Recent news articles have reported a dramatic upsurge in the military wedding. With continuing deployments and the future uncertain, it's no wonder so many couples are tying the knot. There's great comfort in knowing that someone you love is waiting for you -- and can benefit at home from your service to the government. To assist individuals planning a military wedding and honeymoon, About's US Military Guide Rod Powers and I have prepared this Q&A.
Q: What do you need to know about having a wedding if you're in the military?
A: If you are in the States (not assigned overseas), getting married as a member of the military is much the same as civilian marriages. You don't need advanced permission and there is no special military paperwork to fill out before the wedding. You simply get married according the laws of the state where the marriage is taking place after obtaining a marriage license off-base.
If you are overseas and wedding a foreign national, it's a different story. There are tons of forms to complete; you must obtain counseling and your commander's permission -- which is rarely withheld without very good reason; your spouse must undergo a security background check and pass a medical examination. Finally, the marriage has to be "recognized" by the United States Embassy. The entire process can take several months.
Regardless of where or who, once married, if the spouse is non-military, the military member can bring a copy of the certified marriage certificate to the Personnel Headquarters on the base to receive a dependent ID card for the spouse, and enroll the spouse in DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System), to qualify for military benefits such as medical coverage and commissary and base exchange privileges.
Timing can be important in a military wedding. If you have PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders, and get married before you actually make the move, you can have your spouse added to your orders and the military will pay for the relocation of your spouse and her property (furniture and such). However, if you report to your new duty assignment first, and then have your wedding, you will have to pay for the relocation of your spouse out of your own pocket.
Actually "making the move" means reporting into your new base. So, you can leave your old base, take leave (vacation), have your wedding, report into your new base, get your orders amended to include your new spouse, and the military will pay for the spouse's move. However, if you report to your new base, and then take leave for your wedding, you're on your own, when it comes to moving expenses for the spouse.
Q: Can you have a wedding on a military base? If so, who should you contact?
A: Yes. The point of contact is the chaplain's office. Each military base has one (or more) chapels that are used for religious services. One can have a wedding in a base chapel, just as one can get married in a church off-base. Base chaplains offer a complete variety of wedding choices, including religious (almost any denomination), non-religious, casual, civilian-formal, and military-formal.
Q: Is there a fee for the chaplain's services? If not, is a donation appropriate?
If the wedding is conducted by a military chaplain, there is never a fee. By regulation, chaplains cannot directly accept donations. One can make a donation to the chaplain's fund, however, during a normal worship service.
Q: Are there specific rules for a military-formal wedding?
The military formal wedding would entail the following: An officer or enlisted personnel in the bridal party wear uniforms in accordance with the formality of the wedding and seasonal uniform regulations. For commissioned officers, evening dress uniform is the same as civilian white tie and tails. The Dinner or mess dress uniform is equivalent to civilian "black tie" requirements. The choice to attend the wedding in uniform as a military guest is optional.
In the case of non-commissioned officers and other enlisted, dress blues or Army green uniforms may be worn at a formal or informal wedding. A female military member (officer or enlisted) may wear a traditional wedding gown, or she may be married in uniform. A boutonniere is never worn with uniform.