Air Force Customs and Courtesies
Saluting and standing at attention are among the Air Force's customs
Information derived from AFPAM 36-2241 V1
Within the Air Force, there are numerous customs and courtesies that have evolved over time. These come from both a need for order and an established tradition of respect among military personnel.
These customs aren’t just basic politeness, but are important parts of morale-building and discipline. And military customs and courtesies are designed to help ensure respect for the chain of command.
One of the oldest and most revered traditions across all branches of the U.S. military is showing respect for the American flag. Saluting is an important way for junior military members to show respect for officers. And even things like entering or exiting a vehicle have a proper order when it comes to a group of mixed-rank military members.
Here are some of the most fundamental courtesies expected of Air Force (and other U.S. military) personnel.
Showing Respect for the American Flag
All personnel in uniform and outside must face and salute the flag while it is raised and lowered. When the national anthem or the bugle call “To the Colors” are played, all personnel in uniform who aren’t in formation are expected to stand and face the flag and hold a salute until the song is ended. Any vehicles in motion should stop as the music is played, and occupants should sit quietly until the music ends.
When wearing civilian clothes, military personnel should face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart.
If indoors during retreat or reveille, there’s no need to stand or salute. However, everyone must stand during the playing of the national anthem, such as before a movie is played in a base theater.
There’s no expectation for military personnel to salute a folded or cased flag, or to stand during the national anthem when it is performed on television or the radio.
Saluting Senior Military Officers
The salute is a greeting that requires the junior member to acknowledge the senior member first. A salute is also rendered to the flag as a sign of respect. Any airman, noncommissioned officer (NCO) or officer may salute at any time. When saluting, the head and eyes are turned toward the flag or person saluted. When in ranks, a position of attention is maintained unless otherwise directed.
Outdoor salutes are exchanged between officers or warrant officers and enlisted members of the armed forces whenever they are in uniform. Enlisted members are not required to salute among themselves. This applies both on and off military installations.
The junior member should always begin a salute in time to allow the senior officer to return it. If the superior officer has his hands full or is otherwise unable to physically return the salute, he can nod or acknowledge it verbally.
These procedures are also followed when greeting an officer of a foreign nation.
When in formation, members do not salute unless given the command to do so.
Normally the person in charge salutes on behalf of the whole formation. If a senior officer approaches a group not in formation, the first person who notices the officer calls the rest of the group to attention. Then, all face the officer and salute. All in the group must remain at attention unless otherwise ordered if the officer addresses the group or a member of the group. Once the conversation has ended, the group salutes the officer.
Salutes between individuals are not required in public gatherings, such as sporting events or meetings, or when a salute would be inappropriate or impractical. Salutes between military pedestrians such as gate sentries and officers in moving military vehicles is not required. If a passenger in the vehicle is easily identified, such as in a marked staff vehicle, a salute is expected.
Military members in uniform may salute civilians, and must always salute the president of the United States, in her capacity as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. In addition, if appropriate, it is customary for military members in civilian clothes to exchange salutes upon recognition.
When in a work detail, individual workers do not salute, rather the person in charge salutes for the entire detail. And when indoors, except for formal reporting and some military ceremonies, salutes are not required.
Some Exceptions to Saluting
If your arms are full, you don't have to salute; simply extend a verbal greeting. Always try to carry items in your left hand if possible so you can salute.
If an officer's arms are full, but yours are not, extend a verbal greeting and salute. Once the officer acknowledges your salute or passes you, drop your salute.
Salutes are not required if either member is in civilian clothing. You may salute if you recognize the officer.
Do not salute empty staff vehicles or ones without an officer bumper plate or flag.
If you and an officer are walking in the same direction, and you overtake the officer from the rear, you may pass the officer from behind without saluting. An appropriate verbal greeting, such as "by your leave, sir," is customary.
In addition to common etiquette such as being on time, refraining from gossip and using "please" and "thank you" whenever possible, there are some additional expectations within the military.
Military members should address civilians with courtesy titles such as "Mr." or "Ms." as a general rule. Always address a superior formally, unless otherwise instructed.
