The rule book says that if a higher ranking officer passes by or you pass by them, you are to render a salute and sound off with the greeting of the day.
For example, if I walked passed a group of enlisted soldiers they would have to stand up, if sitting, and render a salute and say "Good Afternoon, Sir." They would have to hold their salute until I return the salute and drop mine. Now if I am walking past a Colonel, I would have to salute him or her in the same manner.
We are supposed to sound off with the greeting of the day in order to get the attention of the officer we are saluting. I don't have eyes in the back of my head and if someone is behind me, and since it would be disrespectful to not return the salute, I need to be made aware of the salute in progress.
Are you confused yet?
If you forget to salute an officer, it can be bad news. You are very likely to get "corrected" in a stern manner. Back in the states, I was walking with a Sergeant Major, and a young private walked right passed me and didn't salute. When he got about 3 steps passed me, I heard the Sergeant Major say, "COME HERE, PRIVATE!" I just kept walking, with a bit of a "oh boy, here we go" look on my face. I couldn't hear the conversation they were having, but about 20 seconds later, that same private came sprinting passed me with a panicked look on his face. He stopped about 10 feet in front of me and snapped his best salute and said "GOOD MORNING, SIR!” I returned the salute, while suppressing a smile. Afterwards, I heard the Sergeant Major say, "Thank You". I have a feeling he won't make that mistake again. :)
Since the Commanding General, here in Iraq, has declared that the entire country is a salute area, going to the dinning facility can be a "Salute Fest". Everybody goes to eat about the same time. So there is a lot of walking traffic there, causing me to salute a whole bunch. I was walking with a Specialist in my unit and he asked me if I ever get tired of returning salutes all the time. I said, "If a soldier is presenting me with the proper respect that my rank is due, it would be very disrespectful of me to not take returning a salute seriously. Soldiers can get in trouble for not saluting. What would that make me if I failed to return a salute?"
There is alternative to sounding off with greeting of the day. Some units like their soldiers to sound off with a unit motto. In my old unit, soldiers would sound off with "Mustangs, Sir!" and the officers would respond with, "Honor and Courage". This was a source of unit pride for us. It let people know we were proud of our unit. While my old unit was at the National Training Center for a rotation, we kept sounding off with "Mustangs, Sir". Near the end of our rotation, the next units were starting to show up. At one of our staff meetings our Battalion Commander said he met the next rotations Brigade Commander. And when our commander saluted he sounded off with "Mustangs, Sir!". The Colonel in charge of the incoming brigade said "Are you in charge of all these freaking Mustangs!" :) We had "Mustanged" him to death. He immediately knew that we had a very proud unit.
Sometimes it doesn’t go so smooth. While preparing to be deployed over here, the powers that be decided we should sound off with a motto, but it wasn’t going as well as it should of. So we tried to add fun to it. In front of the company formation I explained that if you don't sound off with motto when saluting an officer, you would have to do 5 push-ups, but if you catch an officer not responding properly you could make them do 5 push-ups. Therefore if I walked by a soldier that didn't sound off properly I would make them do 5 push-ups, but if I walked by 4 soldiers and I forgot to respond, I would have to do 20, 5 for each. I added, "I dare you to catch me." Well some of the lower enlisted took this as a personal challenge. :) Soon after, as I was coming out of the Dining Facility, there were 5 of my troops, lined up about 15 between each one, waiting to "dare me". I saw this ambush and decided to have fun as well, so I walked at a 90 degree angle to their line. They responded with what looked like a rehearsed move to adjust their line. It kind of reminded me of a windshield wiper rotating around to the other side of the windshield. So I went back to my original direction, with a big smile on my face, and they rotated back the other way. About this time a Sergeant First Class in our unit noticed the fun and decided to join in by making them all do push-ups so I could get by them all. I got a pretty good laugh at the whole situation. I guess I asked for it. :)
Update: Read this, Beth! Beth, @ MVRC, wants something to read. So I am sending this to her. She also wants me to link to her post asking for help. BTW: Beth says this is funny. She's right, it is funny.
Update2: Welcome "Carnival of the Vanities" Readers. I also recommend this post about baseball: The Long Dark Winter is Over.