My First “Real” Salute

I was in full Army combat uniform (ACU) while I was at Robins Air Force Base to get my CAC (military ID card) and to enroll my family in the DEERS program this past Wednesday. I was walking towards the visitor center when it happened – my first real salute.

It actually caught me off guard as an enlisted airman in Air Force ACUs paused to salute me as she neared me. She was trained well. Me, not so well. Glad I had read the section in the Army Officers Guide on saluting. I quickly remembered to return a snappy salute so that the airman could continue on. As we then passed each other I must admit that I felt great. Later, I began thinking about why something as simple as a hand gesture salute could have had such a positive effect on me.

For starters, it felt like the airman didn’t recognize me as “new.”. She saw and recognized Captain’s bars and knew what that meant. She took pride in her work, in her own “office” in the military, and in herself to offer a correct salute to an officer of a different branch than hers. I realized quickly that she must be an excellent airman. At least I made that assumption.

But why was I still feeling so good about something as simple as a hand gesture hours later? Because when it is properly exchanged, a salute is not merely a simple hand gesture. Now I’ve been given the middle finger before from fellow drivers on the road, and that hand gesture changed my mood for awhile. So hand gestures can have power, if the giver and receiver both comprehend the meaning. But as fo the salute, it is intended to instill pride and show respect and comradeship.

How did I feel being saluted? I immediately felt respected. I felt pride in myself, in my office, in the Army which I serve, and in the uniform. I felt accepted by this airman not so much as a leader but as a comrade – a serviceman on the same team. I felt a flood of emotions actually. I felt humbled, and still a bit like a boy wearing his father’s oversized uniform. In fact, in these early days of my Army career, I still feel a bit odd in the uniform. I constantly think about the long history of men and women in uniform who came before me, men and women who gave of themselves – many of their lives, so that we may have a free country today. They wore the uniform. They earned that salute. I find myself asking the question…. “Am I even worthy to wear such a uniform?”. What have I done for my country? How dare I assume an office of Captain that so many struggled to obtain for so many years?

The day before, while I was working at Groome (airport shuttle bus company), I had the privilege of meeting not one but two E-9s! That means nearly the highest ranking enlisted men there are. One I drove on my van to Warner Robins. He was a retired E-9 from the Air Force. The other was an active Duty Sergeant Major for the Army, sitting in the waiting area in his ACUs. I introduced myself to him. I confessed that I was starting out as an 0-3 but felt like I now must earn that rank.

He quickly told me “the Army doesn’t ‘give you’ anything. You earned that rank already. Now you’ll just learn – in time, how to serve in the Army.” If I had been in uniform he might have saluted me. But this man is more of an Army leader than I may ever be. My cap is off to him. He and all other NCOs are indeed the backbone of the Army.

But his words on Tuesday, coupled with that salute on Wednesday, made me feel more comfortable in my uniform for the first real time. True. The Army doesn’t “give you” anything. If anything they take. But they also take care of its own. I did earn those Captain’s bars. They are a symbol for my ministry and work to this point. I am just shifting from the civilian venue to the military venue, but still doing the same type of work. Only this venue comes with salutes. And yes, I will admit, I enjoy them. But I also better practice my own salute, because I see a Major coming, followed by a Colonel, followed by…….


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Buford Marion Pennington on 8 September 11 at 14:37

    Howdy William,

    I just have to respond to the “salute” story. In 1953 when I became the youngest CPL(17) in the US Army at Ft. Sill, one evening(after dark) I met a black lst Lt and as I approached him, like you, I came to attention and gave him a snappy respectul salute; you salute the rank, not the person; that comes later, as you get to know the individual, right? Anyway, he saluted and asked if I would stand at ease for a moment; I responded, “Yes Sir!” He said, CPL Pennington, where are you from and when I told him GA he said, I don’t get many salutes from you boys; usually they’ll go to the other side of the street or sidewalk, etc. Well, William, I was taught many years ago by my dear old DAD, who only had 3yrs of formal education that you treat all mean alike. Later, in the Post Exchange(PX, back then) the Lt. saw me, came over and we talked about Alabama; YES! that’s where he was from!! Amazing story to me and I have so many, many more positive memories of people helping people in the Military; that’s the name of the game. I’ll stop now and give you some peace. B. Marion


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