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Military Customs And Courtesies

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2780 words Published: 4th May 2017

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Military courtesy is basically no different from courtesy in civilian life, just good manner and politeness in dealing with other people. The experience of life has proven that courteous behavior is essential in human relations. The distinction between civilian courtesy and military courtesy is that, military courtesies were developed in a military atmosphere and have become customs and traditions of the service.

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Most forms of military courtesy have some counterpart in civilian life. For example, you are required to say “Sir” when you talk to an officer. Throughout our history, young men and women were taught to say “Sir” to their fathers and other male elders. This tradition is still carried on and it is considered good manners for a younger man to say “Sir” when speaking to an older man. The use of the word “Sir” is also common in the business world, in the address of letters, and in any well-ordered institution.

Military courtesy is not a one-way street. Enlisted personnel must be courteous to officers, and officers are expected to return the courtesy. Officers respect soldiers as individuals, just as you respect officers as individuals. Without this basis of mutual respect, there can be no military courtesy, and disharmony will result.

In the final analysis, military courtesy is the respect shown to each other by members of the same profession. It is not only a form of respect for the nation, it is to defend the nation. Enlisted personnel show military courtesy to their officers because they respect the position of responsibility held by the officer. Officers, on the other hand, respect their personnel because they know the responsibility the personnel have in carrying out orders.


All military personnel are customarily addressed as follows:

The term of respect “Sir” is used when speaking to officers and civilian officials. Each sentence or statement should be either preceded or terminated with the word “Sir”, but should not be used both before and after the statement. When speaking with a female officer, the term “Ma’am” instead of “Sir” is used. When you answer a telephone on a military installation, you always assume that the caller is an officer and respond accordingly. Some units have mottos that the prescribe for answering the telephone, but the normal procedures is to identify the units and yourself, and end with “Sir.” Giving the company and battalion is usually sufficient to identify the unit.

Conversations by seniors carried on in the presence of troops or information & directions to troops should be formal and proper titles should be used. Juniors address seniors by his or her proper title at all times.

You should know, as part of military courtesy, to always walk and sit to the left of your seniors. This is another custom with a long past. Men fought for centuries with swords, and, because most men were right handed, the heaviest fighting occurred on the right. The shield was carried on the left arm, and the left side became defensive. Men and units that fought were proud of their fighting ability, and considered the right of a battle line to be a post or honor. When an officer of senior enlisted soldier walks on your right, he/she is symbolically filling the post of honor. You should walk on your senior’s left, and stop when he/she does.

Officers and enlisted personnel under arms uncover only when in attendance at a court or board (Prisoner guards do not uncover), entering places of divine worship, indoors when not at a place of duty, or in attendance at an official reception. When unarmed, the cap of all personnel is removed indoors. When out of doors, the cap is never removed or raised as a form of salutation.

The following rules will help you conduct yourself appropriately in the presence of officers and anyone senior to you in rank:

-When talking to an officer, stand at attention unless given the order “At ease.” When you are dismissed, or when the officer departs, come to attention and salute.

-When an officer enters a room, the first soldier to recognize the officer calls personnel in the room to attention but does not salute. A salute indoors is rendered only when one is reporting.

-When accompanying a senior, walk on his left.

-When entering or exiting a vehicle, the junior ranking person is the first to enter, and the senior in rank is the first to exit.

-When an officer enters a dining facility, unless he directs otherwise or unless a more senior officer is already present, the diners will be given the order “At ease” by the first person who sees the officer. You will remain seated at ease and will continue eating unless the officer directs otherwise. If you are directly addressed, you should rise to attention if seated in a chair. If seated on a bench, stop eating and sit at attention until the conversation has ended.

-When an officer or noncommissioned officer enters a crowded hallway or similar area where troops are taking a break or standing in a waiting line, the first person to see the officer or noncommissioned officer should call “At ease” and “Make way” so those present will move to the sides of the hallway and allow passage.

