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Saying 'I do' military style
Notes from an almost military spouse
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It's a sweltering July afternoon in Savannah and my mom and I are escaping the heat by engaging in a great mother-daughter bonding activities - shopping for wedding dresses.
We chat with saleswomen, one of whom, upon learning that my fiance will sport his Army dress uniform at our ceremony, exclaims, "Oh, that's so cool! I just love that look."
Quite a few of my female friends and relatives had had the same reaction. I already knew there was something special about a military wedding, and hearing the oohs and aahs of women in the civilian world made me want to learn exactly what makes them so unique.  
I enlisted the help of Chaplain Ralston at Fort Stewart. He said with military wedding ceremonies, unlike military funerals or memorial services, there is no set service to follow.
"Since chaplains are all ministers from some background - be it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim, for example - the ceremony itself is very similar to a civilian one," Ralston said. "Everything that the chaplain says during the ceremony, such as some words about why we're here, as well as leading the couple in reciting their vows, is more or less the same as in a civilian wedding."
Since there is no set protocol, the couple has a lot of room to incorporate personal preferences into the ceremony, and many do so through their choice of attire. A soldier, male or female, may wear either civilian or military dress. The groom can opt for a traditional suit or tuxedo, or his Class A uniform or dress blues. If the bride is a service member, she can choose between a traditional wedding gown and her dress uniform.
Ralston said, "Usually if both are in the military and one decides to wear civilian dress, the other is pretty much honor bound to do the same."
Another difference is in seating etiquette. According to several online wedding sources, including, all high-ranking officials, including the bride and/or groom's commanding officer, must be seated in positions of honor at both the ceremony and reception. I was interested to learn that if the bride or groom's parents are absent, their commanding officer and his or her spouse may be seated in the front pew.
Perhaps the most visible (and in my opinion, most fun) tradition in military weddings is the arch of sabers, which symbolizes the couple passing into their new life together. After the ceremony, the newlyweds walk under an archway of crossed sabers held up by officers in formation. At the first command "present arms," the officers lift their sabers, and on the second command, "saber arch," they turn the sharp edges of the sabers away from the bride and groom, who then pass underneath.
"One fun tradition is that the officers can lower their sabers and block the bride until she gives the groom a kiss," Ralston said. "Or they can also pat the bride on the behind and welcome her into the service."
So why do a lot of military couples opt to include these traditions in their wedding? For many brides and grooms, it's a way to demonstrate their commitment to serving the country. By incorporating military traditions into one of life's biggest milestones, the couple makes a statement about the importance of these traditions.
For others, it's a way of continuing their heritage. Many adults who grew up in military families often choose to have a military wedding ceremony.
As for me, my fiance and I have chosen to have a traditional civilian ceremony. Even though we won't incorporate all the traditions of a military wedding, I'll still be proud of the heritage and traditions represented when my future husband wears his uniform that day.
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