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.”