Concerning the proper greeting of the day.

All leaders have pet peeves. I’m no different. Any Marine who has endured a lecture from me can probably recite America’s SgtMaj’s pet peeves in alphabetical order. With any luck, I won’t get that far into the weeds this time.

In the Marine Corps we have what is called military customs and courtesies. Customs is defined as a habitual practice of a person or group. Courtesies is defined as a polite gesture or remark. There are two kinds of military courtesies: 1) saluting and addressing officers; 2) rendering the appropriate greeting to enlisted. Marines commonly refer to both as the appropriate greeting of the day.

One of my big peeves is a weak greeting.  First of all, it is incumbent on the junior Marine to render the proper greeting to the senior one. It’s bad enough when troops approach with their eyes downcast as if they don’t see me or in a fervent hope I will act as if I don’t see them. After two years being stationed on a Naval base in Bahrain, I find Sailors are particularly adept at this. Nothing like seeing Marine officers get ignored by Sailors to set Marine senior enlisted off.

“You mean to tell me you didn’t notice the shiny gold oak leaves? Marine officers are the only ones on base who don’t wear subdued rank!”

Inevitably, if the individual in question continues the charade of complacency (my favorite technique is the sudden fascination with their wrist watch), I will burst out with a hardy: “Good morning Marine!” If the response is closer to the mewling of a kitten than the eager roaring of a lion it’s time for some on-the-spot professional military education.

I used to explain to my troops if they were Marines why in the world were they afraid to greet a fellow Marine? We were in the same tribe after all. I’m not particular on the form the greeting takes personally. As a kid I remember Marines growling on the street as they recognized my father who promptly growled back in reply. I’ll even accept an Ooh-rah as much as I hate that word in general. At times I’ve even forgiven the nervous Marine who got my rank wrong when all he saw were a bunch of black rockers. At least he tried to say something.

I have heard stories of senior Marine SNCOs who have blistered young Marines for daring to greet them with an Ooh-rah. In my professional opinion these leaders simply taught their troops to never ever approach them again. If all your Marines learn by interacting with you is to avoid you at all costs, you have failed all around.

It’s kind of interesting to see this play out in the civilian world. Ever notice most folks act like everyone around them doesn’t exist? The other day I held a door open for someone and said: “Good morning!” The guy’s response was to briefly make eye contact with me and mumble something unintelligible. I wanted to take his lunch money.

While on leave one time, I was walking through the mall with my cousin. As we passed people I smashed through their little bubbles by looking them dead in the eye and saying hello. Sadly, most of them had no idea what to do with themselves when confronted with this “common” courtesy.

“Dude, why are you greeting everyone?” my cousin finally asked as I left a trail of broken, confused and utterly dominated minds behind us.

“Because I’m not afraid to.”

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

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  1. I should have warned you not to start me on “opening a door for someone”. I hold the door for a woman and she doesn’t say, at a MINIMUM “thank you” I always respond with a VERY LOUD, “YOU ARE WELCOME”. My wife then digs into me but I hold my ground.

    I did have a young college student say to me when I held the door for her, “Awww, that’s sweet my dad still does that too.”

  2. “…Sailors are particularly adept at this. Nothing like seeing Marine officers get ignored by Sailors to set Marine senior enlisted off…”

    In the finest traditions of the Naval Service. /heh/

    Yeah, no. Dad drilled this and how to make a proper handshake drilled in to me from young as I can remember.

    Got the drill every Sunday morning headed to the front door of the church. The local hospital chaplain was always there as the greeter. A giant of a man. as we’d arrive it’d be, “Eye contact. Good morning Mr. xxxxx, full depth grip engagement/firm but not too firm.”

  3. Eric, that’s why you just open the dialogue with a greeting: “Good evening! How’re you doing tonight?” When they refuse to answer you could always run with: “Nice talking to you!”

    be603, needed more of that on NSA Bahrain. The Marines became so aggressive in their greeting Navy Officers began avoiding them.

  4. “As we passed people I smashed through their little bubbles by looking them dead in the eye and saying hello.”

    Try that in the north of England. You’ll end up trapped in a six-hour conversation about the condition of bus station roof and why our John’s had to go back to the doctor with his knees and can you believe they’ve got Christmas cards in the shops already?

  5. ASM,
    Many, many years ago, in a land once called “West Berlin” I was a young Soldier in the Berlin Brigade.
    We were the 2nd Battalion/ 6th Infantry.
    So, when we saluted Officers, we said: “Second to none Sir” They responded with: “Drive on.”

    But, when we were on guard duty, and non-grunt type officers or Air Force officers came by, they just got confused.

  6. Mrs. Salad, I think north of England has the opposite issue. Maybe we should swap a few out just to stir things up.

    CI Roller, when greeting Air Force officers they are properly addressed as Steven. Enlisted are merely addressed as Steve.

  7. Hello;

    I was researching the ‘proper’ or polite manner in which to address a (retired) marine, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your treatise on the subject. I especially enjoyed the mention of the mumbler, and your wanting to “take his lunch money” – too funny. No court would’ve convicted you under the circumstances!
    Semper Fidelis,

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