U.S. Military Wedding Traditions

In many ways, the U.S. Military wedding is like any other wedding. The ceremony itself is not a military service but a religious one. What makes it a military wedding is the attire and perhaps some traditions not found in civilian weddings. There is such pomp and circumstance, pageantry and patriotism in these sophisticated rituals.Please feel free to contact us with your comments, and any other traditions and customs which you would like us to include. Enjoy reading!


If the service is performed by a ACTIVE DUTY military chaplain, there is never a fee. However, for a Reserve/NG chaplain they only are pay for drill and weddings (with all the counseling) usually happens on their own time and they SHOULD be paid. a gift of money is VERY much appreciated! So often RC chaplains serve at small churches and live on very small salaries and compensating them for their time spent away from family is the right thing to do.How much should a couple pay a chaplain/clergy that provide premarital counseling and officiate on one of the most important days of their lives?How about 10% of the cost of the reception? All the flowers and celebrating and food is nice but it doesn't make someone married. What the clergyman does is the most important part, why not pay accordingly? If that is not realistic then I think $200 is a good starting point. If you can't afford it then go a little less, if you can afford more than give!

He or she should be consulted before hiring musicians or a photographer. Military custom dictates that a formal invitation to the reception be extended to the chaplain and his or her spouse.

Wedding Attire

An officer or enlisted personnel in the bridal party wear uniforms in accordance with the formality of the wedding and seasonal regulations.For officers, evening dress uniform conforms to civilian white tie and tails. Dinner or mess dress uniform is in accordance with black tie.

In the case of non-commissioned officers, dress blues or Army green uniforms may be worn at formal or informal weddings. A female officer may wear a traditional bridal gown, or she may be married in uniform. A boutonniere is never worn with uniform.

White gloves are a necessity for all saber (sword) bearers. The choice to attend the wedding in uniform as a military guest is optional.

Seating of Officers

At the ceremony, the bride or groom's commanding officer and spouse may sit in the front pew if the parents are not present. Or, the commanding officer may sit near or with the family.Flag and general officers are customarily seated just behind the two families.

Army - The Arch of Sabres

The arch of swords takes place immediately following the ceremony, preferably when the couple leaves the chapel or church, on the steps or walk. Since a church is a sanctuary, in case of bad weather, and with permission, the arch may be formed inside the chapel or church. Also, with permission, you may be allowed to have two arch of sabers, one in the church and one outside.If an arch is held inside and the ushers are commissioned officers, they line up with the bridal party at the altar. After the blessing, the bride and groom turn, face the guests and remain there while the saber bearers get into position.

The senior saber bearer issues a quiet cue, and all saber bearers turn, proceed to the center aisle in pairs, facing the guests, and stop at a point just forward from the first pew line. With the command "Center Face" they pivot so that the officers are in two lines facing each other. At the "Arch Sabers" command, the saber is raised with the right hand until it touches the tip of the saber directly opposite. The cutting edge is up.

As the guests stand, the bride and groom start the recessional, passing beneath the arch.

After the newlyweds have walked through, the commands "Carry Sabers" "Rear Face" and "Forward March" will move the saber bears to the outside of the chapel to prepare for the second arch.

Only the bridal couple may pass under the arch. The recessional continues after the saber bearers have exited the chapel.

It is traditional, as the couple recess through the arch of swords, that the last two men to make up the arch lower their swords in front of the couple, detaining them momentarily, while the sword bearer on the right, with his sword, gives the bride a gentle "swat" on the rump and utters, "Welcome to the Army," or the appropriate branch of service. This step is omitted if the bride is in the military. Only commissioned servicemen and servicewomen may participate in the arch of swords or sabers.

Navy & Marine Corps - The Arch of Swords

The arch of swords for weddings is authorized for commissioned, warrant, staff noncommissioned officers, and noncommissioned officers only. The arch of swords ceremony is an old English and American custom, which gives a symbolic pledge of loyalty to the newly married couple from their Marine family. Only the newly married couple is allowed to pass under the arch.The ushers normally form the sword detail, however other officers, warrant or staff noncommissioned officers may be designated as needed. Customarily, six or eight members take part in the ceremony. The ushers form at the bottom of the chapel steps, in two equal ranks, at normal interval, facing each other, with sufficient room between ranks (3 to 4 paces) for the bride and groom to pass. The senior usher is positioned in the left rank furthest from the chapel exit.

The swordsmen, usually ushers, seat the guests, and after the mother of the bride has been escorted, will hook on their swords, wearing them until time to form the arch.

