organization of service. The following are based mostly on the formalities for uniformed Public Services personnel (and some of the text is directly copied).
A sloppy or ill-performed salute is worse than no salute. As a volunteer company, there will be a certain stigma to overcome. Observing these courtesies consistently and correctly is one method of overcoming that stigma (or, more correctly, good performance in the field can be countered by screwing up these formalities).
A salute is given by the junior to a superior, a enlisted or NCO to a commissioned officer (including deputies and the sheriff) or one officer to another of higher rank. The officer saluted returns the courtesy (a deputy is not expected to return a salute), honor to honor. A non-commissioned officer is not saluted, but a Warrant Officer counts as an officer in all services. A color guard carrying the flag or in the process of folding it is considered your superior; you salute them even if you outrank them.
If you really want to know why we do this, saluting goes back to knights raising their visors so that they can see and recognize each other's faces. This was always done with the right hand, which showed that the hand was not on the hilt of the sword and was empty of weapons. Not 'saluting' was not just an insult, but a threat. Naval personnel in Colonial times used to tip the hat (or raise their hand as if tipping a hat if they were bare-headed) and at some point, this custom went away in favor of the salute among all servicemen.
The salute is performed as follows: the right hand is raised smartly until the tip of the forefinger touches the lower part of the headdress or forehead above and slightly to the right of the right eye, thumb and fingers extended and joined, palm facing front, upper arm horizontal, forearm inclined at 45 degress, hand and wrist straight. At the same time turn the head toward the person saluted. To complete the salute, frop the arm to its normal position by the side in one motion, at the same time turning the head and eyes to the front. This is different from other services only in that the palm faces forward instead of down, which is a style used in the US through the 19th century and still used in Britain and France.
It is also appropriate to accompany your salute with "Good Morning Sir or Ma'am" depending on the situation. In the Navy and Coast Guard, Officers below the rank of O-5 (Captain or Commander in the Navy) are usually addressed as "Mister" or "Miss" depending on the situation. Officers who are at the rank of Commander or above are usually addressed by their rank i.e.. "Good Morning Commander Jones" or "Good afternoon General Smith". You can never go wrong by using "Sir" or "Ma'am", but it is a nice touch if you can properly address a senior officer.
Salutes are usually rendered between 6 and 30 paces. If you are running you should slow down to a walk prior to saluting. If you are standing, you should face the individual to be saluted, come to the position of attention, then render a hand salute. Salutes are also exchanged when two members first meet and again when the conversation is completed just prior to departing.
If two officers or an officer and enlisted member approach with the intent of conversing, salutes are exchanged and then also after the conversation is completed. Forgetting to salute after conversation has ended is a common mistake. It is the junior person's responsibility to initiate this courtesy prior to departing just as the junior person should salute if passing someone senior to them.
In the Auxiliary, and in most armed services, a salute is not required when not in uniform, inside, and uncovered (no hat). Tradition dictates that if you are saluted in this case, you acknowledge with a polite courtesy (e.g. "Good morning) but do not return the salute. If you approach someone who is senior to you and you are in civilian attire, you do not salute. Instead, you may say "Good Morning Sir or Ma'am" depending on the situation. A few "indoors" places can be considered "outdoors":

  • A gymnasium or drill hall being used for drill or ceremony
  • Potentially, theater marquee, airport or mall  concourse
  • Covered walkway or overhang

​A commander of a unit or facility may designate no-salute zones for the ease of personnel. In these areas, treat them as indoor, uncovered areas.
As stated before, the junior person must salute the senior officer present. This is straight forward if there are only two individuals present. Confusion can arise if there are more than two people present and of different officer ranks. The general rule that applies is that you always salute the senior officer no matter how many other officers are present. If you are outdoors and with a group of officers an/or enlisted and an officer senior to all the officers present approaches, all of the members must stop what they are doing, face the senior officer, come to the position of attention and render a hand salute. To avoid missing a senior officer passing close aboard you must be attentive to people around you while outdoors.
Who Is Saluted:
Salutes must be rendered and returned to all members of the Uniformed Services: The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Public Health Service, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Also recognize other uniformed volunteer or private services that include the wearing of official rank emblems. Keep in mind that a deputy "sergeant" is a commissioned officer, not an NCO for our purposes.


