Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Salute Alley

When I was a child, my grandmother (Aunt Pat's mother) saw to it that her grandchildren had the opportunity to experience good literature, music, and art. (She gave me A Wrinkle in Time for Christmas one year; she always gave us Newberry- or Caldecott-award-winning books as presents.)

She listened to music of the great masters, and encouraged us to listen as well. She had a Steinway grand piano in the living room, and endured listening to us attempt to play, always with a smile -- at least for us.

I remember listening to recordings of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, and Broadway. I was especially taken with the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Lately (that is, for the last almost six weeks now), I've been reminded again and again of this quote from the stage version of The King and I:

All that bowing and kow-towing
To remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
To demonstrate his loyalty
By taking this ridiculous position

Anna speaks it in the middle of the song, Shall I Tell You What I Think of You? She'd love to have the gumption to tell it to the King directly, but at that point, still hadn't mustered it.

I've been reminded of those lyrics daily as I run the gauntlet here known as "Salute Alley."

To walk from where I work to the Dining Facility (DFAC) involves having to render salutes at least eleventy-seven times -- and that's just if the stars are in alignment on good days, and I miss the crowds. Let's just not even mention the bad days! Having to do this when it's 120 degrees Fahrenheit makes it an even more "special" experience.

I suppose I could be glad we at least don't have to grovel.... Nah.

I haven't bent my right elbow this much since I stopped drinking 29 years ago.

It's especially annoying to have SFC McG beside me snickering because he doesn't have to salute any of the Enlisted, while I have to salute every one of them, and almost all other Officers. Since we're dealing in 'echelons above reality' here, there are not very many Captains -- the only people to whom I'm not required either to initiate or return a salute. Thus, I have to salute everyone else. That means that I become a "bobble-arm" on my way to and from the DFAC and to and from my CHU (containerized housing unit -- you know, the modified dumpster I'm living in).

I suspect I'm developing "salute elbow." I'll probably need surgery before this deployment is over.

Pardon my naïveté, but I'd been led to believe that in a WAR ZONE the act of rendering a salute could be life-threatening, as it is a great way of showing the enemy whom to shoot.

Folks around here have not gotten that memo. At least not those in the Army.

(The Air Force, on the other hand, has a posted "no salute zone" around their dining facility. Though, now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps that has nothing to do with protecting personnel, but rather reflects a concern for their golf swing....)

The one redeeming quality to all this saluting is that it offers me the opportunity to greet everyone to whom I'm rendering the salute with, "God bless you, [Sir, Ma'am, Gentlemen, Sar'nt, etc.]" I figure I might as well make a prayer out of it, especially since the Apostle Paul admonishes his flock in Thessalonika to "pray without ceasing." (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Some people seem startled by it, some return the greeting, but most just keep walking.

It's late here now, and I'd salute you for having read this, but....

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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Anonymous said...

Interesting... lyrics from a song that decry the notion of rendering honor to a king, but no clue as to the heritage, purpose, or opportunity associated with the hand salute. Exactly who is the royalty in this entry?

Let me encourage you to mull this over: the origin of the hand salute extends back at least to medieval times when knights would greet each other by raising their visor in order to be recognized (thus the hand to the temnple gesture). Additionally, it indicated that the sword hand (typically the right) was empty -- the approaching knight had no fear of attack.

In the Army, the tradition of rendering the hand salute is a matter of courtesy and respect to officers -- but the return salute is also a matter of respect. Alot of things are frustrating to a Soldier - one of them is a salute that is not returned .... or one that is returned in a slipshod, disrespectful manner.

As an officer myself - and a chaplain - I have always appreciated the rendering of the salute - and often intiate it when approaching an enlisted Soldier. Here's why: that Soldier deserves my courtesy and respect. The Army is built around that Soldier -- it would collapse if it were not for their dogged determination every day. I owe my life and my freedom to that Soldier - sometimes literally.

The fact that the Soldiers you pass everyday in "Salute Alley" have voluntarily put on a uniform and are serving their nation ... I believe that no amount of "bowing or scraping" would do them justice. They are royalty in my eyes. So I have no problem returning a salute or initiating one - it's the least I can do.

I realize the blog is often tongue in cheek, but in this one, I wonder. What does SGT McG or one of your Soldiers think when they read that this extension of respect and courtesy is yet another fly in the ointment of your day? Considering how difficult it is to walk from your air conditioned office or CHU to the DFAC, and how awful it is to render the salute to a Soldier back in from patrol or a convoy where he might have lost a friend ... I wonder?

BTW - last time I was there, the margin of safety around a DFAC is pretty large - don't think you need to be overly concerned with snipers.

Anonymous said...

I was going to add a humorous comment in regard to jab in the original post at the Air Force, but the first comment posted here has taken the wind out of my sails. Thank you.

You make an excellent point and are obviously well informed.

