Our Military Wedding.
I had to wait 7 years to marry my husband. We met when we were 18, were engaged at 19, and didn’t get married until we were 25! A combination of deployments and distant duty stations kept us apart during that time. In the military community, that was an extremely long time to wait. Some military people are on their 2nd marriage by then.
One of the benefits of waiting so long to get married was that we had the time and money to plan a formal ceremony and a somewhat large wedding. It was a wonderful day, celebrating with so many of our family, friends, and military comrades. We loved everything about our wedding day. It was simple, but elegant, and a lot of fun. At the time, I didn’t realize how rare a wedding like ours can be in the military community. Many are planned with a restrictive timeline, limited budget, or challenging long distances.
There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to get married in the military. Some people wait years to save up for a big celebration. Others squeeze in a quick courthouse wedding between training assignments and deployments, then hope to celebrate later with family. Whichever style works best for your situation, go for it! No matter what you do, some things seem to be true for all military weddings. From military uniforms and ceremonial traditions to family drama, here is what to expect for a military wedding.
What to Expect for a military wedding
- Expect to do long-distance planning. Whether you are planning during a deployment, or while he is at a distant duty station, odds are that you and your military fiancé won’t be able to make wedding decisions together the way civilian couples do. That means you will be doing a lot of it on your own, and you will have to work hard to communicate with your fiancé. Try to agree on a budget and some basic priorities. Then you will have to trust each other to make some of the decisions alone. I was lucky that my fiancé was only a few hours away, and could drive to visit me some weekends. But I still had to work around his training schedule. So things that required his presence (food tasting with the caterer, listening to the band, marriage class at the church, and bachelor party) had to be planned together to be lumped into 1 or 2 visits.
- Expect that things may change. Civilians have the luxury of choosing a wedding date that is convenient for them and their family members. Military couples often have to squeeze a wedding in between deployments or trainings, or rush to schedule one before an overseas move. And unfortunately, military timelines can change. Halfway through our planning, we had to move the date up a week to accommodate for his leave dates. So as you book a venue, and vendors like a caterer and photographer, make sure everyone offers flexible cancellation policies.
- Expect some military traditions. My military husband didn’t care too much what invitations or napkins I chose. But there were a few things that were very important to him. I was shocked that he wanted the bridesmaid dresses to match his dress blues uniform. (We compromised on light blue, my favorite color). He was also quick to inform me about some other military wedding traditions:
- The Arch of Swords or Arch of Sabers. After the ceremony, the bride and groom walk through two rows of service members in uniform, who have ceremonial swords raised over the couple to form an arch. As the newlyweds near the end, the last two swords are lowered to block the path. A service member will call out to the bride, “Give this man a kiss!” When she does, the swords will be raised. In the Marine Corps, the final swordsman will then lightly tap his sword on the bride’s behind, and call out “Welcome to the Marine Corps, ma’am!” It’s a rite of passage for military brides, and a moment I will always treasure. (Especially because the Marine who welcomed me into the Corps died in Afghanistan the following year.)
- Cut the cake with a ceremonial sword. If the service member doesn’t own one (They cost about $700!) then he can sign one out from the supply office of his unit. The bride and groom use the sword to cut the first slice of cake together, and then they serve it to each other. In our case, we smashed it into each other’s faces!
- Uniforms: a service member has the option to wear a dress uniform to their own wedding. They can also choose to wear a civilian tuxedo or wedding dress. It is not an official military event, so a uniform is optional. Just remember that the dry cleaning and preparing all those medals can be just as costly as renting a tuxedo! Military guests have the option to come in uniform or appropriate civilian clothes. If the service member getting married wants his guests in uniform, he should tell them the uniform of the day.
- Expect service members as guests. If you are doing an Arch of swords, then you have 6-8 military members as the sword detail. They should be treated as wedding guests, and given a seat at the tables. You can even choose to involve them in the ceremony as groomsmen or ushers. My husband had already been in the military for 6 years by the time we married, so he had several close friends from work. He invited them, along with their spouses. So we had 2 tables of military guests. That can be a big expense, depending on what size wedding you plan.
- Expect to involve your family. After you marry into the military, you will not get to choose where you live for most of your spouse’s military career. So your wedding may be the last time you see some relatives for years! My wedding was one of the last times I saw my Grandmother. And even after 9 years, there are still some cousins and friends I haven’t seen since that day. I have missed many family weddings and funerals since we married. So whether you plan a wedding in your hometown, a destination wedding, or a wedding near your fiancé’s base, try to invite and involve your family members. It may be your last chance to see them for a while.
- Expect family drama. Every wedding seems to bring out family drama and conflicts. Military weddings seem to do this even more, especially since the bride and groom are often young, and sometimes their families live far apart and have never met. Some military couples choose to elope to avoid this. There was a time when I considered it, too! My fiancé proposed when we were both 19, and my family reacted very poorly. We had already planned to wait a few years until I finished college. We ended up waiting a few more years because of his deployments and distant duty stations. By the time we were married, my family had 7 years to get used to him. They had all accepted him and were able to truly celebrate our marriage. So, if you are having family drama, I’m not saying you have to wait a few years just to appease your parents. But it is worthwhile to be patient and polite, and try to resolve differences among people that you will be related to for the rest of your life.
- Expect great photo opportunities. There are so many amazing moments on anyone’s wedding day. But there is something about the military uniform that just begs to be photographed. There are tons of beautiful poses and ideas on Pinterest. Be sure to discuss your preferences with your photographer, so they can capture all those sweet, candid moments. 9 years later, I still have our wedding photos hanging in our bedroom, and they are some of my favorite pictures.