Weddings are known to incorporate traditions of all kinds and military weddings are no exception! From the attire worn to special practices, there are plenty of ways you can incorporate your or your soon-to-be spouse’s military service into your big day! From Army and Air Force, to Marines, Navy, and every branch in between, incorporating military traditions into your day can make it just that much more special. Traditions may vary slightly between branches, but there are many similarities. Here, we’ll outline some traditions, protocols and advice!
Written by Assistant Wedding Planner, Kelly Claire who’s fiancé Jackson Darash is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army.
The most well-known tradition is that service members can get married in their dress uniform. You can incorporate military uniform both in your engagement photos and/or wedding day photos. Typically brides opt for a traditional wedding gown, but they could wear their uniform! If you or your soon-to-be chooses to wear their uniform, there are some things to keep in mind. Whoever is in uniform must adhere to any uniform and grooming standards their branch has. This can vary, but typically means you must be clean-shaven, have an appropriate hair cut, etc. Others can wear their uniforms, too! Groomsmen or bridesmaids may wear the same uniform as the bride/groom if they are in the service. If you’re including service members of different branches, don’t worry! Each branch has their own dress uniform, but they typically blend together. You can also invite guests to wear their uniforms! Active duty or retired service members may wear their dress uniform if you’d like them to. Let them know on their invitation by telling them the uniform of the day with the dress code. It’s expected everyone will be in the same uniform or equivalent (ie., the bride/groom will not be in a more formal uniform than guests.) Another thing to note are flowers. A bride in uniform may carry a bouquet. However, grooms and groomsmen are not supposed to wear boutonnieres. Their military decorations will serve in place of flowers.
While any venue can host a military wedding, there are some special options service members have access to as well. All bases will have chapels that members can get married at. Most will have several chapels to accommodate a variety of faiths. These chapels are typically free of charge to use, but a donation is expected. Military members who attended a service academy also have the option of being married at their academies chapel. The United States Military Academy in NY overlooks the stunning Hudson River, and the Air Force Academy in CO has a particularly beautiful chapel! If using a military chapel, working with the chaplain will be essential. Chaplains will have all the info you need to use the venue. As with most religious houses, there will be more restrictions than a non-religious venue would have. Keep in mind that military chapels, especially those at service academies, are in high demand. Book your wedding early! Also make sure to check with the chaplain about protocol for guests and vendors. Chaplains should also be consulted when hiring certain vendors. Florists, musicians and photographers might face restrictions. Make sure double check everyone will have access to the venue – guests and vendors! If you’re getting married on a military base, make sure your guests are familiar with how to enter. Including this information on your wedding website is best.
Some of the most iconic photos of military weddings are of the saber/sword arch. This arch is typically made up of 6-8 service members. They must be in uniform to perform the saber arch. They raise their sabers up to create an arch for the newlyweds to walk under. The final pair will drop their sabers, preventing the couple from passing. The couple must kiss to pass! Some military branches seal the deal by patting the bride on the rear and announcing, “Welcome to the (military branch), Mrs. ____!” Of course, if the bride is the service member, that would not be said. Since this is a bit more of an unofficial part of the saber arch, feel free to customize it to suit your day! Some people may not want to be swatted on the rear. Male couples can use this tradition by swapping out Mrs. for Mr.! While the most typical arch is of sabers or swords, most branches only allow officers or NCO’s to participate. In some branches, like the Army, enlisted members can create a similar arch with rifles instead of sabers. Check with your branch to see their protocol on who can or cannot participate in an arch, and what can be used to create it! The Army and Air Force usually use sabers, while the Marines and Navy will use swords. Additionally, when and where the arch occurs depends on the branch and venue. Chapels, for example, usually require the arch to be right outside the church doors instead of inside.