Courtesies to Other Services
The Air Force, Army, and Navy, Marines and Coast Guard all are part of the military team, so military members should extend the same military courtesies to members of the other services.
This is equally true of the friendly armed forces of the United Nations. Salute all commissioned officers and pay the same respect to the national anthems and flags of other nations as rendered the American national anthem and flag. While it is not necessary to learn the identifying insignia of the military grades of all nations, you should learn the insignia of the most frequently contacted nations, particularly during an overseas assignment.
When walking, riding or sitting with a senior officer, the junior person should take the position to the senior’s left.
Unless told otherwise, rise and stand at attention when a senior official enters or departs a room. If more than one person is present, the person who first sees the officer calls the group to attention. However, if there is an officer already in the room who is equal to or has a higher rank than the officer entering the room, do not call the room to attention.
Military personnel enter automobiles and small boats in reverse order of rank. Juniors will enter a vehicle first (and take their appropriate seat on the senior’s left). The senior officer will be the last to enter the vehicle and the first to leave it.
Upon entering or leaving transport aircraft, the senior officer enters last and exits first. This procedure only applies to passengers and not to crewmembers of the aircraft.
Addressing Senior Officers by Name
Senior service members frequently address juniors by their first names, but this practice does not give juniors the privilege of addressing seniors in any way other than by proper titles. If airmen are present, senior service members should address junior service members by their titles.
Service members of the same grade, when among themselves, may address one another by their given names. Junior service members should always be conservative until they can sense what is appropriate. It's always better to err on the side of being too formal rather than too familiar.
Air Force Humanitarian Assignments
The Air Force Humanitarian Assignments Program was established to assist members in resolving severe short-term problems involving a family member. The program allows placement of the military member at the closest location to where the family member concerned resides to provide the family member maximum support, consistent with the manning needs of the Air Force.
For the purposes of this program, the term "family member" is limited to spouse, child, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, the person in loco parentis or other persons actually residing in the household who are dependent for over half of their financial support.
Stepparents can qualify as a family member if they meet the basic criteria for in loco parentis.
In loco parentis refers to one who exercises parental rights, duties, and responsibilities. This condition must exist for a minimum of 5 years before the member's or spouse's 21st birthday, or before entry on active duty, whichever is earlier. Requests based on in loco parentis status must include affidavits from all parties (to include other family members, neighbors, or family friends) stating the details of the custody, control, care, and management of member or spouse. They must also have copies of any documents that may have been created at the time establishing in loco parentis status and relating to the custody, control, care, and management of member or spouse. NOTE: The mere presence of a person in the home for a number of years, during which time he or she exercised a degree of custodial but not parental responsibilities does not constitute in loco parentis.
In order for the child to have been in the care and custody of one acting in place of the parent, the parent cannot have also been in the same home (unless the parent was mentally incompetent).
Emergency or ordinary leave should be used first as a means of easing family hardships or problems before applying for humanitarian reassignment.
The situation must be able to be resolved in a limited period of time (one year or less). All Air Force personnel must be able to respond to any contingency wherever and whenever called upon to do so. Permanent or prolonged deferment from reassignment cannot be considered. If a reassignment or temporary period of deferment is approved, the member must thereafter (following the deferment period) revert to worldwide assignable status. If the problem cannot be resolved within a year, humanitarian discharge consideration is more appropriate.
Members can apply for a humanitarian reassignment or deferment if they meet all of the following conditions:
- They have a documented and substantiated short-term problem involving a family member. (See see above for the definition of a family member for the purpose of the humanitarian reassignment program.)
- The problem is more severe than that usually encountered by other Air Force members with a similar problem.
- The member's presence is absolutely essential to alleviate the problem.
- The problem can be resolved within a reasonable period of time (normally 12 months).
Humanitarian Conditions Usually Warranting Approval
The approval authority will normally approve a humanitarian reassignment or deferment under these conditions if a vacancy exists at the new duty station if a PCS is involved; however, this list is not all-inclusive.
