Operation: I Do | Military Traditions, and do I Have to do Them?

Welcome to the first installment of a new series here on the blog, Operation: I Do, where we’ll be discussing the different facets regarding military wedding and event planning, including determining formality, the differences between enlisted and officer events, wording paper goods, and etiquette when it comes to the military. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the experience to assist in coordinating and planning numerous military functions between the different branches, and I hope that by sharing this knowledge and the knowledge of other industry professionals, it can help ease the stress of planning for our future Milspouses and their servicemen and women.

We’re kicking off the first part of this series with common military traditions, and answering the question of do you have to incorporate them into your wedding. Though units, squadrons, flights, and battalions could possibly have their own traditions (and therefore be different, especially between branches), we’ll be covering traditions that have been observed between all branches. If you have questions about specific traditions, especially if you want to incorporate those from your service member’s battalion or squadron, be sure to ask your service member, and have them ask their coworkers or DO if they know of anything.

So, onto the traditions, and the pomp and circumstance that you may be wondering about!

The first and foremost, and possibly most photographed when it comes to military weddings, is the saber and rifle arch. The saber and rifle arch is has traditionally been at the end of the ceremony, and operates as a grand exit for the couple. Sabers are strictly reserved for officers, while rifles are used for enlisted members. The team operating the arch almost always where’s pristine, white gloves. If you areconsidering an arch, be sure to inquire at your venue if it’s allowed – as you can imagine, a venue may not be too keen on having operational weapons on their grounds, or the church may ask you to have your arch line up outside.

Saber Arch Captured by  Amy Arrington

Saber Arch Captured by Amy Arrington

Arch of Rifles captured by the  US Army

Arch of Rifles captured by the US Army

Speaking of sabers, it is traditional during the cutting of the cake to use the highest ranking officer’s saber as your cake knife. Now, whether or not you want to be wielding a saber around your beautiful cake will be totally up to you, but if you should decide to go that route, be aware of sanitizing the saber so you’re good to go for eating your first slice and a married couple.

It must also be noted that for seating throughout the reception, if you are doing assigned seating, to do so by rank. For the ceremony, it is also traditional to reserve seats for high ranking attendees (including veterans), and to have their seats reserved by family members. Observing the intricacies of hierarchy is not only following the rules and regulations of the military, but is a generous olive branch in acknowledging the lifestyle of your significant other. 

Another tradition, though more so of just a fun aspect you can incorporate and has become popular in recent years, is that of party shirts. If you've attended a formal event with your service member, you might've noticed a few folks wearing these. Party shirts are generally shirts where the back and sleeves have been replaced by fun fabric, and are commonly seen when folks are in Mess Dress (aka their tuxedo equivalent of a uniform). You can have a lot of freedom with party shirts, especially if your groomsmen are all service members (also, what a neat gift to give them the Day Of!). 

Party Shirts Captured by  Alex M

Party Shirts Captured by Alex M

Finally, the biggest tradition and perhaps most observed is that of wearing their uniform. Whether you decide on black-tie (which would be Mess for your service members) or business casual (which would lend itself to be Service), letting your attendees know what level of formality to expect will keep not only continuity throughout the ceremony and reception, but as someone who is currently serving, your obligated to give that nod. However, much like that of recently separated veterans, your service member is not obligated to wear a uniform at all; it is completely up to you and your future spouse as to that. If your service member is in the Guard or Reserves, it is suggested that they not consider wearing their uniform, or observe many of the traditions outlined above. 

However, the question at large left to answer is should you have these traditions incorporated into your wedding?

And the answer is both yes and no. 

Contrary to what many believe, unless you are not an American citizen, the government does not care who their service members marry. Like a regular job, they still have to report the change in marital status to HR, and you'll have to enroll is DEERS and Tricare, become their Power of Attorney (which I strongly recommend...it's a struggle to pay the bills when you're FIL is still POA and you don't quite have bank accounts sorted out). Though it is generous to invite their coworkers, as you would consider if you were not marrying someone in the military or separated, there is a level of formality and tradition that is expected, and with that comes the uniforms and the arches, and wording your invitations differently (which will be coming soon, I promise!). This is a trial run for the rest of your lives together -- observing, acknowledging, and incorporating the different facets of your service member's life into yours, and knowing that there is something bigger that both of you are going to be a part of. 

I hope this little guide relating to some of the wedding traditions of the military helps you as you plan your big day! As someone who is a Milso and assists future Milspouses regularly, I love sharing this information and helping brides and grooms make sure that all the intricacies and details are followed through, and that they are pulled together in a tasteful and beautiful way. 

Happy planning,