I am often asked why it is that military people salute each other. They know that it’s a sign of respect but who are we saluting? When do we salute? How? One of the most important things that people should know is that in reality, when someone salutes me, they aren’t really paying respect to me as a person. They’re saluting my commission.
For the most part, we only salute officers and that’s because they have been granted a commission from the Queen, which allows each officer to carry out orders on the Queen’s behalf. And to remind you of this commission, you are given a scroll. Many people have the scroll framed and then leave it in their basement somewhere to collect dust, forgetting that the words actually mean something. But I cherish mine. Whenever I have a professional moral dilemma or I need guidance in my work, I read the words out loud. Below is an excerpt from the scroll:
WE reposing especial Trust and Confidence in your Loyalty, Courage and Integrity, do by these Presents Constitute and Appoint you to be an Officer in our Canadian Armed Forces.
Those words never fail to remind me of some of the reasons I joined the forces.
But in all this talk about respect, I should say that there are certainly times at which you are saluting the person, not their rank. When a soldier dies, we salute their casket, showing admiration for the sacrifice they paid for their country. And certainly, there are some soldiers who you respect so much, that showing them respect is an absolute pleasure.
Saluting is one of those things that people either know how to do well, or they don’t know how to do at all, and there are many people who are sticklers for it being done properly. Your right arm is meant to be parallel to the floor, with your forearm bent, making a straight line to the corner of your right eye. It’s a rather precise thing, so we learn it over and over again in basic training, during drill practice.
When my car broke down, my dad came to visit me in basic training, laughing at my callused hands and messy hair (since he knows that’s usually not my style). When I went to leave the room he said, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” He was kind of half-joking, but my dad was an officer and so I knew I had to salute him. But suddenly, overwhelmed with screwing up the movement and not showing my own dad the proper respect he deserved, I poked myself in the eye. Then I cried a little. Not my proudest moment.
But since then, I’ve had many opportunities to salute him and do it properly. And like I said, there are some people you salute because you respect the person, their rank, and their contribution, not just their commission.
Just for the record: Dad, when I salute you, I don’t just do it because of your rank. I salute you for being the officer that I’ve always strived to be—loyal, understanding, compassionate, and with the straightest saluting arm on the parade square.