Where's your salute?

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- So there I was -- brand new to the base without a car. Anywhere I had to go, I got there on foot. On a hot, humid Misawa summer day, I walked past Risner Circle on my way to the dining facility and saw a strange, important-looking vehicle approaching. As my tensions rose and a drop of sweat trickled down my cheek, I had only a split second to react. Rather than going with my gut feeling, I froze and didn't salute the 2-starred, Japanese vehicle.

I also had a lot on my mind, and the incident happened so quickly. In my defense, the sun was beaming that day, which made it difficult to see the plate inside the windshield. Speaking of the plate, I was used to seeing those on the front bumpers of staff vehicles. Come on; shouldn't I have been given the benefit of the doubt? Are you not buying that?

The fact is there was no excuse for why I didn't salute. Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241 8.6.1.4. says when officer passengers are readily identifiable (for example, officers in appropriately marked vehicles), the salute must be rendered. Likewise, Air Force Instruction 34-1201 8.1.1.2. clearly states when the salute is rendered to a senior officer in a vehicle, hold the salute until it is returned by the officer or after the vehicle has passed.

Yes, it's easy to throw regulations at each other, but the simple answer is that saluting staff vehicles, both U.S. and foreign national, is the right thing to do. It all goes back to those self-disciplining tools we learned in basic training with rendering proper customs and courtesies to one another. Not saluting staff vehicles when necessary may portray a sign of disrespect or make us look unprofessional.

I didn't suffer any punishment for my mistake, but subconsciously I felt bad. A co-worker who witnessed what happened from her car talked to me about it when I got back to the office. I was a little embarrassed, but I respected her for bringing it to my attention.

I have a car now, and I don't do much walking these days, so I'm rarely in situations like the one I faced when I first arrived here. But every so often, when I see a Japanese staff vehicle making its course, I glance to see if any military members are walking the sidewalks, just as my co-worker did. I've witnessed a few Airmen make the same mistake I made. Was the sun in their eyes, were they too busy in la-la land to identify the vehicle, or was it a lack of knowledge? Maybe they just didn't care!

Whatever the reasons are for us not saluting properly marked staff vehicles, we need to educate one another and ensure our Airmen are aware of their surroundings. If we do that, we'll find it easier to do what's right.