Military Wedding Traditions

By: Paula Green


Military weddings are like civilian weddings, but the difference is the attire and the patriotic traditions.  One requirement for a military wedding is at least one of the parties getting married must be a part of a branch of the U.S. military, whether it be the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Air Force.

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

In case of non-commissioned officers, dress blues, or Army green uniforms may be worn at the ceremony.  Men who choose to wear their uniforms are not allowed to pin boutonnieres or any additional items to their uniforms; instead they wear military decorations.  A female officer may wear a traditional bridal gown, or her military uniform. If the father of the bride or groom is an active or retired officer, they may wear uniforms.

White gloves are a necessity for all saber (sword) bearers.  However, the groom and best man do not wear gloves because they will be handling rings.

For the seating of the officers, the bride or groom’s commanding officer and spouse may sit in the front pew if the parents are not present.  They may also sit near or with the immediate family.

The saber arch or arch of swords is a special tradition.  Sabers are curved, single-edged swords and are wielded by the ushers in the bridal party.  There are typically six to eight saber bearers to create this arch.  Swords are raised to create an arch and walkway for the bride and groom to walk through.  Depending on which part the military the bride or groom is in, is when this tradition takes place.

In the Army the arch of swords takes place immediately after the newlyweds are departing from the church or chapel.  The arch signifies a safe entry into their new lives together.

In the Navy and Marine Corps, the arch of swords is authorized for commissioned, warrant, staff noncommissioned officers and noncommissioned officer 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.

The primary difference between the Navy and Marine Corps’ arch and the Army’s arch is that for the Navy and Marine Corps, they use swords instead of sabers and they are drawn at the cue; they are turned so that the cutting edge of the blade is facing upwards.

In the Air Force, as the bride and groom walk through, each pair of bearers turn to face one another and once the couple stars to kneel, the bearers turn in unison to face the Bible on the altar.  The arch is formed as the newlyweds leave the chapel.

At the reception, American flags and other patriotic décor are commonplace.  Cake toppers of a bride and groom in uniform are also popular.  Sabers and swords are often used to cut the cake as well.  The groom hands his sword to the bride and with his right hand over hers; they cut the wedding cake together.  Military weddings are beautiful traditions that are inspiring to witness.