If you're getting married soon, congratulations! Planning a wedding can be a lot of fun — and a lot of work. If you're thinking about a military wedding, you may be pleased to find that there is no official protocol for military weddings. Instead, you can incorporate as many or as few military traditions into your wedding as you choose. The following information will explain military wedding traditions and help you plan your big day.
A military wedding doesn't need to be at a military chapel. You may choose your favorite church or another location. If you choose to use a military chapel, the following information will help you plan:
- Reservations. Many chapels require advance booking, usually at least three months before the event. You may need to reserve some of the most popular chapels, such as the service academy chapels, up to a year ahead of time.
- Chaplain assistance. The military chaplain will give you information on restrictions or other protocols specific to the chapel and help you select a florist, photographer, wedding coordinator and other vendors. He or she may also help find a specific clergy member, such as a Catholic priest, to perform your service.
- Civilian clergy. You may choose to ask a civilian clergy member to lead the service or assist, even in a military chapel. The military chaplain and your civilian clergy member will work with you to plan the service.
- Pre-marital counseling. Although military chaplains and civilian clergy have their own policies regarding pre-marital counseling, many require it.
- Other options. You can be creative with your wedding. Military couples have been married in museums, historic buildings or other sites of military significance.
The military uniforms and traditions are what make a military wedding special. Here are some favorite traditions:
- Sword or saber arch. The sword or saber arch is one of the most popular military wedding traditions. Because the wedding ceremony is a religious one, many military chapels and civilian churches prefer that the arch take place outside the chapel, after the service. But you may choose to have uniformed ushers — without their weapons — line the aisle during the bride's processional. For the sword or saber arch, six or eight service members line up in pairs on the chapel steps or along the walk. The bride and groom walk under the arch as they leave the chapel. Whether it's a sword or a saber arch depends on your branch of service. Army and Air Force members carry sabers while Navy and Marine Corps members carry swords. Your chaplain or one of the books listed in "Resources" (below) can offer detailed information on the arch.
- Uniforms. All service members in the wedding party should wear the same uniform. For example, if the groom wears a mess dress uniform, all other military members of the wedding party should wear the same. If the bride is a service member, she may choose to wear appropriate civilian attire. Your wedding party may include members of different service branches.
- Music. You may include your service branch's song in the recessional or play some military-themed music at your reception.
- Decorations. Some military couples choose a patriotic theme for their wedding, which can include a flag posted in the chapel and flags as table centerpieces at the reception.
- Cutting the cake. One of the highlights of a military reception is cutting the cake with the groom's sword or saber. The bride holds the sword with the groom's hand over hers. Together they cut the wedding cake. Don't forget to clean the sword or saber before replacing it in its sheath.
Just like any wedding, there are countless details to work out as you plan your military wedding. Here are a few you'll want to think about:
- Wedding insurance. For most military couples, wedding insurance is essential. Make sure you understand the details of your coverage, including coverage for military duty or deployment.
- Invitations. If you are sending formal invitations, you'll want to follow military protocol in addressing them. See "Resources" for books with specific information on how to address service members.
- Seating. At a formal reception, you may want to follow military protocol in seating your guests. Traditionally, military guests are seated by rank. Check with your installation protocol officer for more information.
- Installation security. If your wedding or reception is on an installation, be sure to make arrangements for your non-military guests and vendors with installation military police.
- Enjoy! Your wedding — including the planning — should be fun for you and your spouse-to-be.
These books will give you more details on how to plan a memorable wedding.
- Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette (Fifth edition), by Peggy Post (William Morrow, 2005). This classic Includes sections on military weddings and addressing invitations.
- The Military Wedding, by Vanessa L. Baldwin (AuthorHouse, 2008). Written by a wedding consultant who specializes in military weddings.
- Service Etiquette (Fifth edition) , by Cherylynn Conetsco and Anna Hart (Naval Institute Press, 2009).
You can learn about service Academy Chapel weddings from the website for the chapel for your service branch: U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel, U.S. Naval Academy Chapel, or U.S. Military Academy Chapels.