It is virtually the same as the Arch of Sabers except for the command "Officers, Draw Swords" when the swords are drawn from their scabbards in one continuous motion, rising gracefully to touch the tip of the opposite sword. Then, at "Invert Swords" there is a quick turning of the wrist so that the cutting edge is up.

Air Force - The Arch of Sabres

The saber bearers cannot perform the function of ushers. The bearers head the processional lines, the chaplain waits at the top of the chancel and the saber bearers proceed until they form two lines directly in front of the chaplain, making sure that they leave enough room for the bride and groom to kneel. Upon reaching their positions, they pivot to face each other and pivot again to face the guests.As the bride and groom pass each set, the saber bearers automatically face one another, and, as the bridal couple prepares to kneel, all saber bearers turn in unison to face the Bible on the altar.

When the blessing has been completed, all pause as the arch is formed before the couple leaves the chancel.

After passing through the arch, the bride and groom wait for a moment at the head of the chancel steps, and the command is issued to return the saber to the Badric (saber belt) or to carry sabers. The recessional is then commenced.

Departure from the Church

At a military wedding, the bride and groom usually leave the chapel or church under the traditional arch of sabers.It is preferable that six ushers in uniform perform this ceremony, although many more may take part. Ushers may be in uniform of one or more services.

Rifles can be substituted for the sabers if there is difficulty in obtaining the needed amount. Most military chapels have them on hand, or the couple could check with the local military museum or with the various commanding officers to request the sabers.

The Wedding Reception

At the reception, if the groom is in uniform, protocol demands that he proceed the bride in the receiving line.The national colors and distinguishing flags may be displayed, exactly centered, behind the receiving line, and if the reception room is large, the bridal couple may want an arch included at the reception instead of during the recessional.

Cutting of the Cake

On command, the saber bearers enter the reception room in formation lining up in front of the wedding cake, facing each other.

The bride and groom leave the receiving line, then pass beneath the arch. They may pause and kiss, before proceeding to cut the cake. The groom would then hand the bride his unsheathed saber and with his hands over hers, their first piece is cut.

At a Marine Corps Birthday cake cutting ceremony or a military wedding reception, it is customary to use an officer or noncommissioned officer's sword to cut the birthday or wedding cake.

For a Marine Corps cake cutting ceremony, the sword is usually placed unsheathed on the cake cart and handed to the commanding general/commanding officer by the senior escort. This is done by laying the sword over the left forearm, cutting edge away from the body, and the hilt towards the commanding general/commanding officer.

At a wedding, an officer, warrant or staff noncommissioned officer passes his sword and presents it to his bride, by laying the sword over his left forearm, cutting edge away from the body, hilt towards the bride. The bride takes the sword and cuts the wedding cake, with the groom's right hand resting over hers on the sword's hilt and with his left arm free to place around his bride. (Note: To preclude damaging the sword's blade, ensure it is thoroughly cleaned prior to returning it to the scabbard.)

There is no ornamentation to the saber. It must remain un-decorated.

Other Traditions

Another tradition is that a midshipman or cadet may give his fianceé a miniature of his class ring as an engagement ring.Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) personnel may give miniatures of their fraternity rings to their fianceé. During the wedding ceremony, a simple band is exchanged to complete the set.

Also, the bride may give out unique bridesmaid gifts to show her appreciation of her loved ones."

The Military Wedding, by Vanessa L. Baldwin

A Guide to Planning, Traditions and Unexpected Situations

Most wedding planning and etiquette books only briefly discuss military weddings. Sometimes there are additional situations to consider for the bride or groom marrying a military person. In addition to starting a new journey as a married couple, the miltary wedding is the beginning of a whole new way of life and culture.

The Military Wedding: A Guide to Planing, Traditions and Unexpected Situations will help the civilian marrying a military person to plan the details of a military wedding.

About the author: Vanessa L. Baldwin is a retired military officer and wedding planner in the Northern Virginia area.

Resources and References

Special thanks to Lois Pearce, Master Bridal Consultant of Hamden, Connecticut, for her time and energy gathering the majority of information used here. We also wish to thank the Association of Bridal Consultants for their assistance.

Please note that the information contained in this category should be considered general in nature. We believe it to be a true and accurate representation of some of the customs and traditions for the United States Military. We encourage you to read your military manual for the most complete information, and that information will take precedent over the information provided on this web site. Information provided by individuals and organizations is assumed to be correct.

You are welcome to email us at join@weddingdetails.com with any suggestions for changes or additions.


Marlow White: Military Swords and Sabers at Military Weddings

Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual MCO P5060.20

The United States Marine Corps

The United States Navy

The United States Navy Reference Library

The United States Army

The United States Air Force

The United States Coast Guard

Military Home front

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