US Army Military Customs & Courtesy


According to Army Field Manual 7-21.13, "the Army is an organization that instills pride in its members because of its history, mission, capabilities and the respect it has earned in the service of the Nation. A reflection of that pride is visible in the customs, courtesies and traditions the Army holds. Adherence to them connects us with soldiers throughout America's history."


  • Many Army customs have been around for hundreds of years. They represent established practices that are positive and negative. A number of Army customs reinforce practices required by Army courtesy. Violating some customs, such as offering excuses or deliberately turning away to avoid rendering a hand salute, merely show a soldier's lack of discipline; violating others, such as being in uniform while intoxicated or publicly criticizing superiors, can lead to punishment.


  • As stated in Field Manual 7-21.13, "courtesy among members of the Armed Forces is vital to maintain discipline". Most examples of military courtesy have an equivalent in the civilian world. Soldiers are required to address superior officers with "sir" or "ma'am," just like parents teach their children to do when talking to an adult. Even though it is not required for the superior officer to be courteous, the intent of military courtesy is for it to work both ways, thus creating a mutual respect.

Hand Salute

  • Perhaps the most common gesture of courtesy and respect is the hand salute. It originated in Roman times to show that a visitor held no weapons, and therefore was not a threat. Hundreds of years later, knights raised their shields to greet a comrade. By 1820, the salute had transformed into its present form. Salutes are considered a privilege--prisoners are not allowed to give or receive salutes--"to show respect for a superior officer, the flag, or our country."

Honor to Flag

  • The raising and lowering of the Stars and Stripes has deep roots in military custom. During the raising of the flag in the morning, "Reveille" is played. Anyone within sight of the flag or within hearing of the music, shall come to attention, and face the flag (or music). If in uniform, render a salute: if in civilian clothes, remove your head gear and place it and your hand over your heart.

    In the evening, the flag is taken down while "Retreat" is played. The same saluting procedure shall be performed.


  • Army traditions stem from the unwritten customs handed down from past generations. They are the "things that everyone in the Army does, everywhere." Unit traditions are those unique to that unit, such as Special Forces units wearing a green beret. In both cases, traditions are expressed in the uniforms worn, vocabulary used and actions taken by soldiers regularly.

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