military wedding, army wedding, navy wedding, air force wedding, marine wedding Military Wedding

Q. I was told, that having a Marine Corps wedding, goes by certain guidelines. Is that true, and if so, could you please explain ?military wedding, army wedding, navy wedding, air force wedding, marine weddingI want to make sure things are done right.


You'll be happy to hear that they're not all that different from civilian weddings. Many military couples get married in an academy chapel and/or have the reception on a base, but some decide on a wedding with military traditions in their own church, and have the reception at a hotel or restaurant. It's not the location that creates a military wedding; it's the uniforms! Remember, wedding requirements vary depending on rank and military branch, so check with your base protocol officer to find out exactly what you need to do.

Read on for more about military wedding rules and traditions. If you have specific questions not answered here, call the protocol office or chaplain's office at the nearest military installation (or the one you're eyeing for your wedding) for all the information you'll need.

Probably the main distinction of a military wedding is that the bride and/or groom, as well as service members in the wedding party, usually wear their uniforms. The type of uniform depends on the style of the wedding, the time of day, and the season:

  • Evening dress uniform (blue in winter, white in summer) is worn for an ultra-formal wedding (i.e., a white-tie affair).
  • Dinner or "mess dress" uniform is appropriate at a formal or semiformal event (comparable to black-tie).
  • Dress blues or whites are worn for less formal weddings; they are equivalent to a nice suit or a cutaway coat.
  • Any nonmilitary wedding-party members simply wear traditional wedding clothes of the same level of formality as those in uniform.

Some additional tips:

  • Bride and bridesmaids: The bride can wear her uniform (and so can any bridesmaids), but many military brides opt for a traditional white wedding dress. Bridesmaids might wear navy bridesmaids' gowns to complement the colors of the men's uniforms, or any other color dress the bride prefers.
  • Groom and groomsmen: If any ushers are members of a different service than the groom (Army instead of Navy, for example), they simply wear a uniform of comparable formality to his. The groom and best man do not wear gloves because they will be handling the rings, but the other ushers wear white gloves throughout the ceremony. Boutonnieres are never worn with uniforms; instead, officers wear their military decorations.
  • Parents: Should the fathers of the bride or groom be active or retired officers, they may wear uniforms. So may mothers, although they usually choose to wear traditional mother-of-the-bride attire.
  • Guests: Military guests (active or retired) may wear their uniforms or traditional formal attire. Put "Full dress uniform invited" on the invites to request that your guests come in uniform.

Military wedding invitations follow the same general guidelines used for civilian weddings. The main difference is in the use of titles. The bride's/groom's rank and service, and that of any of their parents, is included. Traditionally, brides who are members of the military have not used their titles on the invitations, but you absolutely can and should if you want to!

Here are the basics and some examples.

If the bride, groom, or both are senior officers (Commander and up in the Navy and Coast Guard, Captain and up in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps), their titles appear before their names, followed by the branch or service on the line below:

Captain Timothy Andrew Smith
United States Air Force

If the bride, groom, or both are junior or company-grade officers, their titles appear under their names, followed by the branch of service on the same line:

Andrea Rebecca Barnett
Second Lieutenant, United States Air Force

First and Second Lieutenants in the Army both use simply "Lieutenant." In the Air Force and Marines, "First" and "Second" are used.

For enlisted personnel, rank is usually omitted. The full name is written on one line, with the branch of service underneath. "Mr." is never used to address or refer to an officer on active duty.

Joseph Peter Jones
United States Air Force

Retired officers (generally this refers to parents of the bride and/or groom), especially in the ranks of Commander and Lieutenant Colonel, generally keep their titles in civilian life and use them on wedding invitations, *only* noting that they are retired if the invitation is issued in their name alone:

Lieutenant Colonel Richard James Dixon
United States Air Force, Retired
requests the honor of your presence...

When officers' names are used with their spouse's name, the branch of service is not mentioned on the line underneath.

Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Richard James Dixon
request the honor of your presence...

Military titles should never be abbreviated. Examples:

Brigadier General and Mrs. David Louis Guthrie
request the honor of your presence
at the marriage of their daughter
Leslie Anne
Paul Taylor Daley
Lieutenant, United States Army
Thursday, the ninth of June
at half past four o'clock
Cadet Chapel
West Point, New York

Lieutenant General and Mrs. James Henry Barnett
request the pleasure of your company
at the marriage of their daughter
Captain Andrea Rebecca Barnett
United States Marine Corps
Major Anton Willard Stephens
United States Army
son of
Captain and Mrs. William Howard Stephens
Saturday, the ninth of January
at four o' clock
Marine Corps Memorial Chapel
Quantico, Virginia

Brenda Marie Walsh
Second Lieutenant, United States Air Force
Captain Timothy Raymond Fulbright
United States Army
request the honor of your presence
at their wedding
Sunday, the third of March
at three o'clock in the afternoon
Memorial Chapel
Offutt Air Force Base
Bellevue, Nebraska

Outside envelopes should be addressed with full names, no abbreviated titles:

  • Major and Mrs. Anthony Douglas Davis
  • Captain James Rice Taylor

The inner envelope is addressed:

  • Major and Mrs. Davis
  • Captain Taylor

An invitation to a married couple with the same rank and service:

  • Captains Thomas and Maria Marquette
  • The Captains Marquette

In different services, different ranks, when the wife has retained her maiden name:

  • Major Maria Green
    Captain Thomas Marquette
  • Major Green and Captain Marquette

In different services, different ranks, when the couple has the same last name:

  • Captain Thomas and Major Maria Marquette
  • Captain and Major Marquette

A note on the guest list: Depending on the size of the couple's station, commanding officers, their spouses and all or some of the staff officers (and their wives or husbands) should be invited to the wedding.

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. The average donation amount is $50-$60.
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.

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.

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 and Marine 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, SNCOs and NCOs can carry sabers or swords and participate in this ceremony. 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 "BRIDGE 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 Marine Corps, Ma'am."

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.

In Closing
Finally, always get permission or verification from proper military channels. If the wedding is to be held on base (or military grounds), you should get permission for: photographers, flowers, etc. Please check with your commanding officer, protocol officer or chaplain on the proper protocol that should be followed when planning a military wedding. Not only does each base differ, but also each branch. They may also have more suggestions as well as additions to what I have listed here.



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