Another tradition involving sabers or swords is the cake cutting. Instead of cutting the cake with a normal knife, the couple can use the saber. The service member typically passes the saber/sword to the bride or non-military member, and places their right hand over theirs. They will make the cut together. Make sure you’re familiar with the type of frosting on your cake and what you’ll be using to cut. Sabers do not have a sharp edge, so it would be difficult to slice through something like fondant. As always, be careful! Both sabers and swords are much bigger than a regular knife. The bigger the blade, the more potential danger! Some military weddings incorporate the arch and cake cutting into one event. In this case, the arch would form a walkway up to the cake instead of during the recessional. If you want a lot of attention during the cake cutting, this might be a good idea!
Flags, flags and more flags! What’s more patriotic than the stars and stripes? During the ceremony, some military weddings will display the US flag. The flag will often be to the left of the officiant. If you’re considering this, keep your arch/altar display in mind! An asymmetrical arch may help create balance with the flag.
Military themed touches can also be included in the reception. If many of your guests or wedding party are in one branch, playing a hymn of theirs or their branch’s song. This can be done as recognition, or a fun (and respectful!) way to get the members excited! A classic way of recognizing each branch would be to play a medley of each branch’s song. Typically, members would stand as their song is played. There are also many ways to include the military in your decor! A common way is through colors. If the bride/groom’s military branch’s color is red, for example, you can incorporate that into your florals or linens. This can be subtle or very dramatic! Incorporating a branch’s colors into the groomsmen/bridesmaids outfits can be a nice touch, too. This also helps to make uniforms and typical wedding attire look more cohesive.
Your detail shots are also a great place to incorporate some military touches! Include the service member’s name plate or other insignia. This will definitely make your detail shots unique! Keep your photographer in the loop. Anywhere you’ve added special touches, let them know! They’ll be able to capture your unique details better if they know what to look out for.
Every wedding has its formalities, however, military weddings come with a few more! Protocols for military members will begin with the invitations. Make sure to address service members properly. This will vary by branch and rank. If you’re unsure, ask the chaplain or other service members how to address properly! At the very least, be sure to use the member’s rank instead of Mr/Mrs.
Seating can also be a bit tricky. At formal events, military members are traditionally sat by rank. During the ceremony, commanding officers will be seated behind the couple’s families, with lower ranking members following behind. This also goes for receptions. However, since this is your wedding and not a formal military event, you have the choice to seat guests however you’d like. Some couples will seat all military members at one table, or by rank. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask! Some guests or wedding party members would prefer to be sat with friends and family as opposed to other military personnel they may not know as well. Keep in mind any other factors that may affect seating. For example, COVID19 concerns often override seating by rank. During these times, couples are typically seating guests by household to help mitigate risk. Remember, it’s your wedding! You have the freedom to decide what suits your day best!
One formality that can be overlooked is the side the bride will stand on. Typically, the bride stands to the left of the groom. In military weddings, the bride will be on the right. Since the military member traditionally will have a sword or saber, the bride would be on the side opposite the blade. If you like the typical wedding set-up more, go for it! You can probably assume the sword won’t be used during the ceremony. 😉
Something military couples are used to is uncertainty. With sudden moves and last minute changes, planning a wedding can be difficult. Getting wedding insurance might be a good idea! This can potentially protect you from loss if you have a change in duty station, deployment, or other conflict. Make sure you really understand your policy. Some won’t cover military-related problems and some will. Knowing the policy well helps avoid unexpected surprises!
Wedding planning of any kind can be stressful. Hiring a coordinator or planner can really help take the weight off your shoulders! While a chaplain knows all the ins and outs of getting married as a military member and using the base chapels, they are not a wedding planner. Think of them more as a resource – like a dictionary meets venue manager! They exist to answer your questions, not plan the wedding. While this information might be overwhelming, don’t stress! Your guests aren’t expecting everything to be perfect, military wedding or not! They most likely won’t even notice minor mishaps. Remember, your wedding is your day to have fun. You aren’t there to please everyone! Sit back, relax, let us handle it!
Thank you to our military service members and families for the sacrifices your make. We always honor special discounts for military members.
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Bianca Nichole Events is a wedding planner in Austin, and will travel to San Antonio, Fredericksburg and the surrounding Texas Hill Country area.