Obama’s Cell Phone and Coffee Cup Salutes

Images show President Obama saluting marines as he speaks on a cell phone or holds a cup of coffee. Are the images real?

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The photos are real.

Let’s take a look at each photo and the backlash surrounding them.

2012 “Cell Phone” Salute

This image first circulated heavily on social media in October 2012. It was shared with such captions as:

  • “Like” if you think the President should get off his phone and return the salute properly!
  • That is very disrespectful to our military, wonder what he would think if they were to talk on their cell phones while he was coming of the plane. He is so full of himself and rude. he’s not worth a vote at all.

Although the photo circulated heavily in October 2012, it was taken on January 29, 2010 in Baltimore. The timing of its proliferation was no doubt fueled by the 2012 election season.

Here is the photo in question:

Below is the same photo from a much wider angle:

President Obama is not the first Commander-in-Chief to be criticized for his salute. GOP President George Bush was also derided for saluting marines on several occasions while carrying his dog Barney, as seen below. Some critics have claimed that there is a difference between the distraction of a cell phone and carrying an object under one’s arm.

Presidential Salute

Ronald Reagan began the modern trend of the Presidential salute, often while exiting Air Force One or Marine One (the presidential helicopter). There have been many commentaries over the years critiquing each president’s salute. Below is an interesting argument that the President should never give a military salute unless he is in uniform. It is also pointed out that President, and former General, Dwight D. Eisenhower never saluted after his military retirement.

Although the video above makes the case that the President technically may not be obliged to return a salute, it is a tradition which has existed for over 30 years.

Carey Winfrey of Smithsonian magazine wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about the Presidential Salute back in 2009. The opinion piece notes that some Presidential salutes could be described as “halfhearted to jaunty” but that “presidents deserved to be cut some slack” on the issue. Winfrey also pointed out that saluting without a cover (that is, without a hat) is also considered inappropriate, which would apply to most presidential salutes over the past 30 years.

2014 “Coffee Cup” Salute

On September 23, 2014, the White House posted a short video of President Obama exiting Marine One in New York. As he passed the saluting marines, he held his coffee-bearing hand up in a quick salute.

Critics blasted the President for this informal, coffee-holding salute. The National Republican Congressional Committee tweeted, “Wait – did President Obama just salute the Marines with a LATTE in his hand?!”

A US Navy manual on customs and courtesies holds that a salute is not appropriate in some situations, including “Carrying articles with both hands or being otherwise so occupied as to make saluting impractical.”

Bottom Line

Photos of President Obama saluting while talking on a cell phone and holding a cup of coffee are real. While the President is not technically obligated to salute, it is a 30-year tradition which has been practiced by every president since Ronald Reagan. Critics of the informal salutes have expressed the opinion that it is disrespectful to those in uniform.

What do you think of the President’s salute?

Originally published October 18, 2012.

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  • George Roach

    As a retired military vet, I will tell you what Mr. Bush did was quite alright. In the military if we carry something its always in our left hand so we may render a salute. The photo of Mr. Bush is the correct way of saluting. Now Mr. Obama on the other hand should have put the phone down in his left hand and saluted. This is total disrespect in any veterans eye.

    • Blessing Enosin

      I’ve been in the military for 8 years and Colonels and Generals do talk on the phone while getting off their vehicle. We just salute and carry on. So George, I don’t see any problem with that especially when the leaders, at least u don’t know what conversation he his having at that time. Real military personnel would not get their feelings hurt. Drive on soldier.

      • Not So Much Buddy

        Being in the military for 8 years and driving a Colonel around doesn’t make you anywhere near the caliber of HMX Marine One personnel. I wouldn’t bother with you either, but with them it’s really a given as every single lift is a photo op with the Nation watching, not some Company formed up for the Battalion CO… not the same dude. I was there, we go everywhere at a moment’s notice for a dog and pony show. He could just put it down for a second and resume the important dinner request from the first lady.