It is important to bear in mind that the person rendering the salute is saluting the rank and uniform of the wearer, out of respect to the grade, and to honor the history of the organization and that uniform. Failure or refusal to render a proper salute is a clear sign of disrespect and dishonor to the uniform, to the organization, and to the individual. Failure or refusal will not be acceptable practice in the Auxiliary. On the other side, we may salute military officers and they might choose to not return it; simply accept it and go on (but continue to render the honor as appropriate).
Saluting the "Colors" refers to paying tribute to the United States Flag. There are two daily ceremonies in which uniformed service personnel will salute the colors (national flag). The first is at the beginning of the day (@ 0800). This ceremony involves raising the national flag while the national anthem is played. The second is at "Sunset", and consists of lowering the national flag while "Retreat or the National Anthem" is played. During both situations if you are outdoors, you must stop what you are doing, face the flag or the direction in which colors are being held, come to the position of attention and render a hand salute. You must hold this salute until the last note of the music; then you may proceed.
If you are attending a Military/Sheriff/Deputy/Police Funeral in Uniform, there are certain courtesies that must be adhered to. You shall render a hand salute if you are in uniform and covered (wearing your hat) during the following situations:

  • The casket is being moved
  • While the casket is being lowered into the grave
  • During the firing of the volley (usually seven members firing simultaneously three times)
  • " TAPS" is being sounded (this is usually one bugler)

If you are attending the funeral in civilian attire, you will come to the position of attention and remove your headdress if appropriate and place it over your heart. If no headdress is worn, you will place your right hand over your heart.
Servicemen who are "Active Pallbearers" (assigned to carry the casket) will remain covered and do not salute during the ceremony.
Special Circumstances:

We do not, for the most part, salute civilians or non-uniformed personnel of any service. If a officer in command chooses to show a special honor by saluting a civilian, every other Auxiliary member present also renders honor. The salute should be performed distinctly and held briefly in order to indicate its special nature.


Similarly, a salute may be rendered in circumstances where it is not usually warranted (indoors) as a formality. For example, salute the receiver of an award, promotion, or commission when rendering it. Also salute briefly when formally relieving or being formally relieved from a watch or office.


A special salute is given when someone is serving under arms as a sentry, honor guard, or escort whether inside or out. The personnel serving in such capacity shall leave their cap on, will be bearing a rifle, sword, or pistol belt and shall initiate the salute. The salute is returned with a normal hand salute.


  • When personnel are serving under arms and carrying a rifle at Right Shoulder Arms, they shall salute by bringing their left arm straight across the chest, hold it until the salute is acknowledged, then drop it to their side.
  • The sword salute is distinctly different from the rifle salute. The salute is initiated by the person who is under arms (carrying the sword) by coming to the position of attention. Next, the person under arms will rotate the blade of the sword up so it rests against the front of the right shoulder (this can also be done at the same time the person comes to the position of attention). From here, the sword handle is brought from the right hip to in front of the person's face approximately a fists distance away from their chin, right elbow tucked into their side. From here, the sword handle is lowered down to the level of the right hip in line with the trouser seam, the palm is facing forward and the sword blade is angled approximately thirty degrees forward so not to touch the ground. The above sequence is equivalent to bringing your right hand up to your forehead or visor during a hand salute. The person who is under arms will hold this position until a hand salute is rendered and dropped. After this, the sword handle is rotated inboard so the palm of the hand faces the trouser seam. This is the equivalent of dropping your hand from your visor to your side during a hand salute. (This, incidentally, is also done with a sword on horseback).