Make doing the right thing a habit

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Aman
  • 71st Mission Support Group superintendent
There are many versions of the origin of the military hand salute. One version has it that in the days of the great Roman Empire, citizens would raise their right hand to show that they did not have a weapon in order to gain access to certain locations where the upper class resided. 

According to military historian Rod Powers, the hand salute used today by United States military members was most influenced by a British naval tradition. 

"This dates back to the days of sailing ships, when tar and pitch were used to seal the timber from seawater," said Mr. Powers. "To protect their hands, officers wore white gloves and it was considered most undignified to present a dirty palm in the salute so the hand was turned through 90 degrees." 

Wherever the origin lies, today the hand salute is a privilege that reflects a disciplined member. The hand salute is initiated by the junior member and is rendered as a sign of recognition and mutual respect. It is never inappropriate to salute. 

The other day when I was leaving the clinic, I put on my cover and was headed back to work. Ten feet outside the door a military member, in uniform, was waiting for his ride. 

I quickly scanned the members sleeves looking for stripes -- none. I looked at the member's collar for brass. I couldn't see any, but I didn't have a good angle, so I made a quick decision to salute. 

The Airman jumped to attention and returned the salute. As I got a better look I notice there was no brass on the collar. Oops. I just saluted an airman basic that had just arrived at Vance AFB. Obviously a salute was not required -- not wrong -- but not required. 

He told me I startled him. I welcomed him to the base and mentioned that I was impressed by his military bearing and his sharp salute. He told me he will never forget what his military training instructor told him. "It is never wrong to salute." 

It turns out we are teaching customs and courtesies in basic military training. Both officer training school and enlisted basic training cover military traditions. I also know that when our new Airmen arrive at Vance, they are required to attend the First Term Airman's course where customs, courtesies and Air Force traditions are taught -- again. 

So, where did we go wrong? When did we start thinking it is not important to follow and enforce 62 years of Air Force customs and courtesies? 

It starts small. Someone fails to render a proper salute and no one says anything. A second lieutenant chooses not to salute a first lieutenant and no one says anything. A greeting of the day is not initiated by the junior member, and no one says anything. The greeting of the day is not returned, or even worse, the response is "thank you." 

Next thing you know people are walking without situational awareness because repeated behavior is habit forming. On the rare occasion someone does the right thing and corrects an infraction, they are met with anger and a bad attitude. 

I challenge you to do the right thing, to make the right thing a habit and to help others do the same. We are all responsible for following and enforcing the customs and courtesies of the Air Force, and doing it with pride. 

This is our Air Force. It is up to each of us to leave it a better place than we found it.