- The recent death (within 6 months) of the member's spouse or child, including miscarriages of 20 weeks or more gestation time. Humanitarian reassignment is normally approved on the death of a child or stepchild under the age of 18 who is living in the member's home at the time of death. Reassignments made under this provision will be considered on a case-by-case basis in order for the member to receive extended family support or to relocate to the closest available base to the burial site. The overall consideration will be the needs of the Air Force; however, every effort will be made to ensure the member is provided an assignment as close to the area of support as possible, within their AFSC.
- The member has a serious financial problem not the result of overextension of personal military income (such as loss of primary home of residence where member or dependents currently reside or possessions through fire, theft, or natural disaster) and will suffer a substantial financial loss unless his or her presence or continued presence can be ensured. It must be shown the problem cannot be solved by leave, correspondence, power of attorney, or by any other person or means.
- The member is serving an unaccompanied OS tour, and his or her spouse abandons their dependents. It must be shown it is not possible for the dependents to join the member at the OS location when an accompanied tour is authorized and that the member's presence is necessary. The assignment location under this provision will be based on the needs of the Air Force.
- The terminal illness of a family member (see paragraph above for definition of family members for the purpose of humanitarian reassignment) when death is imminent within two years. A doctor's prognosis of terminal illness must be fully supported and substantiated by clinical data. In such cases, your presence is considered essential regardless of the availability of other relatives to assist.
- An authorized state or local agency places a child in the member's home, and deferment is necessary to comply with state or local laws to complete the final adoption.
- Reassignment or deferment is essential in establishing or operating an effective family advocacy program according to AFI 40-301, Family Advocacy. Documentation from the base Family Advocacy Officer is required.
- Sexual abuse and assault of the member's dependent when it has been fully substantiated, and it has been determined by the appropriate medical authority that remaining in the area where the incident occurred would be detrimental to the health of the dependent.
Reasons Humanitarian Applications Are Disapproved
The approval authority will not approve applications for reassignment/deferment if the problem might exist for an indefinite period of time or the request is based on one of the following circumstances:
- A desire to provide emotional or domiciliary support to a parent or parent-in-law due to age, non-terminal or chronic illness, or recent death in the family.
- A terminal illness of a step-parent, unless they qualify as a family member (see above definition for the purpose of the humanitarian program.
- Problems associated with childcare arrangements.
- Psychoneurosis (such as various psychic or mental disorders characterized by special combinations of anxieties, compulsions, obsessions, phobias, and motor or sensory manifestations) resulting from family separation incident to military assignment.
- Normal pregnancy, possible miscarriage, breech birth, Cesarean section, or RH blood factor.
- The existence of a housing shortage or home ownership problems.
- A financial problem, to include bankruptcy, resulting from over-extension of military income.
- A financial or management problem related to off-duty employment, the spouse's employment, private business activities, or to settle an estate.
- Passport or visa problems involving newly acquired dependents in the overseas area.
- Threatened separation, a divorce action, or the desire to pursue child custody.
- The problem existed or was reasonably foreseeable at the time of latest entry on active duty without a break in service or prior to departure on PCS. A7.10.12. A consecutive PCS or deferment based on the continuation of the same circumstances.
- A request based on the medical condition of the Air Force member. (Contact the local patient affairs office for information about reassignment based on a military member's medical condition.)
- Requests for PCS deferment will not be considered for members who have not been selected for reassignment.
If the Humanitarian Assignment/Deferment is approved, the TDY (Temporary Duty) assignment authorities will not select members for involuntary TDY exceeding 30 calendar days while the deferment is active. If granted a reassignment, members will not be reassigned PCS (permanent change of station) for at least 12 months from date arrived station. A deferment will initially restrict members from PCS or involuntary TDY for a maximum of 12 months. The initial period of assignment restriction for humanitarian reasons may be extended at the member's request provided the total period does not exceed 18 months. If a terminal illness is involved, deferment may be extended up to 24 months. Requests for such extensions must substantiate that:
- Every possible effort has been made to overcome the problem.
- The condition warranting assignment restriction still exists.
- The problem can be resolved within the extended period of assignment restriction.
For complete information about the Air Force's Humanitarian Assignments Program, see. Air Force Instruction 36-2110, ASSIGNMENTS, Attachment 7 offers complete information about the Air Force's Humanitarian Assignments Program.