Are you and your partner engaged, and one of you is in the U.S. military? If so, you’re probably wondering how to plan a military wedding. For many military couples, a wedding is a time to celebrate their relationship and the military’s role in their lives. And whether you and your partner are celebrating on or off-base, military traditions will likely be a significant part of your ceremony.
If you’ve invested any time in researching your future military wedding, you’ve probably realized that planning one of these events is no easy task. There are countless traditions and rules of etiquette, which often vary depending on the couple’s branch and rank, that you must account for. And even if you choose a more casual wedding ceremony, you must still respect the other military members who will be in attendance.
What Is a Military Wedding?
Like most things connected to the United States military, you might think of a military wedding as a strict, formal affair. While this is true of some military couples and their ceremonies, it is certainly not true for all. Any wedding that includes at least one active duty service member is a military wedding, regardless of if the ceremony is traditional or not. Some veterans even opt to include aspects of a military wedding as a nod to their time in the service and the continued role that their military family plays in their life.
However, even if you don’t follow every single tradition when planning your military wedding, there are some things that you should consider. For instance, military members are expected to wear the appropriate dress uniform. You will also need to respect the rank and position of military guests throughout your planning. But other traditions like the use of the arch or the location of your ceremony are much more flexible.
Our 8 Tips for Planning the Perfect Military Wedding
Whether your military wedding will be more relaxed or formal, most of the planning will revolve around etiquette. Civilian wedding planning comes with a host of rules and expectations that the bride and groom must abide by. But a military wedding adds even more rules to follow.
Even if you are the service member in your relationship, or you’re both active duty, planning a wedding is not a typical part of your training. Although, you may have attended a few weddings and seen what a traditional ceremony looks like. There are likely many aspects of planning a military wedding of which you have no knowledge. Below, we’ve compiled eight tips to help make this process a little easier.
1. Understand your branch’s traditions
The first step to planning a successful military wedding is understanding the traditions that you can choose to include. These traditions will vary depending on the military branch you or your partner are attached to, so make sure to do your research. Some of the most obvious differences between branches include uniform etiquette and the use of a saber, sword, or rifle arch.
If you are located on-base, or close enough to easily travel, a military chaplain can be an invaluable resource. They can answer any questions you have about planning your ceremony and following the proper military etiquette. Even if you don’t choose to have your military chaplain officiate your ceremony, they are normally happy to help service members and their partners during this important stage in life. However, it is polite to offer a small monetary donation in exchange for these services.
If you are both active duty members, but of different branches, then you might need to get creative. A traditional military wedding for a dual-military marriage might require a mixture of traditions from each of your respective branches. But no matter how you choose to handle this, remember that you and your partner get the final say.
2. Respect security protocol
If your guest list includes active duty service members, especially those of a higher rank, then security might be something you need to consider. In some cases, service members may need to keep their location private. That includes private events like a wedding ceremony, whether it is on or off-base.
There are two main areas of wedding planning where you will need to consider security: photography and social media. Some wedding planning experts recommend meeting with your photographer before your ceremony to discuss guests who they cannot photograph and post publically online. Social media is trickier, but if your guest list contains mostly service members and their loved ones many will understand. If you have additional concerns, speak with the guests who require extra security on how you can meet their needs.
3. Use proper titles
During the wedding planning process, save-the-dates and invitations are two of the first things you’ll check off your to-do list. When filling these out, it’s important that you use the correct military titles for each guest you invite. You should also use appropriate titles for yourself or your partner, as well as your parents, when applicable.
If you’re a civilian marrying a service member, this might be confusing or overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to ask your partner, other military spouses, or your military chaplain for help. After all, using the correct title is a crucial act of respect for service members of any branch or rank.
4. Wear the correct attire
Formal military attire, especially at a military wedding, can be difficult to follow. If you are a civilian marrying a service member, then your attire will mirror that found in a civilian wedding. But for service members who are getting married, a part of the wedding party, or guests, there are countless rules of etiquette to follow.
Fortunately, military members spend a great deal of time learning about and caring for their uniforms. If you have any questions about attire-related etiquette, then you can reference your military chaplain or a trusted resource. But in most cases, your partner, party, and guests will need zero guidance on what to wear to your wedding. You will just need to make the distinction of how formal your military wedding will be, just as you would a civilian ceremony.
5. Create a seating chart
When it comes to your military wedding’s seating arrangement, you do have some flexibility. But there are some general etiquette rules that most couples choose to follow. The most important rule when it comes to seating is that there is a special place reserved for the bride or groom’s commanding officer and their spouse. If the bride or groom’s parents cannot attend, then this is the seat given to the commanding officer.
Traditionally, all military wedding guests are seated by their rank. Some couples choose to forego this rule, though, favoring a mixed seating arrangement of military and civilian guests. The seating method you choose will mostly depend on how formal your military wedding is and the number of civilian versus military guests you invite.
6. Include everything in your rehearsal
If you are going to include a saber, sword, or rifle arch in your ceremony, then you will want to run through this part during your rehearsal. While this is an anticipated part of any military wedding, most service members don’t practice it outside of the event itself.
Some military weddings use or display the American flag in some way. If you wish to include a flag in your ceremony, you should also include its use in your rehearsal run-through. That will ensure that you give proper care and respect to the flag from the beginning to the end of your ceremony.
7. Protect your investment
As a military couple, you and your partner are used to sudden schedule changes, relocations, and more. So while wedding insurance is valuable for any betrothed couple, it is especially important for military couples. Changes in assignment, including deployment, can mean a change in venue or even a postponement of your wedding. By investing in wedding insurance from the start, you can protect yourself against lost money if this occurs.
Before investing in a wedding insurance policy, make sure that it covers military-related situations like deployment. Most policies cover circumstances out of the couple’s control, like bad weather, fire, or another disaster. But not all policies consider military deployment or relocation as one of these circumstances.
8. Remember to have fun
Weddings are stressful even without following military etiquette, especially if you are a civilian marrying a service member. Remember to enjoy your day and only include what you really want. In the end, your marriage is ultimately more important than any tradition.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should ever disrespect military tradition, etiquette, or the ranks of your guests. As a service member or the future spouse of a service member, the military does and will continue to play an important role in your lives together.
Planning Your Own Military Wedding
A military wedding might seem like just another formal, rule-bound event. But in many ways, it is a ceremony to welcome a civilian spouse into the military family. From the presence of the commanding officer to the saber arch, many military wedding traditions represent the fellow service member’s commitment to protect and honor the couple throughout their life together.
At the end of the day, your relationship with your future spouse is what matters most. Planning a military wedding can be stressful, but if done with love it can also be extremely fulfilling. And if you or your partner’s time in service is meaningful to the two of you, then a formal military wedding is a great way to pay tribute to this part of your lives.