Tuesday Tidbits | Planning a Military Wedding

January 7, 2014

We know Hampton Roads is a hub for many military branches. It's rare to not know someone or someone's loved one who is serving in the military. So with that, there is obviously going to be quite a few brides and grooms who have the unique advantage of celebrating their big day with patriotic nuances (and you can see our Pinterest board for Military Weddings to see how past couples have done this!) or general planning differences.

But for the real nuts and bolts of planning a military wedding, I asked some real military brides for some advice. After all, they're the experts!

During the research process, Sarah Rhodes gave a beautiful example of her wedding, and since she represents what most would call a familiar military engagement (e.g., a very short wedding planning process), I just knew I had to share her story.

"As a military girlfriend, I refused to "let" the military dictate how I lived my life. But when my husband proposed and I became a military fiancé, I quickly learned that in order to be with the one you love, your viewpoint on a lot of things changes pretty fast and you find yourself doing anything just to see them happy- even if that means getting married nine weeks after he proposes. That's exactly what we did, and it's a good thing, too, because we soon found out that he would have to leave three weeks after our wedding. So our "shotgun" wedding was, at first, a personal choice, but it soon turned into a necessity.

The thing that really helped the planning process was flexibility. This is probably the biggest thing to learn and keep in perspective as a military family. Marrying someone in the military takes a very flexible, cooperative, understanding, and patient individual. I am by no means saying you must be this incredible goddess of a person, but you learn to "go with the flow" of life since the military lifestyle is, without a doubt, unpredictable, unstable, yet a whole lot of fun! The same goes with planning a wedding when one of the key players is active duty military.

I really wanted to get married on October 22nd (don't ask why- but at the time it seemed really important) but found that every single place that could hold a reception in the area was not available that day. We had the ceremony location but nothing for the reception. So we either had to change the location of the wedding entirely or change the date. One way or the other I had to be flexible in my approach- so we moved the wedding up two weeks. Yep... two whole weeks of planning time GONE like that!

You have to decide what is important to you and then decide what is REALLY important to you about your wedding. Remember that the only thing that absolutely has to be just as you dreamed on that day is the person standing next you at the altar." - Sarah Rhodes, 10.8.11 in Athens, OH

1. Find vendors who understand the timing. "My cousin started to plan her wedding then her fiancé got called into bootcamp early so it was delayed three months. It's also hard to understand sometimes when the bride wants one thing and the military won't allow for it, especially when they have to get their leave dates approved. Sometimes they won't go through until the last moment. Our photographer was someone I had a long standing relationship with and was understanding that my husband wouldn't be around for meetings until closer to the wedding. Our Thursday date allowed most vendors to be available at a shorter notice." - Amanda Miller, 12.20.2012 in Virginia Beach, VA

2. Consider how much military you want to incorporate into your wedding. "We didn't have a military themed wedding or anything. My husband didn't wear his dress uniform, but we did have the District 7 Chaplin for the United Stated Coast Guard officiate our ceremony, and we asked him to wear his dress whites. In a way, it was our way of integrating my husband's life in the military. It is a special day for the two of you to celebrate your new life together; just because your soon-to-be spouse is in the military doesn't mean you need your entire ceremony to evolve around his job." - Sarah Street, 4.8.2011 in Miami, FL

3. Embrace your planning limits and delegate. "I had to learn to relinquish control of planning to my mother was best for me, especially since I was planning so far away while I was on deployment. Patience for me was not a quality I had dealing with work and planning a wedding. I found letting my mother do it helped me enjoy the experience more." - Kelly Johnston, 2.17.2007 in Beaufort, NC

4. Throughout the entire process, keep in mind that it is one day. "On that day none of the little details will matter. Understand that every thing can change with deployments and training, especially if both you and your fiancé are military, so work to be flexible and don't stress out. It will all work out in the end." - Kate Place, 10.5.13 in Hunt Valley, MD

5. Utilize provided military wedding-related services. "Despite both of us being military, we only incorporated a small amount of military elements into our wedding. We did premarital counseling through the chaplain on base, which was free, and was only as religious as we needed it to be. The chaplain was wonderful and getting us to talk about our future as a military family and the challenges that would bring." - Timorah Beales, 9.22.2007 in Irvington, VA

6. Become educated about the legal aspects of wedding planning with the military. "Get wedding insurance! Being in the military is an unpredictable profession and you never know when duty will call. Not knowing actually when I was going to be home from deployment or if I was going be extended. Having insurance put my mind at ease throughout the planning process. Also, give someone you trust a partial power of attorney. Nothing put my mind at ease more than knowing my mother had the ability to sign contracts for me once I made the most important decisions for my day, such as the photographer." - Somer Anne, 5.26.2007 in N. Topsail Beach, NC

Are you a military bride or groom? What challenges have you faced? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Photo by Chelsea LaVere