Planning a Service for those who Serve

Military wedding with couple under arch of swords

Updated November 7, 2022

During this month when we commemorate Veteran’s Day, I thought I’d look at the ways we can bring military customs into the wedding ceremonies of men and women who serve our country. If you are an active service member planning a wedding, or if you know someone who is, consider these time-honored rituals for a unique and inspiring wedding.

Ceremony Space

  • Active military are allowed to have their ceremony performed in the chapel on the base where they are stationed. In that case, the chaplain will officiate the ceremony. But a military chapel is not required for a military wedding and couples may choose a space that better suits them, such as the beach, a hillside, or a family church in the community. In that case, a Justice of the Peace may be the officiant.
  • Seating: It’s customary to seat commanding officers and their spouses in places of honor at the ceremony. If space allows, they may sit in the front row.

What to Wear

  • Active military may wear their full ceremonial uniforms for their wedding. For a groom, this means dress whites (summer) or blues (winter). A bride actively serving may choose to wear her ceremonial uniform or a traditional wedding dress. No boutonnieres are ever to be pinned on ceremonial uniforms, but a uniformed bride may choose to carry a bouquet.
  • Rings: In keeping with military tradition, the engagement ring is a miniature replica of the class ring the cadet receives in military school. It is often embellished with diamonds around a matching center stone. At the ceremony, a wedding band is added to make a set. Often the band is custom made in a curve shape, sometimes with additional diamonds, to fit around the oval center of the engagement ring. A groom may wear his class ring on his right hand to leave room for a traditional wedding band on his left.

Military Traditions

  • Arch of Sabers: Called the Arch of Sabers for couples serving in Army and Air Force, and the Arch of Swords for those in the Navy and Marines, this ritual demonstrates the military’s commitment to protect the couple as they enter a life of marriage. In this practice, two lines of officers form on either side of the walkway leading out of the ceremony space. When the order is given, the officers raise their sabers or swords, holding them with the blades pointed up. This forms an arch. As the couple leaves the ceremony they pass under this arch.
  • Arch of Rifles: If either the bride or groom is enlisted personnel versus a commissioned officer, they may use rifles, which will be used the same way as the sabers. If members of the military do not carry rifles, the ritual may be carried out by simply raising and clasping gloved hands to form the arch.
  • Swat the Spouse: As the couple passes through the Arch of Sabers, the last two officers block their path by lowering their sabers in front of them. A designated officer requests that the bride give her military man a kiss. They then introduce them with their formal, married titles. After the introduction, the officers raise their sabers and the couple continues. As the bride passes, the last officer uses his saber to gently tap the bride’s behind. This gesture is intended to welcome the new bride into the fold. If the bride is a service member, this step is skipped, as she is already part of the military family. It is your wedding, and while a tradition, it is your choice whether to include this one. This article on Updated Ceremonies lists alternatives to other time honored  traditions.

Many Justices of the Peace offer discounted or free wedding ceremonies to those in active service. Search the pages for JPs in your area at Ask if there is a discount for active duty service members. You may be surprised to see how delighted officiants will be to honor you with their service.

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Cindy Dumont is a Justice of the Peace in North Hampton, New Hampshire.

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