When in doubt, bust it out

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- With the exercise season quickly approaching, don't get caught off guard by a multitude of for¬eign guests.

In the coming exercises, Red Flag-Alaska will host more than 300 participants from several countries, including France, Australia, Japan, Spain, Turkey and United Kingdom.

Throughout the summer, the base will welcome Foreign Attachés and Executive Observers from around the world.

Eielson's foreign guests will be walking and driving around base. As we encounter them, Air Force instructions require us to render the proper customs and courtesies, just as if they were in the U.S. military. Why should we salute foreigners?

The custom of saluting dates back hundreds of years and is not only a display of respect, but also a universally recognized greeting to a military brother or sister in arms.

There are several theories about the origin of the salute. It's thought to have begun in the age of chivalry. When two friendly knights crossed paths, they'd each raise their visor. This was always done with the right hand, proving they were friendly by removing the hand from the vicinity of their swords, while the left hand held the reigns.

Probably the most widely accepted theory is that it evolved from the custom of enlisted men raising their hats in the presence of officers.

Also, in the popular culture of those times, tipping one's hat in the presence of a social superior or a lady was a gesture of respect.

Repeated visor raising and hat lifting was imprac¬tical, so the gesture was modified and stylized to a mere hand movement.

One popular theory says that he U.S. military salute specifically, with the palm downward, is different than most other countries' salutes because, Navy Sailors' hands-- particularly the deckhands'-- were often dirty. Because it would be insulting to salute an officer with dirty hands, they turned their palms downward.

Regardless of its origin, the salute is a symbol of greeting; it's an outward gesture of mutual respect, trust and confidence.

Although it's initiated by the junior in rank, there's no loss of dignity on either side. You will never be out of line to salute another person, regardless of rank.

The salute is a sign of respect to the service of which a member performs. In the spirit of respect for service of one's country, military members of friendly countries exchange salutes.

Now you're armed with knowledge, but how will you know who's higher ranking? What if you salute an enlisted man or woman?

Some of the uniforms these visitors will be wear¬ing will range from simple to extravagant. It's easy to get confused.

Go back to that old, trusty saying, "When in doubt, bust it out."

If you salute an enlisted person, they'll most likely snicker at you after you walk past.

Better to be laughed at than cause an infraction of etiquette.

A general rule for deciphering rank is if you see chevrons or diagonal stripes, you can safely assume they're enlisted and even if the chevrons or diagonal stripes are accompanied by crowns or stars, you're probably safe.

If there are horizontal lines or bars, they're prob¬ably an officer.

Add to that the shiny stars and accoutrements like ropes and tassels, and you can quickly get confused. Risk the moment's worth of humiliation and "bust it out."

Many of Eielson's foreign guests will do us the courtesy of pinning U.S. Air Force rank insignia prominently on their uniforms.

Also keep in mind equivalent ranks of colonel and above will be driving in staff cars with U.S. rank insignia displayed.

Stay alert and show our guests that we are true professionals.

If you have questions about etiquette, contact Wing Protocol at 377-7686.