It's inevitable. Someone will get deployed, spot an officer, and render a proper salute as if they were back in the garrison only to be met with a look of disdain. We've seen it the other way around, too. A troop walks by an officer who gets offended when they aren't given a salute.
Now, there's no denying that it's good military discipline to give a proper greeting to an officer whenever they cross your path — it shows respect worthy of their rank and position.
But when you're deployed, the rules are different — and for good reason.
First of all, if you actually take the time to read the regulations on saluting, you'll notice there's almost always a clause that states "except under combat conditions." The regulations are very clear about not saluting under combat conditions — but there are other exceptions not explicitly outlined in the books.
It doesn't make sense to render a salute when you're in formation and you've not been given the command, when you're carrying things with both hands, or while eating. Saluting in these moments is a great way to turn something respectful into a sign of disrespect.
Anyway, if you're going to salute in a combat zone, at least do it right. If you're deployed, chances are high that you're carrying a rifle with you at all times. Giving a proper salute while carrying a rifle is actually only done when given the command to "present, arms." Even then, it doesn't involve putting your right hand to your brow.
But performing that motion requires you to raise the barrel of your rifle into the air. And if there's even the slightest chance that there's a round in the chamber (which, especially when you're in a combat zone, is a possibility), swinging around the rifle is just asking for a negligent discharge...
Why is all of this important to note? Because you must assume that the enemy is always watching from a distance, ready to take their shot at the highest-ranking person they can. This has been a concern since the first scope was put on a rifle.
While there are many officers who've lost their lives to enemy snipers, it's unclear just how many were killed directly after some moron announced their importance to the rest of the world. What we do know, however, is that the most famous American sniper took out a high-ranking enemy with the help of a salute.
Gunnery Sgt. Hathcock made his legendary shot at an NVA general from over two miles away. He was too far away to accurately tell which enemy was the general at a glance, especially when several people walked in a group. Take a single guess at how he identified who was who.
You can still show respect to officers while deployed without doing it improperly and risking their life. A simple, "Good afternoon, sir," is much more appreciated.
Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Erik Cardenas