E-Bulletin Logo
Protocol & Etiquette Corner
Submitted by the Office of the Surgeon General Protocol Point of Contact:
LT La Keisha C. Jones, USPHS  (lakeisha.jones@hhs.gov)
Please note that information provided in this Commissioned Corps Bulletin article is intended to provide clarification for officers of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (Corps) who are coordinating, executing, and participating in Corps related activities, events, and ceremonies. In response to frequent questions received from civilians, officers, and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Operating Divisions, Staff Divisions, and non-HHS organizations to which Corps officers are assigned, the Office of the Surgeon General will publish monthly columns to provide clarity on topics such as, but not limited to, ceremonies and routine activities.

Please contact the Office of the Surgeon General if you have any questions or concerns regarding protocol and etiquette in the Corps – Lakeisha.jones@hhs.gov

Please note correction to the April 2009 ‘Protocol & Etiquette Corner’
An example in the April article introduced the more senior officer to the more junior officer. Please see the correct example below.
  • When providing introductions, a more junior officer or younger person is always introduced to an older person or more senior officer. Correct Example: “CAPT Williams, this is LTJG Rogers” or (more formal) “CAPT Williams, may I present LTJG Rogers” or “CAPT Williams, may I introduce LTJG Rogers.”
It is important for officers of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (Corps) to become familiar with the saluting protocol of every uniformed service. There may be variations among the Army, Air Force, and Navy in style and execution. For example, the Air Force and the Army salute when covered and uncovered. The sea services, including the Corps, generally salute only when covered. However, if Army or Air Force personnel salute you while uncovered, the most appropriate and courteous response is to return the salute. When in doubt, think of a salute as being synonymous to a handshake. If someone offered you their hand to shake, you would return it out of courtesy and respect. Remember, “Social customs or military courtesy should always be interpreted so as to prevent awkward situations.”

Here is some general guidance on whom to salute, and when and where not to salute:
  • The hand salute is required on or off duty on all military installations.
  • A salute is rendered at 6 to 12 paces when walking or when at a standstill. However, senior officers must always be alert to salutes rendered when further away than the minimum distance.
  • A salute is held until the more senior officer has returned the salute or has passed. 
  • Never hold anything in your right hand when saluting.
  • When attempting to pass a more senior officer, the more junior officer must approach on the left hand side of the senior officer, salute when abreast, and say, “By your leave…(Ma’am or Sir or Rank + Surname of the senior officer).” The more junior officer waits until the senior officer returns the salute and replies with “Carry on” or “Permission granted” or “Very well.”
  • Salutes should be accompanied with a greeting such as “Good Morning / Afternoon / Evening… (Ma’am or Sir or Rank + Surname).”
  • Officers of equal rank salute more or less simultaneously when greeting one another.
  • When seated outdoors a more junior officer should rise and salute to greet a more senior officer.
  • When encountering an officer of equal or higher rank.
  • When an automobile displaying the rank or flag of a high-level dignitary passes on base.
  • When saluted by uncovered Army or Air Force personnel (to avoid an awkward situation).
  • During indoor award, promotion, or recognition ceremonies when you are a part of the official party or are an awardee.
  • When in the company of varying ranks. If, for example, a RADM and a LTJG are in company and are approached by a CDR, the CDR will render a greeting salute first, and then the RADM and LTJG will simultaneously return the salute. However the LTJG should not interrupt the RADM and render a salute to the approaching CDR until the RADM acknowledges the CDR with a salute.
  • When encountering an encumbered senior officer, you salute and can expect a verbal greeting in return.
  • When stopped in a vehicle at a guard post, even when in civilian attire, return a salute rendered to you.
  • All individuals who are equal or senior to you in rank in any of the uniformed services of the United States or of foreign governments.
  • President of the United States; Vice President of the United States; State Governors; Department Secretaries (including the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of HHS). 
  • Foreign government Heads of State; Ambassadors; Ministers of Defense or civilian leaders of defense and their assistants at or above the level of the Assistant Secretary of the Armed Forces.
  • When engaged with routine manual work where the salute would interfere.
  • In public places and public conveyances such as churches, restaurants, hotels, theaters, subway trains, and buses.
  • When driving an automobile and saluting is impractical or would be unsafe. In such cases a nod is acceptable.
  • When both hands are in use carrying items.
  • When indoors (except as noted above under ‘When to Salute’).
For more information:
Because the Corps is a sea service, the following time-tested references are ideal for gathering additional information on saluting and other customs and courtesies:
  • "The Naval Officer's Guide" (Naval Institute Press)
  • "Division Officer's Guide" (Naval Institute Press)
  • "Service Etiquette" (Naval Institute Press)
  • "The Naval Officer's Manual" (Professional Management Spectrum, Inc.)
Current Issue Front Page