Our area is home to all branches of the military – from Quantico, Fort Belvoir and Fort Meyer to the Naval Yard, Andrews Air Force Base and, of course, the Pentagon. I asked wedding consultant and retired military officer Vanessa L. Baldwin of Elegant Beginnings Professional Event Coordinators to provide some tips for planning a military wedding. She is the author of “The Military Wedding: A Guide to Planning, Traditions and Unexpected Situations”, published by AuthorHouse.
People assume that the planning for every wedding is the same—buy the dress, secure the venue, hire the vendors, design the ceremony and reception, etc. However, there are situations that face the bride or groom marrying a military person that most couples do not have to face. In addition to embarking on a new journey as a married couple, the military wedding is the beginning of a whole new way of life and culture. Here are a few tips to consider if you are planning a wedding that honors military heritage and traditions:
1. Select a military chapel, Officers’ Club or a venue of historic or military significance for your rehearsal, ceremony or reception. Find out the eligibility criteria to use the venue and how soon you may submit your application. Many military chapels are in high demand as a wedding ceremony venue.
2. Send Save-the-Date cards to your friends and family to provide plenty of time to make arrangements to travel to the wedding.
3. Provide Base Security or the Provost Marshall with a list of your guests and vendors to ensure they are able to gain access to the installation. Call the base or post security office to confirm what information you must provide.
4. Provide your guests and vendors with special wedding day instructions regarding identification, security procedures, and arrival times. You want your guests and vendors, who have never visited a military installation, to know what to expect.
5. Include military traditions in your wedding such as including the military rank on the invitations, using the Service song of the bride or groom’s branch of military service as the recessional, exiting the chapel through a saber or sword arch and cutting the wedding cake with a saber or sword.
6. Be sure that all uniforms worn by the wedding party are of the same level of formality as the groom’s uniform. Although it’s the uniform that makes the military wedding, you may also have people in your wedding party that are not military and not in uniform. Just be sure the civilian attire of your civilian wedding party member is of the same formality as the uniforms. If the bride is in the military, she may still wear a beautiful wedding gown.
7. Encourage your guests to send wedding gifts to your home and not to the wedding ceremony or reception. This is a considerate gesture toward the family so they will not have to be concerned about transporting the gifts from the reception venue to their home after a long day. Also, your gifts may need to be unwrapped for security inspection at the entry gate.
8. Respect the chapel rules and restrictions. Many military chapels are historic landmarks so there are restrictions to preserve the building as much as possible. The restrictions may appear to limit what you can do, but it really means you need to be more creative.
9. Consider wedding insurance if your military fiancé deploys often or is scheduled for deployment.
10. Remember to apply for an identification card for you or your spouse after the wedding or honeymoon. If you are the military person, don’t forget to get a new identification, if there is a name change.