        • William Carr

          Oh, please.

          For all you know, President Putin was on the phone angry about the Libyan conflict.

          Would YOU put down the phone if the wingnut on the other end was pissed off and had nuclear weapons?

          All these haters that look for something to complain about are mentally bent.

          You remember Bush, right?

          We never had to make up stuff to be mad about with Bush.

          For several good reasons.

    • JA Wood

      You are absolutely correct. Barry and Michelle share the same disrespect for America… this photo is just one little example.

  • Mercin

    There is no way you poutraged whiners claiming this is offensive are real military. Read the comment by blessing Enosin above and watch the video. Then go check in to the VA and try to get over your deep, deep wounded feelings, you pathetic pussies.

  • BB

    Mercin – I invite you to watch today’s video of Obama boarding Marine One with nothing in his hand and still didn’t return the salute. And if you refer to me as a pussy after 18 years of military service, Ill reply with, you are what you eat – thus Ill refer to you as a dick.

  • Sameara

    It’s just my opinion, again, and it is worth nothing, but did we join the military to be lauded, bought drinks and have our backsides kissed profusely? Or is it to serve our country? I chose the latter and am embarrassed to be thanked. I do what I do to feel I am contributing and I am paid well for it. I mean no disrespect, but feel it is time we realize we are a democracy and here to serve, not be served.

    • David

      Sameara: your opinion is not worth nothing, but you joined the military for the wrong reasons. Our WORST ENEMY controls the military. Yes I’m referring to the NWO cabal, which treats our military like dumb animals who are pawns of foreign policy, as Henry Kissinger stated. We are in dire straights right now, and if you people (and the police) don’t awaken to who are real enemy is, there is no hope. You are “serving” the criminals who control our country and the world, not the citizens of this country who pay your salary. I hope and pray you will all wake-up before it’s too late. Forget the jingoistic super-patriot crap: you have been HOODWINKED into sacrificing your lives for your worst enemy.

  • Tim

    Oh good grief. Lighten up and realize that the President is a civilian. Holding a cell phone while saluting is not disrespectful, pretending to be upset by this proves a compusively uptight disposition.

  • Bette

    Well, we’ll just have to forgive this man because he really doesn’t
    know much about military affairs…remember how he pronounced the
    word “corp”??

  • Capt. John Edwards (RET)

    Let me remind all that the President does not need salute anyone.
    There is no protocol for a return presidential salute…period.

    President Eisenhower never returned a single salute while in office and that man was a 5 star General.

    This “practice” began with Ronald Reagan and even he got flack for doing it. Since then, every President has done it thou there is no real need.

  • karla

    The commentator is right…The president does not have to return the salute, But out of respect, it is a return salute of respect that most anyone in the military would have done; And, by lowering their cellphone it solidifies that respect!

  • George

    I believe that if a salute is offered it should be propper otherwise you are just going through the motions and thats not the point of a salute a salute is a sign of respect in the military no matter what branch you served in me (air force)the junior ranking individual offers a salute and the senior ranking person(an officer) stoped anything he or she was doing and returned the salute.And even with cell phone edicut when you aproach someone on the phone to say hello and offer a hand shake it is customarry to briefly stop your conversation take the phone away from your ear extend your right arm and shake hands and say hello then go back to you conversation.These fine young marines deserve a little more respect than what they got.And no the president of the United states of America does not have to return a salute but if he chooses to it shold be done with the same respect as the salute that was given to him.

  • Roberta

    I just say hold, put the phone down, do whatever and then resume as soon as I can. That is called simple respect. These men put their lives on the line and are expected to show respect. Why is everything different for the commander in chief?

  • Brad ward

    Actually I was in military and u were never to salute without cover so really if that is still in effect
    No hat no salute.
    Kinda silly debate thou The presidents haters will jump on anything he does no matter how silly.
    Most claims against him are false anyway. Just saying