Military Weddings: Ceremony and Reception

Photo by Camelot Weddings In honor of Veterans Day and the United States Marine Corps birthday we thought we would take a look at planning... Read More

Photo by Camelot Weddings

In honor of Veterans Day and the United States Marine Corps birthday we thought we would take a look at planning a military wedding as we say thanks for your service.

Ceremony Location

Many military weddings take place at military chapels or on academy grounds (Army, Navy, or Air Force). If you’d like to use another location, run it by your installation. Most military chapels are like other in-demand ceremony sites — you need to reserve them at least a year ahead of time, often by applying in writing to the chaplain’s office. All service academies have more than one chapel; at the Air Force Academy, for example, there are Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chapels. To marry in a military chapel at a service academy, you must be a graduate or one of the following: a dependent of a graduate; an officer or enlisted person assigned to the academy complex, or his or her dependents; or a faculty or staff member, active or retired, or his or her dependents.
There will probably be no charge for the use of the chapel, but a donation to the chapel fund will be expected. Rules for decorating military chapels vary across the country, but all flowers, candelabra, and other decor are arranged by the Chapel Altar Guild and are the same for all weddings. Some chapels and churches do not furnish decorations; the couple plans them themselves.

Choosing An Officiant

If you marry in a military chapel, the chaplain will perform your ceremony, and when you reserve the chapel you’ll arrange a meeting. A few sessions of prewedding counseling may also be required. If you’d like your civilian clergyperson to co-officiate, talk to both officiants early about the possibility. Chaplains are commissioned officers and are paid by the service they represent; you do not need to pay them a fee (although you should make a donation to the chapel; see above). It’s customary to offer any assisting civilian clergyman an honorarium.

The Arch Of Sabers

After the ceremony the newlyweds walk through an arch of sabers, which are curved swords with only one edge. Actual swords are used in a Naval wedding. The arch is not mandatory, but it’s definitely a memorable part of a military ceremony. On most bases, at least one chapel or an honor guard usually has sabers available for wedding ceremonies. Another possible source is the local ROTC unit. The arch is usually formed outside of the church or chapel; traditionally, a sword should never be unsheathed inside a religious sanctuary.
Only commissioned officers can carry sabers or swords and participate in this ceremony. (The Marine Corps is the exception, with NCOs also authorized to carry them.) Often the military groomsmen participate, but other officers (guests, perhaps) may be designated to help create the arch. Usually 6-8 officers are included. The head usher usually issues the commands, starting with “Center face,” the signal to form two facing lines. When the order “Arch sabers” (or “Draw swords”) is given, each usher raises his saber, cutting edge up, to form the arch. Officers have been known to detour from tradition, announcing the couple (“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Lieutenant and Mrs. Smith”) or lowering the final two sabers to block the couple’s way and demand that they kiss! A Marine Corps tradition, often adopted by the Air Force, is for the last saber bearer to “tap” the bride with his saber and say, “Welcome to the Air Force, Ma’am.”

The Reception

Military receptions at academies or bases are often held at officers’ or enlisted clubs on the installation, or you can have a traditional hotel or restaurant reception. Military guests are traditionally shown to their seats in order of rank. You might play at bit of regimental music, including the theme song of the bride’s and/or groom’s branch of service. Decorations could include American flags and/or the standards of your unit(s) in addition to flowers.
The highlight of a military reception comes when the bride and groom cut the cake using a saber or sword, one belonging to the groom if he owns one. The groom presents it to the bride and she cuts a slice of the wedding cake with the groom’s right hand resting over hers.

— Tracy Guth

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