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HOW TO: Plan a Military Wedding

Military Wedding Basics

Couples or individuals who are active members of the military may want to honor their respective military organization as part of their big day.  Although, not a completely comprehensive guide, here’s the need-to-know stuff for us wedding planners when it comes to planning a military wedding.

I was actually surprised to discover that planning a military wedding isn’t a whole lot different than planning a civilian one.

The main differences are the appearance of military uniforms in the bridal party and the attention-getting sword ceremony during the wedding ceremony recessional.

What to Wear

For the groom and any male bridal party members who are active military, the ‘correct’ dress code depends on their rank and the formality of the wedding.

For a Black Tie wedding, commissioned officers can wear either their dinner or mess uniform.  For an ultra-formal white tie and tails wedding, advise your clients to don their evening dress uniform.

Whether the event is formal or informal, non-commissioned officers should wear dress blues or Army green.  Military attendants who are part of the sword or saber ceremony are required to wear white gloves.

Active military brides have the option to wear either their military dress uniform or a traditional bridal gown.

The Sword or Saber Ceremony

The grand finale of a military wedding ceremony is the formation of a sword or saber arch  (in the Air Force and the Army you’ll hear the term ‘swords’; all other divisions refer to them as sabers).  If you’ve yet to witness this ritual firsthand, it’s very impressive!

Immediately following the pronouncement of marriage, and before the couple heads down the aisle, the military honor attendants line-up in pairs in the center aisle.

On cue, each attendant faces their partner, raises his sword or saber blades up and the tips of each sword touching to form an arch.

The couple (who may decide to kiss first) then walks through the arch together; the swords or sabers are returned and soldiers exit


A Second Arch?

In some instances a second arch is formed outside the chapel or ceremony area with wedding guests looking on.  Again on cue, the military attendants (now outside) create another arch.

Again, the couple (only) passes through.

If the bride is a civilian, right before the couple exits the arch, the final pair of military attendants momentarily ‘blocks’ them.  The bride then gets a cheeky sword tap on her rear, and one of the attendants tells her, “Welcome to the Navy [or the appropriate military division]!”

By the way, during the sword or saber ceremony, playing the song associated with the military branch, if permitted, fits in very nicely.

Don’t make the mistake of pinning (or attempting to pin) a boutonniere on someone’s military uniform. A soldier’s military decoration is all that’s needed.

Cutting the Military Wedding Cake

Finally, at the wedding reception many military couples choose to use the groom’s sword or saber to cut the wedding cake.  As the wedding planner, make sure the sword/saber is cleaned before the cake is cut and is cleaned, once again, before it’s placed back in its sheath.

And that’s really it.

Keep in mind that military couples face the same issues faced by civilians planning a wedding: budgeting, finding the right reception site, family ‘drama’, etc.; so no need to panic or worry if you’re ‘qualified’ to plan one. 🙂

When in doubt about the correct military protocol, simply defer your questions to the nearest military base personnel; I guarantee that someone there can point you in the right direction.



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