NOTE: The officer or NCO may give the directive “Carry on.” This means the soldier or soldiers would continue with whatever they were doing previously. This same directive may be used in many other situations outside of formation, such as in the barracks and break areas.

-When outdoors and approached by an NCO, you should stand (if seated) and greet the NCO by saying, “Good morning, sergeant,” “Good afternoon, sergeant,” or “Good evening, sergeant (last name, if known).”

-When you report to an officer for any reason, it is important to make a good first impression. If you are outdoors, approach the officer to whom you are reporting and stop approximately two steps from him, assuming the position of attention. Give the proper salute and say, for example, “Sir/Ma’am, Private Smith reports.” If you are indoors, use the same procedures as above, except remove your headgear before reporting. If you are armed, however, do not remove your headgear.


When an officer enters a room, stand at attention until the officer directs otherwise, or until he/she leaves. When more than one person is present the first to see the officer commands, Attention and the senior person reports. When a noncommissioned officer enters a barracks, if he/she has information or instruction for personnel living in the barracks, he/she will call “at ease”, loud enough for all those present to hear.

When an officer enters a place used as an office, workshop, or place of recreation, personnel engaged in an activity there do not come to attention unless the officer speaks to them. A junior comes to attention when addressed by a senior, except in the transaction of routine business between individuals at work.

When an officer enters a mess unless that officer directs otherwise, or unless a more senior officer is already present in the mess, the mess will be called to “at ease” by the first person who sees the officer. The person in charge reports to the officer. The personnel remain seated at ease and continue eating unless the officer directs otherwise. An individual directly addressed should rise to attention unless seated on a bench instead of a chair, in which case he stops eating and sits at attention until the conversation is ended.

When an officer or noncommissioned officer enters a crowded hallway or similar area where troops are taking a break or standing in a waiting line, the first person to see the officer or noncommissioned officer should call, “at ease”, and “make way”, so those present will move to the sides of the hallway and allow passage.

On entering a vehicle, the junior enters first and others follow in inverse order of rank. In leaving a vehicle, the senior leaves first and others follow in order of rank.

When a commanding officer enters an office for the first time each day, “attention” will be called by the first person noticing the officer. If a higher commander enters, “attention” is called again.


When a soldier has requested and obtained permission to speak to an officer officially, or when the soldier has been notified that an officer wishes to speak with him/her, the soldier report to the officer. The form of the report may vary according to the local policy, but the recommended form is “Sir/Ma’am”, Private Smith reports.

When reporting to an officer in his/her office, the soldier removes his/her headgear, knocks, and enters when told to do so. He/she approaches within two steps of the officer’s desk, halts, and salutes. The salute is held until the report is completed and the salute has been returned by the officer. When the business is completed, the soldier salutes, holds the salute until it has been returned, executes the appropriate facing movement and departs. When reporting indoors under arms, the procedure is the same except that the headgear is not removed and the soldier renders the salute prescribed for the weapon with which he/she is armed.

The expression “under arms” means carrying the arms, or having them attached to the person by sling, holster, or other means. In the absence of the actual arms, it refers to the equipment pertaining to the arms, such as pistol belt or pistol holster.

When reporting outdoors, the soldier will move rapidly to the vicinity of the officer, halt at a distance of approximately three steps from the officer, salute, and report as described above. If under arms, the weapon may be carried in any manner for which a salute is prescribed.




Whenever and wherever the “National Anthem”, “To the Colors”, “Hail to the Chief”, or “Reveille” are played, at the first note, all dismounted personnel in uniform and not in formation face the flag or the music (if the flag is not in view), stand at Attention and renders a hand salute.

When not in uniform, personnel will, at the first note, stand at attention facing the flag or the music (if the flag is not in view), remove headdress, if any, with the right hand, and place the right hand over the heart.

Vehicles in motion will be brought to a halt. Persons riding in a passenger car or on a motorcycle will dismount and salute. Occupants of other types of military vehicles and buses remain seated at attention in the vehicle, the individual in charge of each vehicle dismounting and rendering the hand salute. Tank and armored car commanders salute from the vehicle.

