USPHS Commissioned Officers are required to render proper military courtesy in accordance with USPHS Personnel Instruction 2, Subchapter CC26.1, "Uniformed Services Courtesies."

Civilian members of the DMAT should be cognizant of these practices which, except for saluting, are equivalent to courtesy rendered during formal social occasions. When to do otherwise would create confusion or be perceived as rude, the DMAT Commander may advise civilians in uniform to salute or return salutes.

Uniformed services courtesies are an extension of common customs of courtesy in civilian life. When in uniform and serving with uniformed service personnel of other federal agencies or when visiting a military installation, PHS Officers are required to conform to the rules of courtesy practiced by that service. The rules of courtesy should also be observed when out of uniform except for the hand salute. DMAT members, in or out of uniform, are, in effect, representatives of the USPHS Commissioned Corps and their actions are a reflection of the Service.


Saluting is a gesture of greeting, courtesy and respect. An enlisted member gives the personal hand salute to a warrant officer or a commissioned officer and by a lower ranking officer to higher-ranking officer. A salute is always returned or acknowledged by the officer saluted.

The hand salute is executed by raising the right hand smartly until the tip of the forefinger touches the lower part of the headdress, or the forehead, slightly above and to the right of the right eye, thumb and fingers extended and joined, palm to the left, upper arm horizontal, forearm inclined at a 45 degree angle, and hand and wrist straight. To complete the salute, the hand is dropped sharply (after the saluted officer has dropped his/hers first) to its normal position.

The hand salute is not normally given when one is in civilian clothes. In uniform, it is normally given on occasions in which a greeting would be given. (Indoors or in a "covered", hats-off area, a verbal greeting or reply is given without a salute). An officer should be alert to give, or return, a salute or verbal greeting. Salutes are exchanged when as close as six paces (always far enough away to allow the senior officer time to respond), and within a maximum distance of 30 paces (about 75 feet). Accompanying the salute with an oral greeting such as "Good Morning (afternoon, evening), Sir/Maim," as the case may be, adds an extra element of courtesy. Verbal replies with the salute do the same, e.g., ,'Good Afternoon or Good Afternoon, Sergeant (Ensign, Captain, Soldier etc.)." When an officer is in uniform and his/her head is covered, he returns all salutes with a salute (unless both hands are not free wherein a verbal response is expected). A senior officer may be saluted when he/she is uncovered (or if in civilian clothes if his/her rank is known). In this case, the senior officer is not expected to return the salute but verbal greeting should be given.

As a special circumstance, when passing a senior officer, the junior officer at passing should render a salute and say, "By your leave, Sir," holding the salute until well past.

An officer entering a post, building or guard post may receive a rifle salute, a presentation of arms, by an armed enlisted person serving as a guard. This is his/her salute to an officer and should be returned as if it were a hand salute.

On some military installations, drivers of cars with the blue automobile registration sticker, (indicating the owner/driver is a commissioned officer) will be saluted by enlisted personnel. Such a salute is always rendered by military police at installation entrances. The driver of the car, even if in uniform, can, but is not required to salute, as a matter of safety.

When in doubt about rendering or returning a salute, it is better to salute than risk a transgression of courtesy. Remember that military service members are taught to take military courtesy seriously and can be subjected to disciplinary action for disregarding it. A breach in military courtesy, especially between enlisted personnel and officers, is considered a serious breach in discipline. (On a related note, fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel, especially when in uniform, is also considered a breach of discipline and is discouraged. On some installations there are enforced command directives forbidding it. Fraternization usually refers to the appearance of an intimate or close personal relationship in public or private.)

If confronted by a senior officer about a remission in courtesy (whether true or not), it is usually advisable to stand at attention and receive the information offered without argument. When the senior officer has finished, the service member salutes (if appropriate), and delivers an appropriate reply, e.g., "Thank you, Sir/Maim, I stand corrected", holding the salute until it is returned or the senior officer turns and leaves.

Boarding a U.S. Ship

When boarding a ship (a commissioned vessel of a uniformed service), personnel in uniform wil1 first face and salute the stern flagstaff (whether the flag/ensign is flying or not) then face and salute the officer-of-the-deck (regardless of the individual's rank as he/she represents the ship's Captain) and state the request, "Permission to come aboard, Sir", setting foot on deck after the salute is returned and permission is granted. On leaving the ship, the service member faces and salutes the officer-of-the-deck requesting permission to leave the ship. When the salute is returned and permission is granted, the service member walks a few steps, turns to salute the aft flagstaff, and then disembarks.

Tactical Exercises

During field training exercises or deployments the Commander of the exercise may declare the area/exercise/time period as "tactical". During tactical exercises, because of the need to keep movements and noise at a minimum, saluting and verbal greetings are generally not given.

Regardless of the situation however, unless directly engaged in work, it is usually advisable to come to attention and render a greeting when approached by a senior officer, then remain quiet allowing the senior officer to initiate conversation.


The salute is normally rendered during ceremonies where the national anthem is played and/or the flag is presented or retired, raised or lowered.

The ceremonies of reveille (morning raising of flag) and retreat (evening lowering) honor the national flag. All personnel able to follow the ceremony by watching the flag or hearing the music should stop all activities, face the flag, or the music if the flag cannot be seen, and stand at attention. Personnel in uniform will salute and maintain the salute until the last notes of the music fade away (or, when in a formation, when the command "order arms" if given). Observance is required by all personnel regardless of activity, e.g., working, recreation, etc. unless safety considerations preclude it.

The "retreat" has two parts. First, the sounding of retreat during which all personnel stand at attention and second, the playing of the national anthem or "To the Colors" during which the salute will be rendered.

On most military installations, at reveille and retreat, vehicle drivers within sight or hearing distance of post headquarters (where the ceremonies are performed) are to stop and exit the vehicle to pay respect to the colors.

When appropriate, officers in civilian clothes should render the breast salute in lieu of the hand salute. For the breast salute, an officer should stand at attention, place the headdress (if any), held in the right hand, at the left shoulder, with the hand holding the headdress placed over the heart.

Calling to Attention

Adhering to strict form, when being addressed by a senior officer, junior officers and enlisted personnel should come to and stand at attention, rendering a salute if in uniform and in an "uncovered area". The subordinate service member should remain at attention until otherwise instructed and speak only when asked or given permission after making a request.

A work party engaged in work will continue to work when approached by a senior officer. The leader of the work party, if junior to the approaching officer, will come to attention and salute. If the work party is at rest, the junior officer will call the party to attention before saluting. The senior officer wil1 normally return the salute and call out "as you were" to the group. When walking as a unit in formation, the unit's leader, when nearing a senior officer, will call the unit to attention (if not walking in cadence, i.e., walking at a state of attention) and the unit leader will render a salute.

When an officer enters a facility (office, mess hall, barracks, etc.) where he out-ranks the senior officer at that facility, the first person recognizing him/her will either call the room to attention (or at-ease if at work or eating). Unless specifically entering the facility to address the group, the senior officer should call out "as you were" and proceed with his/her business.

Courtesy to Civilians

In all the services, uniformed personnel are taught to render proper courtesy to civilians. This not only eases social interaction and helps to elicit cooperation (which is the purpose of courtesy), it leaves a positive and lasting impression on the part of the civilian about the service member and his/her unit. When routinely practiced by members of a unit, this also has the effect of enhancing esprit-de-corps.

Author: Armen Thoumaian, Commissioned Officer, Public Health Service
and special thanks to PHS-1 DMAT