Military customs and courtesies: a Soldier’s perspective

By Sgt. Josue E. Pagan Carbone, Public Affairs Intern, Photo by Rosie Irizarry, Public Affairs SpecialistAugust 14, 2020

FORT BUCHANAN, PR--The United States Army is based on traditions and values. Some of these are customs and courtesies. But, what are customs and courtesies? Customs are established practices and courtesies, could be defined as good manners and politeness. The Army has a regulation, AR 600-25 – “Salutes, Honors and Courtesy” published September 10, 2019 that “provides general policies and procedures for the rendition of salutes, honors, ceremonies, customs, and visits of courtesy.”

US Army Garrison Deputy Commander, Lt. Col. James K. Rowsey II while monitoring the use and flow of traffic at the Borinqueneers Alternate Gate salutes Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Jurasek, Commanding General of the 1st Mission Support Command, October 29, 2019.
US Army Garrison Deputy Commander, Lt. Col. James K. Rowsey II while monitoring the use and flow of traffic at the Borinqueneers Alternate Gate salutes Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Jurasek, Commanding General of the 1st Mission Support Command, October 29, 2019. (Photo Credit: Rosie Irizarry) VIEW ORIGINAL

One of the chapters establishes salutes and courtesies. For example, the mandatory hand salute between officers and enlisted personnel of the US Armed Forces.

What were the origins of the hand salute? Actually, we don’t know. There are some theories for this action. Some say that Roman Empire Soldiers used to slap their chest and raise their right hand as a symbol of respect and to show that they were unarmed. Another theory points to the Middle Ages, when knights raised the cover of their helmets to identify themselves as friendly. In the 1600’s, the British started to salute with their hats. Raising them to show respect to officials. Although these are some theories, there is no exact date on the birth of the hand salute.

However, the Army adopted the salute as a necessary requirement for Soldiers. Although, some of the ranks, ceremonies and personnel do not demand a hand salute, a Soldier must always display good manners. These are some of the customs and traditions the Army has adopted: 1) Never offer excuses; 2) Never go over your superiors, use your chain of command; 3) Never turn and walk away to avoid giving the hand salute, among others.

Customs and courtesies are key for a cohesive relationship in the armed forces. Furthermore, all of these beliefs have a set of values that cement the course of action that a Soldier takes in the course of his daily life. The hand salute is more than a simple “greeting.” It’s a symbol of respect, honor and integrity. When a Soldier salutes a high ranking officer, he or she is not saluting the individual but showing respect to the rank. On the other hand, the Army has a set of ranks and positions that do not require a hand salute, but proper manners and courtesies are highly recommended. For example, the non-commissioned officer (NCO), does not require a hand salute, but proper courtesies are always expected.

Without a doubt the United States Army has a very strict mission and vision for the new Soldier. It wants to have professionals in all its departments and above all, Soldiers with values. When a Soldier salutes or greets a comrade, they are living up to the Seven Core Army Values of, Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage.

I asked two enlisted Soldiers from the Army Reserve, Specialist Caroline Lozada and Private Paola Pagán, “What is your definition of values?” They both stated that: “Values define who you are. They go hand in hand with the customs and courtesies of the Army.” But, how does the junior enlisted get to know and understand the importance of military customs and courtesies?

Without a doubt, leadership is very important to implement customs and courtesies in the Army. Lieutenant Colonel Carlos M. Cuebas, Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Mission Support Command, stated that “Being a leader is a dynamic process. More than words it is to take action. We as leaders have to set an example and be proactive with our Soldiers so they can be educated and molded to our customs and courtesies. The Army has a set of values that are not negotiable, nor can be broken. These are the foundation to continue our customs and courtesies.”

Therefore, leadership should be the foundation and example to apply all the customs and courtesies of the Army. Lt. Col. Cuebas described it saying, “We have to build them up, not crush them down.” Certainly the way of forming a Soldier starts from basic combat training all the way to the unit’s leadership. But then again, this is a job for the NCO. It is mainly in the rank of the Soldier, as well as the individual.

US Army Garrison Fort Buchanan Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. José A. Banks, raised a very valid question, “What do we have to do as leaders to apply these customs and courtesies as a good culture in our Army?” He answered the question by saying “We as leaders and NCO’s must have patience, trust and respect with our Soldiers. This goes from the top all the way to the bottom, so we can get in line.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Banks was emphatic on the way we impact a Soldier. He uses a very effective philosophy for his approach. It is called “effective interactions.” This method is based on “Meditating on what types of actions you should take in any situation you confront. Don’t act based on emotions, or rank, but as an effective steward of the profession. This is the way we help the Soldier in every phase of his or her development,” concluded Banks.

Military customs and courtesies are the foundation of our organization. The most important thing above all, is the Soldier. Soldiers are the basis of our institution. The Army has the obligation to mold, edify and construct a professional Soldier and responsible human being. This is the main goal of the organization.

I ask, with all the changes that are impacting our generation, will Army customs and courtesies continue to be our foundation or will they change throughout time? It depends on NCOs and officers. Bottom line, it all depends on us, the Soldiers.