Congrats, you’re engaged! And to top off all the excitement, you’re getting married to a member of the military.

Military weddings make for a memorable occasion for all – its special for everyone honored with an invite to the soiree, and integrating military traditions makes the big day an even bigger, more special day for the bride and groom.

Here’s what you need to know if your partner is one of the country’s more than 1 million active military members.

Be prepared to be flexible about timing

One of the biggest differences in between planning a civilian wedding and a military wedding is setting the date. While traditional brides and grooms often start by deciding on a wedding date and work from there, the exact timing of a wedding can be quite elusive to nail down for those in the military.

According to Natasha Baca at the Pacific Views Event Center at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, timing can be challenging because oftentimes one spouse is either going to be deployed, already on deployment, or coming back from deployment. Due to these unique scheduling difficulties, the Pacific Views Event Center offers all couples one complimentary date change, which has proved helpful for many couples according to Baca.

The Camp Pendleton wedding location also only books weddings one year in advance, and Baca reminds couples to remember aspects such as securing a venue first, and also taking into account that many facilities (like Pacific Views), only offer military rates for active or retired military members.

At the United States Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Md., timing is especially important on the day of the wedding. Jan Wise, a military wedding planning specialist and owner of Going to the Chapel (an independent consulting service available only to those planning to marry at the chapel), says that a military wedding is all about proper timing.

“Everything must run like a Swiss watch,” Wise says. “Because there can be as many as six wedding scheduled at the USNA Chapel on any given day, there is no wiggle room for tardiness.”

What makes military weddings unique

One very obvious hallmark of a military wedding is the couple’s option to trade in tuxes or wedding dresses for mess dress, the term used to describe the formal military uniform. Though only active or retired military members can tie the knot in their formal uniform, it’s also not required, so couples can don civilian attire if they choose.

Another popular military wedding tradition includes the extremely photo worthy saber arch, where the newly wedded couple are saluted by walking through an arch of sabres.

Though uniforms certainly make newlyweds stand out and timing can be trickier, a military wedding can still have much of the same feel as a traditional wedding. Bride Dana Magna, who re-connected with now-husband Michael Delgado at a mutual friend’s party, was able to do much of what she had always envisioned for her wedding despite short notice.

Magna and Delgado (who was a machinist mate in the U.S. Navy) planned to marry before he had to report to his first station, but only nailed down timing five days before the wedding.

Getting married on short notice on a Friday afternoon meant that many friends and family (especially those across the country), were unable to come.

“It was by no means the elaborate, big, beautiful and fancy weddings that our family is used to,” Magna says. “I think our dress code was ‘come as you are,’ but it was our day and we loved it. It was quaint and quiet and full of jittery laughs and pinky promise vows.”

Magna’s biggest piece of advice for couples planning a military wedding? Don’t sweat the timing.

“Remember that even if you have short notice you can always make your wedding as special as you want, even at a courthouse, with a week's notice!”

Photo by Glass Jar Photography

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