Military Weddings: Sword Arches and Cake Cutting

A few weeks ago, we discussed how to invite someone to your military wedding and what to wear to a military wedding. Now we are discussing the most distinctive feature of a military wedding, the sword arch and the cake cutting. But before we do that, there is a small matter of proper seating that I just want to mention first.

The military considers itself a family, so when seating the commanding officers of your soon to be spouse at a military wedding, you must consider them family as well. The most senior commanding officer in attendance is seating with the family of the serving member and then others are seated further back according to rank. Once everyone is seated, the ceremony starts.

A sword arch is usually performed after the wedding ceremony as the couple leaves the ceremony site. It consists of 6 to 8 sword bearers (maybe more depending on unit traditions). After the couple says “I do”, the ushers and/or groomsmen line up with the swords and very formally present them and form the arch. The bride and groom walk through the arch, but before they can exit the last swords drop to block their way and the non-military person is generally welcomed to the specific branch of the military. Here are a few variations that I found:

  • The Army will swat the bride with the flat of the sword and say “Welcome to the Army, ma’am.”
  • The Navy and Marines will also serve as ushers, but do not swat the bride.
  • The Air Force will face the bride as she enters and leaves, but face the Bible during the ceremony.

Depending on the couple, and unit tradition, the sword arch can be used to enter the ceremony site. The swords are not lowered to enter a site.

After dinner, the couple will cut the cake and feed a piece to each other. This is to symbolically bless the union so that the couple will always care for each other. A military couple can use the sword to cut the cake if they want to. It is quite impressive to see. Just be sure to keep a cloth or lots of napkins available to clean the sword before placing it back in the scabbard. Cleaning frosting out of the scabbard is a horrible job.

What other military traditions are out there? We would love to hear how you used them.

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