Salute the Rank, Not the Man

By | August 28, 2020

[August 28, 2020]  An interesting scene in the HBO series Band of Brothers (2001) brought back memories of the time I was an officer in the U.S. Army.  In the military, we have a saying, salute the rank, not the man.  Saluting is a sign of respect,1 but there are times you do not respect the man wearing the rank.

What to do?  Since saluting is a sign of respect, should you salute an officer you do not like or respect?  Military regulations are clear; you will salute.  In a short YouTube video, we see the disliked Army Captain Sobel walking by Major Winters (sitting in a jeep).  The men do not like each other.  Sobel appears to walk by without saluting, but Winters says, “salute the rank, not the man.”  This is giving Sobel an out.  You can see the scene here (YouTube video, 34 seconds).

There were plenty of men and women in the U.S. military of all branches that I did not like or respect for a variety of reasons.  Some of them I believed to be cowards, others were using their position for personal benefit or purely for promotion, and still others were just not good at being a leader.  Regardless of the reason, I would always salute the other officers because I knew I was showing others that I respected the rank.

The U.S. is going through great turmoil with rioting, looting, arson, murder, and other violent crimes being carried out, mostly in large cities.  Politicians are losing the respect of citizens when politicians condone such violence, either by implicit support or by not condemning the acts of violence.  Yet, politicians are the ones with the responsibility and authority of their elected office that can create real change.  When we disrespect them, the results may not be to our liking.

Holding politicians to account for their failures is the right way of behaving.  As an Army officer, I followed military rules to deal with other officers that failed to uphold the minimum military standard of behavior.  A few of my friends did not think this way and would resort to name-calling and petty sabotage.  This is not the way of a good leader.

Like Bigmama (my maternal grandmother) used to tell me, “stop whining, stop whining now!”  Those that whine are showing an immature trait that will get them nowhere in life.  It shows they are not a professional but a person that acts out on base emotions and not on logical learned thought.  She made me stand up straight, look people in the eye, tell the truth, accept responsibility, and keep my mouth shut unless I had something important to say. My wife calls it, putting on my big-boy pants.

Salute the rank (or office or position), not the person.  Respect where that leader is at the moment, even if they don’t deserve it.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “Salute the Rank, Not the Man

  1. Anya B.

    Excellent article, just found it. Well done, Gen. Satterfield. This is something we should all remember when we attempt to degrade long standing institutions.

  2. Orange Man

    Super article, Gen. Satterfield. I passed this along to my brother who is in the US Army. He sent me back a note saying, “yep, that is the way it is.” He also asked for more. I’m sure you will help. Apparently there are many readers who are big supporters of our military (and, of course, our police, firefighters, and other first responders).

  3. Joe Omerrod

    Excellent HBO series. Yes, and I’ve watched it three times and something new from it each time. This incident between Sobel and Winters is one I remember but didn’t attach much meaning to it. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield for illuminating the idea that respect means a lot for the efficiency of power of any organization.

    1. Mikka Solarno

      I too have watched the series many times but let’s not lose focus. This is about showing respect for those who are around us as human beings, especially in the workplace. Respect can go a long way toward keeping people happy and satisfied.

  4. Tom Bushmaster

    Really good article. I think the idea of RESPECT is critically underrated in our society (America and the West). We assume because we exist that we are the best thing around since sliced bread. Maybe because we got a trophy for just showing up or just complaining. We don’t have to do anything to be rewarded. That creates false expectations when we meet reality. Just think college snowflake.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      HA HA, the college snowflake is the epitome of self ignorance.

  5. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    While position, uniform and rank are basically used interchangeably , the superior is saluted because he holds the higher office.

  6. Lynn Pitts

    I was never taught to salute the uniform and not the person. Nice story, though. “Yes, Ma’am. Yes, Sir.” I looked them in the eyes and saluted and was professional.

    1. Georgie M.

      Yes, in the military you are taught to salute the rank, not the person. In this case “rank” means the rank posessed by the person being saluted, not the insignia of rank they may or may not be wearing. Should an off duty officer you recognize enter your immediate area out of uniform, the salute is still offered.

      1. Willie Shrumburger

        Point well taken, that it really doesn’t mean the uniform literally but figuratively. The whole point is showing respect regardless what you think. That is an important idea because junior people have less experience and have not proven themselves.

      2. Greg Heyman

        True enough, thanks for helping clear that up, Lynn. Thank you for your military service, BTW. ?

  7. The Kid 1945

    Anyone who has been in a large org understands this “rule”… whether you like it or not, regardless of how good or bad your boss may be, you must respect their position and not disrespect it. Otherwise, a breakdown in trust and confidence in the leadership occurs and then things really get bad.

  8. Forrest Gump

    I’m one of the fans of this HBO series, loved it, and the characters. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for the reminder about this confrontation between Sobel and Winters.

    1. Randy Goodman

      Really good to see you back in these leadership forums, Forrest Gump. How have you been? Yes, I too loved the series and would watch it again if I could find it. Thanks for helping make my day.


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