Navigating Military Life: Honors, Customs, and Ceremonies

Section One: National Anthem and Flag Etiquette

A salute is a privileged gesture that acts as a sign of trust and respect among Service Members.

Within the military, the subordinate always salutes first. Note that a Service Member’s salute is a reflection of personal pride, unit pride, and confidence of his or her abilities. For the following individuals a salute is required: the President of the U.S., commissioned and warrant officers, all Medal of Honor recipients, and officers of allied foreign countries. A salute is also always rendered during the National Anthem, “To the Colors,” “Hail to the Chief,” or the playing of any foreign national anthem. Other occasions to salute are: ceremonial occasions, taps, reveille and retreat, raising and lowering of the flag, rendering reports, turning over control of formations, when honors are sounded, during the Pledge of Allegiance outdoors, and when national colors are uncased outdoors.

“The Star Spangled Banner” has its own rules of etiquette to be followed.

Most people know that when the National Anthem is playing, it is expected that you remove head gear, hold your hand over your heart, stand silently, and face the flag. However, the U.S. Code, Title 36, also states that when the anthem is being played uniformed Service Members should hold a salute from the beginning to the end of the song, and Service Members and Veterans not in uniform may do the same. All others present should stand at attention facing the flag or toward the music if there is no flag present, with their right hand over their heart. In the video to the right, watch as the U.S. Army Field Band and Chorus performs the National Anthem.

The American flag holds the pledge of our nation to freedom and therefore deserves full respect.

The American flag is an important symbol to Service Members and the military culture. It embodies the respect that the Nation deserves and signifies those who have fought and died for the freedom that it represents. Historically, the Service Member who carries the colors into battle holds a place of honor among them. If the flag bearer were to be injured, another Service Member was expected to drop his or her weapon and hoist the colors so that the unit could fight on. The pledge of loyalty to the flag involves many etiquettes. Select the Resources tab to download the handout, Flag Etiquette and Honors, to learn more about the standards of respect.