Weddings 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 BNCo Wedding Planner, Kelly Darash, who recently married her husband, 1LT Jackson Darash at The Arlo.
Uniforms are often worn by service members at their weddings. 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, each branch will have their own dress uniform. Typically these blend well 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, just let them know on their invitation by telling them the uniform dress code. Another detail to note with uniforms are flowers. A bride in uniform may carry a bouquet, however, flowers are not to be pinned to a uniform (like a boutonniere would be). 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. Also make sure to check with the chaplain about protocol for guests and vendors. Florists, musicians and photographers might face restrictions. Make sure everyone will have access to the venue, including guests and vendors. If you’re getting married on a military base, it’s best to include specific directions on your wedding website for guests who may not be familiar with the area.
Service academy graduates can be married at their academy’s chapel or other religious house. 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!
Check with the chaplain about protocol for guests and vendors. Florists, musicians and photographers might face restrictions. Make sure everyone will have access to the venue, including guests and vendors. Weddings on a military base should include specific directions on the wedding website for guests who may not be familiar with the area.
Photos: Katie Dewald, Venue: Summerall Chapel at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina
Some of the most iconic photos of military weddings are of the saber/sword arch. Saber arches are made up of 6-8 service members, but can have less. Service members 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 and demand a kiss to pass! Some military branches seal the deal by patting the non-military newly wed on the rear and announcing, “Welcome to the (military branch), Mr/Mrs. ____!” If both partners are in the service, this would not apply. Feel free to customize this tradition to suit your day. Some people may not want to be swatted with the saber, or the wording can be adjusted. For example, during saber arches at The Citadel, the cadet will call out “Welcome to the Citadel Family!”
The most typical arch is of sabers or swords, and most branches only permit officers or NCO’s to participate. In some branches, like the Army, enlisted members can create a similar arch with rifles instead of sabers. Your branch can confirm 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 just like any other cake cutting. 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, so we recommend having your wedding coordinator store your sword or saber somewhere safe before and after cake cutting.
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. You could also go with a more subtle option of having American flag cuff links.
The reception is a great place to incorporate military touches as well. 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. Military members usually stand as their song is played.
Of course, there are tons of other traditions that are branch specific. Below are a couple examples for 1st Cavalry Division, at Ft. Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood). Pictured first, a groom who has earned his spurs will wear them pointing up while he is single or engaged, and will them flip them to point down once married. Secondly, service members who wear stetsons as a piece of their uniform will “break them in,” by filling it with a beverage of choice and drinking it. This tradition is not specific to weddings, and commonly happens at other division events as well.
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.
Military members are traditionally sat by rank at formal events. Commanding officers sit behind the couple’s families, with lower ranking members following behind. This also goes for receptions if you want to follow traditional military regulations. However, since this is your wedding and not an official military event, you have the choice to seat guests however you’d like. You can seat all military members at one table, organize tables, or simply seat your guests with friends and family as opposed to other military personnel they may not know as well. 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. 😉
Uncertainty is common for military couples. 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! Dual Air-Force couple, Sarah and Matt, planned 3 weddings before finally getting to have their dream day!
Wedding planning of any kind can be stressful. Hiring a coordinator or planner can really help take the weight off your shoulders! Chaplains know all the ins and outs of getting married as a military member and using the base chapels, but 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! Sit back, relax, let us plan your military wedding!
Photos: Abby Shandle
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 and Co is a team of wedding planners in Austin, and will travel to San Antonio, Fredericksburg and the surrounding Texas Hill Country area. BNCo also services North and South Carolina, and will travel.