You are right. We ALL owe our freedom and safety to the Soldier, and at the very least they deserve this gesture of respect.

Anonymous said...

Father Tim:

Right on! Respect is best conveyed in how a soldier treats his or her fellow soldiers (superiors/peers/subordinates) on a daily basis, and superficial demonstrations like saluting are no substitute for the genuine article. Plus, saluting is not a priority in a place like Iraq, and those who would argue otherwise have too much time on their hands. As for the "Anonymous" respondents, these people need to stand up and be counted behind their opinions. Not signing your own name is WEAK. But don't worry, we'll still salute you, because you're delicate.

-J. Blindauer

Luis Carlos Montalvan said...

Dear Father Tim,

It never to ceases to amaze just how idiotic some of the Army bretheren are.

I'm sure that whoever the anonymous person is that left the posting doesn't realize that you likely have 3X as many advanced degrees as he and that the history of the hand salute is trivial.

The anonymous Chaplain does not have an inkling what it means to be a soldier for if he did, he would appreciate the notion that the rendering of hand salutes in combat environments is indeed stupid.

I know with certainty how a reader of this blog and commentary would feel after reading the Anonymous Chaplain's comment. "That he is a chicken-sh*t (anonymous) moron who ought to spend his time taking care of Soldiers instead of trying to make clever remarks to a man who is far smarter, wiser and well-respected than he."

And, by the way, CH Anonymous, stay in your lane. There are people who can knock you down a few notches...and will have no gumption about making some phone calls...

Mrs SFC McG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

CH "anonymous",
There's NO point in wasting your 'breath' on this wanna-be National Guardsman 'chaplain'.

He has NO idea what it means to be a Soldier...hence finds it "soooooooooo inconvenient" to show respect for those who actually earned their rank!

Anonymous said...

Ok, I wasn't originally going to post anything on here - but after having read the original post, the comments, and Fr. Tim's reply to one particular comment -- well, I figured I may as well chime in.

First off, I'll state my "credentials" as it were, in case anyone dares to challenge what I say.

- 20 yrs in uniform; 18 in the Marine Corps, 2 as a Chaplain Candidate for the California National Guard.

- 6 yrs prior enlisted service in the Marines.

- Pretty evenly split between active and reserve time.

- Several assignments that were either "joint" or tilted heavily toward working with another service besides my own.

So, it's pretty fair to say that I've got a good notion of how things work at various points along whichever spectrum you choose to spotlight.

Having said all that, let me reply to the comments at hand:

anonymous: You are correct in your little history lesson about salutes, how they came to be, and what they convey to both parties. I can't say that I would initiate a salute to an enlisted soldier - but hey, if it works for you...
Perhaps you didn't intend to post anonymously, but it does strip some of your credibility when you're not willing to stand behind your words.

J. Blindauer: Yes, respect is conveyed in many ways, but there are distinctions that you seem to be overlooking. First, there are two types of military respect: earned and intrinsic. Earned respect is exactly how you've stated it, and depends to a large degree on how well a leader (at any level) cares for his/her troops. Intrinsic respect is that which goes with the rank, and are part and parcel of being in uniform. When I see someone with stars on their collar, I render the appropriate gesture/greeting whether or not I even know what that person is like as a leader. Think of it as being akin to addressing our commander-in-chief: you don't have to like him, or agree with his policies, but *everyone* calls him "Mr. President." So saluting has its proper place, even in Iraq, because it is tied in with discipline and esprit-de-corps.

Luis Carlos Montalvan: The number of degrees Fr. Tim has is irrelevant in this situation; none of them have anything remotely to do with the military, and he's been in uniform for about two years at this point, so I would venture that there's a steep learning curve. Being older (an not a naive young teenager anymore) there's a tendency to be much more critical of the system when introduced at a later stage in life than when you grow up in it. Perhaps that's where the "curmudgeon" moniker comes from.

Are you currently in the military? Are you a combat vet? If you are/were, you probably made it no higher than E-5 (at best) since you have an obvious disdain for officers, and apparently have no compunction about making threatening comments on the internet towards a self-identified officer and chaplain. Maybe you should stay in *your* lane, son.

belligerent anonymous guy: Haven't a clue what your problem is; probably tried to get in the service at some point, but flunked the IQ test so hard that even the Guard wouldn't take him - so now he has a chip on his (her?) shoulder for all of us "citizen soldiers." Care to enlighten us further, troll?

Fr. Tim: Obviously, you're entitled to your opinions. And yes, it can be disconcerting to be stuck in uniform at age 52 as a Captain and be expected know all the myriad military customs & courtesies that go along with being an officer. Take it in stride and it'll get easier. Oh, and I find that giving a big smile and sincere greeting to everyone I have to salute (which - like you - is pretty much everyone) makes it a lot easier.

CPT Dave Harvey
Chaplain Candidate
1/18th CAV

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