Military Courtesy and Influencing Others

I’ve always hated a weak greeting. While with FAST Company in Bahrain I was constantly shocked at the lack of simple military courtesy displayed by the Sailors and even more by the complicit tolerance of it by their leaders. When new platoons would arrive in Bahrain I would brief the Marines about the egregious nonsense they would encounter. Particularly they would see Sailors ignore their platoon commanders as if they did not exist. I instructed the Marines they would not treat Navy officers with the same discourtesy, but they would respond by doing the right thing and rendering the proper greeting of the day to all petty officers, chief petty officers, and commissioned officers with vigor.

Like roaring lions young Marines greeted every officer within sight and hearing with such enthusiasm that Navy Lts began avoiding them. Some months later the below e-mail was forwarded to me. I find it satisfying that Marine lance corporals were able to impact an entire Chief’s Mess with their example.

—–Original Message—–
From: CPO USN NSF Bahrain
Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 7:42 AM
To: M-BA-NSA – All CPO’s
Subject: Military Courtesies and Discipline

Brothers and sisters,

If this doesn’t bother ANY of you, then we as a fraternity are in big trouble. I’m going to give it my best shot and hope, at the very least, it starts some sort of an awareness amongst us.  How many times in the morning or during the course of the day have you walked your hallway/passageway, or maybe down the “spine” on the base, and a junior Sailor looks you straight dead in the eye but continues to walks on without saying a word? Or how many times have they walked around you without even acknowledging your existence or presence? Well, that has happened to me a couple of times and because they don’t work for me, I’ve always thought it wasn’t such a big deal. Until yesterday.

I went into the first floor of building 266 (the Marines’ quarterdeck area), and ran into a bunch of Marines in the hallway, waiting for who knows what. I tried getting through the crowded bunch and asked to be excused. What followed next was a transformation in my sense of awareness, that made me think I had been failing my duty as a leader in the BEST if not most unique fraternities in the United States military. As I maneuvered my way through these bunch of Marines, I must have been greeted by each one of them individually. “Good morning Chief, good morning Chief” echoed on in about twenty different voices as they made way for me.

This actually happens every time I run across a Marine on base here. I thought for a moment, that only if I could enlist the fine Marines into the Navy, maybe, just maybe the respect and discipline they display would rub off a couple of our young Sailors. Hey, I would be satisfied with just a handful to begin with. But what makes these guy so respectful to a Navy Chief, who holds no responsibility for their advancement or evaluation? Why would they care to say good morning to someone from another branch of service? Then it hit me, their leadership instills the respect in them from day one in boot camp and never stop. The words of Col Jessep (Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men”) rang through my thought “We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It’s that simple.” I guess the Marines follow discipline too because you hardly ever find a Marine that is disrespectful in public.

After my run-in the Marines, and with the experience still fresh in my mind, I headed upstairs to the Navy world. Now I thought, this was my people, they would show me the same courtesy as the young Marines downstairs. But boy was I wrong! I went by Sailor after Sailor until I came across a MA1 who looked in my direction and called out “good morning Chief!” I replied back “Good morning MA1” but wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be in hearing that. I later changed a went on to the HPU compound (MY HPU I THOUGHT) and was met with the same mentality. I even watch as they walked by HPU’s Bos’n (a Warrant Officer). So I asked myself, why doesn’t anyone ever call these Sailors out? Only answer I could think of is that no one cares anymore. In a day and age where we are on first name basis with the junior Sailors and occasionally party with them. Who really cares? Well brothers and sisters…I DO! At a time when history and tradition is fading pretty fast, it’s about time we take back our Navy!  And with the “Season of Pride” fast approaching, I just hope I’m not alone.

Very Respectfully,
NSA Bahrain

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

/ / / /


  1. When I wuz a young Lieutenant and Captain, my technical expert was a CWO-4 with 33 years in service. He had jumped into Normandy as an Infantry Platoon Sergeant, a very distinguished soldier. Whenever we encountered each other (many times a day) we would bark out the appropriate greeting and outdoors I would return his salute a little before his hand got above his shoulder. It was a little over the top, but everyone in the detachment got the picture and followed suit. – Z

  2. Oh how this rings true! Seven years ago I took off my GySgt chevrons and donned Navy Ensign bars. As a LT now, I long for the days of vigorous greetings and crisp salutes. FYI, I just emailed your post out to my command’s Chiefs Mess and Wardroom. Semper Fi

  3. One thing in the fleet that always irritated me was how many sailors bow when they salute. Even most the officers break their posture and drop their head to their hand.

  4. The closest approximate adaptation of Japanese keigo and polite/hierarchy speech was the military system in the US.

    Adults, civilians, and middle/high school students are expected to speak in a certain way to their seniors and a certain way to their subordinates or juniors. Even if that divide is by a difference of one year in school, or if a student entered the club one year more than the others. Competence and experience is expected from the senior leaders, while obedience and loyalty is expected from the juniors in exchange for the senior staff taking care of the juniors, training them up, and protecting them.

    Sound a bit familiar?

    It’s not gender based either, since many societies have gender roles about which one takes the lead in certain situations. This was a pure hierarchy based only on seniority, power, or experience. Merely based upon how Japanese people speak to each other, I can infer what their relationship is, which one is the superior and which one is the subordinate.

    Equal title access is only granted by permission. Using someone’s first name without honorfics or titles, is a recognition of a very close relationship in the ranking hierarchy, a personal equality that doesn’t need the rigid senior/junior scale.

    I cannot help but think that a life time of this kind of social discipline has made the Japanese even weirder than the Westerners can imagine. It is, unnatural perhaps, to expect civilians to be like military discipline except in special circumstances, yet they have made it work and seem natural. Although from their perspective, the American character of freedom and equality is to be preferred in order to pursue personal goals.

    Japanese fast food and family restaurants also have an abnormally high level of discipline and courtesy in the staff. I keep thinking somebody is trying to make a parody, because it can’t be like that. It’s unnatural. In many ways, I’m like that email writer, being exposed to a different way of things in social greetings, and then reflecting on what I actually knew about cultural rules.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

you may like this post