The salute is a common and basic form of military courtesy used in the armed forces around the world. A person who is junior in rank is required to salute when an officer approaches.
I was taught in basic training to salute all officers except when you are indoors or when dressed in civilian clothes. You also would salute officer’s cars and a whole lot more. I also understood that you do not need to salute if your hands are occupied by carrying something.
It did not take long to find out you don’t salute in a combat zone. The reason is that a salute identifies who is in charge for enemy snipers or spies. Theoretically, this is accurate, but the protocol for saluting in a combat zone is created by the unit. But we did not salute, especially in the field. When I was in the Army the enlisted saluted each other and called out “Sniper Check!” for a laugh.
I had only two days in basecamp to get signed off before I was to go back to “The World”. After I got my orders and signed out put on Khakis put my duffle bag on my shoulder and carried a “Vietnamese Airlines” bag in my other hand.
Walking from the company area to the location to catch a bus to the Pleiku Airbase a major was walking towards me. He was in starched Khakis and was pasty looking so I knew he had only just arrived in Vietnam. Since my hands were occupied I did not bother to salute. And anyway, was so used to not saluting that I just kept walking and said “Good Morning, Sir”.
The major stopped me and started chewing me out about not saluting. He chewed and chewed. He asked me where I was going and I told him “Home, Sir”. He then said “Good Luck, Soldier” and he started walking again.
When he was about 10 meters away I put my bags down and said “Sir” and when he turned around I gave him the best salute I had ever given. I would have said “Sniper Check!” but he would not have understood.
…if any officer demands a salute in an active theatre then they need a reality check…