Enlisted Acts of Rebellion: From Public Drunkenness to the Slow Salute

My last post included a brief discussion about public drunkenness on the part of enlisted personnel as a sort of rebellion against the rigid and erratic conditions of military life in the Revolutionary and Civil War era, and the officers who administered this society and its corresponding disciplinary system. In this post, I’d like to have a bit of fun and take a satirical look at one of today’s most common acts of rebellion—the slow salute.

In last month’s post, I mentioned public drunkenness as a historically common offense (at least through the end of the 19th century) by enlisted military members as a method of rebelling against officers and the harshness of military life, dullness of military duties (outside combat, which was actually rare), and the erratic provision of benefits. They would “act out,” get smacked down through a court-martial or some form of summary punishment, then get back to work.

Those days are long gone, particularly in an era in which the military is so highly revered.[1] Through a never-ending stream of fresh volunteers and the post-WWII “up or out” career progression model, America’s military can afford to be discriminating—and less patient. A single DUI can likely lead to a one way ticket out of the service. Some may argue that a glass or two of wine with dinner every night may land a service member in an alcohol abuse program. And with so many service members living off base nowadays, fewer members are comfortable having more than one drink at the Officers or Enlisted Club.[2] Public drunkenness is no longer an acceptable form of rebellion. But a more subtle one may be out there, and every officer has likely experienced it—the slow salute.

To enter a military installation, one must show a form of ID to, often but not always, a uniformed service member. Regardless of whether the person seeking access to the installation is in uniform or not, military customs and courtesies require the junior member to salute the senior member if the senior member is an officer. Often the person at the front gate is an enlisted member. For those unaware of this custom, the junior member salutes and holds the salute until the senior officer has concluded his return salute (that’s up and then down). Only then may the junior member drop his salute.

But people are busy. After being in a while, this process becomes somewhat rote. That’s where the opportunity presents itself. The slow salute occurs when the junior person slowly raises his salute. If the senior officer is unaware, he or she will raise and drop his or her salute before the junior member has fully raised his or her arm. This has the effect of the senior officer saluting the junior member.

This is an inter-service phenomenon. True, one service may be on the receiving end of this act of rebellion (or lack of respect??) more often than others, but I can bet anyone in uniform reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about—or just had a “aha” moment.

The rebellion continues…


[1] Some authors, such as Professor Andrew Bacevich in his book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, appear to argue this reverence is really the manifestation of the public guilt of 99% of Americans that choose not to serve.

[2] Many, if not all, of these Clubs have combined, primarily due to lack of sufficient revenue.

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