The above marks of respect are shown the national anthem of any friendly country when it is played at official occasions.


When the “National Anthem” is played indoors, officers and enlisted personnel stand at “Attention” and face the music or the flag if one is present. They do not salute unless under arms.


The bugle call sounded at retreat was first used in the French Army and dates back to the crusades. When you hear it, you are listening to a beautiful melody that has come to symbolize the finest qualities of the soldiers of nearly 900 years. Retreat has always been at sunset and its purpose was to notify the sentries to start challenging until sunrise, and to tell the rank and file to go to their quarters and stay there. In our times the ceremony remains as a tradition. When you are outdoors and hear retreat played, you face toward the flag if you can see it and stand at parade rest. If the flag is not within sight, face toward the music.

Retreat is followed by the playing of To the Colors.

-If in uniform, you stand at “attention” and execute the hand salute, present arms, or hand salute at sling arms, whichever is appropriate.

-If in civilian attire with headgear, at the first note of music, face the flag (or music if flag is not in view), stand at attention, remove headgear with right hand and hold over left shoulder with right hand over the heart.

-If in civilian attire without headgear, face the flag (or music if flag is not in view) and stand at attention with right hand over the heart. Hold this position until the last note of music has been played.

-When in a vehicle you should stop, dismount, and render the appropriate honor.


The U.S. Army is the only one of the services which has adopted its own official marching song. It was adapted from the music of “The Caisson Song”, written about 1908. The official Army song was formally dedicated by the Secretary of the Army on Veterans Day, 11 November 1956.

In addition to standing while the national anthem is played, audiences render honors while state songs, school songs, and other symbolic songs are being played. Accordingly, Army personnel will stand at “attention” whenever the official Army song is played.


National and organizational flags, which are mounted on short flag staff (pikes) equipped with spearheads, are called colors. Military personnel in uniform passing an uncased national color salute at six steps distance and hold salute until they have passed six steps beyond it. Similarly, when an uncased color passes by, they salute when it is six steps away and hold the salute until it has passed six steps beyond them.

If you are in civilian clothing and uncased Colors are passing by, if outdoors, stand at attention, remove headdress with right hand and hold over left shoulder with right hand over the heart. If you are indoors, stand at attention, hold this position until the Colors have passed six paces.

If you are in civilian clothing and you are passing the Colors outdoors, when within six paces, turn head in direction of the Colors, remove headgear with right hand and hold over left shoulder with right hand over your heart. Hold this position until you are six paces past the Colors.

NOTE: Small flags carried by individuals, such as those carried by civilian spectators at a parade, are not saluted.


The origin of the hand salute is uncertain. Some historians believe it began in late Roman times when assassinations were common. A citizen who wanted to see a public official had to approach with his right hand raised to show that he did not hold a weapon. Knights in armor raised visors with the right hand when meeting a comrade. This practice gradually became a way of showing respect and, in early American history, sometimes involved removing the hat. By 1820, the motion was modified to touching the hat, and since then it has become the hand salute used today.

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In closing I feel this was an assignment that several other people should be doing to include the NCO that is making me do this. I feel that to get respect you need to give respect. No one owes me anything and I don’t think they do but if you want my respect show respect in return. I am tired of being treated like a new private. I have been in the military for several years and have not asked for anything more then anyone else asks for. As a Junior NCO, I see NCOs disrespecting subordinates, peers, and seniors all the time, but yet nothing is done to them. I keep being told that I am better then that and to learn from it and not become that. I agree with this but when you’re around it all the time it tends to slip out every now and again. I have been told that if there is a problem bring it up the chain of command and it will be taken care of, yet it still goes on and in my perspective nothing is being done. Respect is defined as courtesy to another person. Does this not include being at the appointed place at the appointed time? If so is this not disrespect to a senior? I guess that it only applies to SPC and below.


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