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Air Force Customs and Courtesies


Air Force military customs and courtesies are proven traditions that explain what should and should not be done in many situations. They are acts of respect and courtesy when dealing with other people and have evolved as a result of the need for order, as well as the mutual respect and sense of fraternity that exists among military personnel. Military customs and courtesies go beyond basic politeness; they play an extremely important role in building morale, esprit de corps, discipline, and mission effectiveness. Customs and courtesies ensure proper respect for the chain of command and build the foundation for self-discipline. The article is not all-inclusive, but highlights many of the customs and courtesies that make the Air Force and its people special.

Respect for the Flag

Use the following procedures when showing respect to the flag and the national anthem:

All personnel in uniform and outside must face the flag and salute during the raising and lowering of the flag. Upon the first note of the national anthem or “To the Colors,” all personnel in uniform who aren’t in formation should stand and face the flag (or the sound of the music if the flag is not visible) and salute. Hold the salute until the last note of the music is played.

All vehicles in motion should come to a stop at the first note of the music and the occupants should sit quietly until the music ends.

When in civilian clothes, face the flag (or the sound of the music if the flag is not visible) and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart.

If indoors during retreat or reveille, there’s no need to stand or salute. However, everyone must stand during the playing of the national anthem before a showing of a movie while in the base theater. When listening to a radio or watching television, no specific action is necessary. Additionally, a folded flag is considered cased; therefore, it is not necessary to salute or continue saluting.


The salute is a courteous exchange of greetings, with the junior member always saluting the senior member first. A salute is also rendered to the flag as a sign of respect. Any airman, noncommissioned officer (NCO), or officer recognizing a need to salute or a need to return one may do so anywhere at any time. When returning or rendering an individual salute, the head and eyes are turned toward the flag or person saluted. When in ranks, the position of attention is maintained unless otherwise directed. The following guidance is offered on exchanging salutes:

Outdoors. Salutes are exchanged upon recognition between officers or warrant officers and enlisted members of the Armed Forces when they are in uniform. In other words, enlisted members salute officers and warrant officers, warrant officers salute senior warrant officers and commissioned officers, and commissioned officers salute senior commissioned officers. Enlisted members do not salute among themselves (although such salutes would not be illegal, they are just not customary).

Saluting outdoors means salutes are exchanged when the persons involved are outside of a building. For example, if a person is on a porch, a covered sidewalk, a bus stop, a covered or open entryway, or a reviewing stand, the salute will be exchanged with a person on the sidewalk outside of the structure or with a person approaching or in the same structure. This applies both on and off military installations. The junior member should initiate the salute in time to allow the senior officer to return it. To prescribe an exact distance for all circumstances is not practical; however, good judgment should dictate when salutes are exchanged. A superior carrying articles in both hands need not return the salute, but he or she should nod in return or verbally acknowledge the salute. If the junior member is carrying articles in both hands, verbal greetings should be exchanged. Also, use the same procedures when greeting an officer of a foreign nation.

Information derived from AFPAM 36-2241 V1

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