The Importance of Customs and Courtesies in the Army
Customs and courtesies have been a part of many military and government settings for centuries; some even running back to ancient roman times. A custom is an established practice. They include both positive actions and taboos (things you do and things you avoid doing). Some examples of customs that we practice in today’s military include; never criticize the Army or a leader in public, never “wear” a superior’s rank by saying something like, “the first sergeant says to do this” when he said no such thing: you should speak with your own voice, do not run indoors at the sound of reveille or retreat, and never avoid an officer or the nations flag to avoid saluting. Discipline is maintained with courtesy among armed forces members. Good human relations are based from courteous behavior. This discipline and good relations is even instilled in us as children. When we were young our parents taught us to address elders as sir or mam. This is a courtesy we use today to address officers. Courtesy is an integral part of serving in uniform. It should be known though, Military courtesy is a two way street and should be practiced back and forth through the ranks. It is a privilege for an officer to be saluted by the lower enlisted, not a chore of those lower enlisted. For military courtesy, mutual respect is a vital part. It is exampled in FM 7-21.13 chapter 4 that a PFC passing an officer outside had full hands and could not render a salute at the time, but greeted him still with the greeting of the day. Though the lower enlisted did not salute the officer was still required to render a salute to the lower enlisted.
This is because, as said before, it is not a chore of the lower enlisted to salute, it is a privilege and the salute goes both ways as a sign of respect. There are times when a soldier doesn’t have to salute because the situation just does not permit it. A soldier does not have to salute when working, is indoors, or when there are hands are full. Times when a service member should salute include; to uncased National colors outdoors, at reveille and retreat ceremonies, and when turning over control of formations. There are many other courtesies in our army. Some are more practiced than others. It is known and taught early in a soldier’s carrier that they are to stand at parade rest when addressing an NCO until otherwise ordered. This courtesy is also to be practiced between NCO’s. The officer’s equivalent to this is the position of attention, and it is to be practiced by all service members lower than the addressing officer’s rank. Lack of this in a unit is a lack in discipline.
There are courtesies listed in FM 7-21.13 that we don’t actually use that often, or have been washed down. For example, when an officer enters a room the first service member to notice is supposed to call the room to attention. This courtesy seems to only be held to the commander of a troop or unit and not to any other officers i.e. the XO or Platoon Leaders. The same is expected with all NCO’s with the room being called to the position of at ease, it seems that this courtesy has been left only to the Command Sergeant Major of a unit. Courtesies have the right to change over time, as is exampled. One known instance of this is the case of the hand salute. When it was first implemented, in the late Roman Empire assassinations were common, and If a citizen wanted to see a public official they were to raise there right hand to show that they came unarmed. Later Knights would raise the visor to their helmets in a show of respect to other knights.
Obviously assassinations are not a prevalent threat nowadays nor visors on our Kevlar’s or patrol caps, so obviously with a changing environment customs have the right to change. There are many other customs and courtesies that aren’t always used today with our changing Army. Walking to the left of the higher ranking service member between NCO’s and Officers isn’t commonly implemented and enforced. Any time it does happen there’s a great chance that it was purely accidental. When entering or exiting a vehicle the higher ranking member is required to be the last to enter and the first to exit. This custom isn’t used anymore today as well. A tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact being passed on this way. The army is full of traditions and they are what build the pride with in every soldier. In the cavalry, one tradition held to is the use of spurs and Stetsons. Before military vehicles were prevalent and even up until the first gulf war, cavalry scouts utilized horses for navigating rough terrain. Even earlier the cavalry soldiers’ main purpose was to be a unit that could move quickly across the battle field.
The Stetson and spurs were a common part of the cavalry soldiers’ uniform, and though we don’t ride horses into battle or even wear spurs and Stetsons while engaging the enemy we do hold to the tradition of wearing these items on or with our dress uniforms. Traditions like these are specific to certain MOS’s and can even be to individual units. The bugle call is an example of an army tradition that is practiced throughout it entirely. All Army installations still use these musical pieces to call for wake up call, lunch, and dinner time. Traditions and courtesies are important to our army because they instill the pride of serving the nation as well as the discipline that a soldier is expected to display. There is no chance that an army without these could exist for, they are the hidden framework behind our actions.