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VERIFY: Explaining the saluting protocol of the vice president

One viral news story said VP Kamala Harris 'broke precedent' when she forgot to salute the military while boarding Air Force Two. But did she break any rules?


Is the vice president required to salute, or return a salute, to military members?


No. The president salutes as a courtesy being Commander in Chief, but there are no official statutes that require other top politicians like him or the VP to do so.



The Verify team exists to sort fact from fiction, and in the world of social media, that can be hard to decipher.

A video of Vice President Kamala Harris began to make rounds online after she was seen heading towards a ramp to Air Force Two last week. The March 19 video shows the VP walking past saluting airmen at the Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia, where she is seen boarding without returning the salute to the guards nearby.

Many on social media began to retweet the video, with others retweeting an article by right-wing news source Fox News. The site claimed the VP had 'broken precedent' by not returning the salute.

But is that true?

No, it's not. The Verify team looked through current military regulations and guidance to see if there are any formal requirements. The guidance we found involves not the VP but the president and actually says it's the other way around: Service members are required to salute the president, but the president doesn't have to salute them.

"The President of the United States, as the commander in chief, will be saluted by Army personnel in uniform," read Army salute guidelines.

"All Army personnel in uniform are required to salute when they meet and recognize persons entitled to the salute," it continues. In addition to the Army guidelines, page 393 of the Official Manual for Courts-Martial United States further defines a lack of salute by military members to superior officers as an act of disrespect.

"Disrespect by acts includes neglecting the customary salute, or showing a marked disdain, indifference, insolence, impertinence, undue familiarity, or other rudeness in the presence of the superior officer," it reads.

Credit: AP
Vice President Kamala Harris boards Air Force Two in Jacksonville, Fla., as she departs Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Verify team also reached out to the Pentagon for further clarification.

While some perceived the lack of gesture as a slight to Armed Forces, Press Secretary John Kirby agreed that there is no current regulation that mandates a vice president, or president, to return hand salutes from the military.

"There is no overarching instruction or regulation that requires the President or Vice President to return hand salutes from members of the Armed Forces," Kirby said. "Vice President Harris has made very clear her respect and admiration for the men and women of the military, as well as their families."

Kirby said that each of the branches of service has regulations that outline specifics for hand salutes, pointing back to the Army regulation we mentioned prior. 

Credit: AP
Vice President Kamala Harris waves as she boards Air Force Two at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Monday, March 22, 2021. The Vice President is traveling to Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

"There is no specific requirement for personnel to salute the Vice President, though the Vice President does receive Honors, including cannon firing, Ruffles and flourishes, and specific music, when visiting military installations or participating in formal functions," Kirby continued, saying the hand salute is a time-honored tradition for military members.

" From their first days in the military, new recruits are taught to salute when they meet more senior leaders – a common phrase among drill instructors is “When in doubt, throw it out.," he said. "Our troops demonstrate their respect for the nation’s senior leaders in many ways; rending a hand salute is one of them.” 

BOTTOM LINE: So we can Verify that while many vice presidents and top White House officials have saluted the military in the past, there is no mandated requirement for them to do so, and there is no precedent being broken by not.

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