Top 17 Army Customs and Courtesies Every Soldier Should Know

When a person joins the Army, they also agree to abide by customs and courtesies, as well as rules and regulations. Some of these customs and courtesies may seem crazy to civilians, but when you really consider them, it is what gives a good reputation the Army needs to have. Some of these customs and courtesies are in writing, while others are just common knowledge and do not have to be in writing.

In today’s post, we are going to look at the top 17 Army customs and courtesies every soldier should know. By not following some of these, Army personnel can get in “hot water.” While some of these may seem unreasonable, when you signed that dotted line to join the Army, you also agreed to abide by these customs and courtesies.

Now, let’s take a look at Army customs and courtesies you need to know:

1: Never criticize the Army or any leaders in public

As a member of the United States Army, you may disagree with the way that some things are done by the Army in general or some leaders. There are ways to try to get changes, but one of those ways is not being critical of any leaders or the Army in public atmospheres. Yes, this includes Facebook! Yes, this includes being critical of the President of the United States! He is, after all, the Commander in Chief. Think before you speak or type. Will what you are saying be taken in the wrong way? If you have an issue with the way something or someone is doing something, follow the chain of command.

2: Alcohol

This is a situation that is broken quite often, and it has given some bad thoughts against some soldiers and officers. Never should you appear in uniform under the influence of alcohol. Some may think that 1 beer is ok, but where is the line drawn? Shouldn’t 2 beers or 3, or maybe add just 1 shot of whiskey to the mix? No, none is the line that is drawn, and if you want to be under the influence, make sure you are in your civilian clothes, and not your Army uniform.

3: Follow the chain

So you really have little respect for your 1st Sergeant and you have an issue with a fellow soldier not following his/her prescribed duties, and it is putting a load of extra work on your shoulders. Your first thought is to just skip the 1st Sergeant and go directly to your Company Commander about the situation.

The first thing your Company Commander will probably ask you is, “What did the 1st Sergeant say?”. How will you answer that question?

No matter what, you must always follow your chain of command. Skipping links in the chain causes chaos, and you will look bad if you do so. If the 1st Sergeant does not clear the issue, you then go above his/her head, and you will have an answer to the question.

4: Sir or Ma’am

Did you make the mistake of calling your drill sergeant sir in basic training? I did! Ok, we will now get this straight. Anytime you are speaking to someone of higher rank that is an officer, you use the term sir or ma’am. If you are speaking with an enlisted, you use their rank.

So is it ok to call a Sergeant sir or ma’am? There have been situations where it is appropriate, but few. Seldom will a Sergeant jump you for slipping with sir or ma’am outside of basic training, but it is protocol to just address them with their rank. If you are a Major addressing a Colonel, you should use sir or ma’am.

It really is simple if you just think before you speak.

5: Headgear

In the majority of cases, whenever you enter a home or a building, headgear should be removed. Of course, this is not the case if you are in Afghanistan going house to house on a mission to find insurgents. Or, if you are sent on a mission to do some type of manual labor that requires your hands to be free. It just means using common sense. If you are unsure, remove your headgear.

6: Stance

Another often confused issue is how to stand when addressing an officer. As an enlisted soldier, when speaking with an officer, you should stand at attention unless you are ordered by that individual to stand otherwise.

When an officer is speaking with another officer of higher rank, the lower ranking officer should stand at parade rest unless ordered otherwise.

7: Vehicles

Here is another important custom that all soldiers and officers should always know: whenever entering a vehicle or a boat, the lowest rank member/s enter the vehicle first. When exiting a boat or vehicle, the highest ranking person gets out first.


While every soldier and officer should have it inbred into them when to properly salute, I felt I should cover the bases of saluting. The next few are the proper times when a salute is called for, or not.

8: In passing

Whenever passing a higher ranked individual, it is not only a courtesy, but a regulation that you salute that individual. The only time this is not correct is if the individual has both hands in use, such as carrying a box or some other item. It is still correct to say good morning, afternoon or evening or some type of greeting, sir or ma’am.

9: Certain anthems

A soldier always salutes to the National anthem, Hail To The Chief or a foreign anthem of an allied country. If you are in question on whether you should salute or not, glance at a superior and follow their lead. If still not sure, salute!

10: Colors

When you are outdoors and national colors are uncased, you should salute those colors. Again, if in doubt, salute!

11: Certain occasions

During special and sad occasions such as Change of Command ceremonies and military funerals, soldiers should salute. There has been a question about civilian funerals while a soldier is in uniform. While this is an often debated subject, I say that saluting is the most respectable thing you can do. If you debate that, feel free to comment at the end of this post and set me straight if you can.

12: The pledge

It goes along with uncased colors outdoors, but when pledging allegiance to the flag outdoors, soldiers should be saluting.

13: Dismissed

Upon being dismissed from someone of higher rank, a salute is an absolute!

14: Turning over

Whenever turning control of a formation to someone else, you should always salute.

15: Foreign officers

Here is another one that is debated from time to time, and I do wonder myself if we should, but the Army says to do so. Army personnel are supposed to salute officers of other nations. While you may not agree with it, it is an unwritten custom, and it shows respect. After all, the only way to gain respect is by showing respect.

Crazy customs and rules

Just as an added bonus I wanted to add some of what I hope the Army will take a look at to change. Are you thinking I am breaking #1 by posting this? I would be if I were still in the Army, but I am not any more, so I can say what needs to be said.

16: Reflection

Why exactly do Army soldiers and officers need to wear reflective belts during training in wooded areas? Isn’t that defeating the purpose? Wear that cammo with a bright yellow reflective belt…yea, that makes good sense!

17: End of the week

Why do soldiers have to have a safety brief every Friday? Safety is a great thing, but when it is overdone, it start getting to the point of boredom. Also, inspecting cars every week is somewhat crazy.

Those are just a couple of crazy rules or customs, can you add more? Feel free to in the comment section below

Also, if you have anything you would like to say about this post, or any questions, you can do that in the comments area. Thanks and have a great day!

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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