The outstanding feature of a military wedding that differs from other ceremonies is the arch of swords through which the bride and groom pass at the end of the ceremony. NOT all personnel are allowed this honor. Please visit the individual service wives websites for service specific details. As soon as the service is over, the ushers (usually 6 or 8) line up at the foot of the chancel steps. Friends and relatives leave the chapel prior to this so that they can watch. At the head ushers command, "Draw swords", they hold up their swords (blades up) to form an arch. (Navy ceremonies use an arch of swords and Army ceremonies incorporate sabers.) The couple passes through, the head usher says, "Return swords", and the men put them back in their sheaths. They then turn and escort the bridesmaids down the aisle. The tradition of the bride and groom walking through the arch of swords is meant to ensure the couple's safe passage into their new life together.
Any civilian ushers in the party line up beside the others and stand at attention as the bride and groom pass by. Therefore, unless the ushers are all officers, it is wiser to omit this ceremony since it would not achieve the same impact.
The Arch of Sabres
The arch of swords takes place immediately following the ceremony, preferably when the couple leaves the chapel or church, on the steps or walk. Since a church is a sanctuary, in case of bad weather, and with permission, the arch may be formed inside the chapel or church. Also, with permission, you may be allowed to have two arch of sabers, one in the church and one outside.
If an arch is held inside and the ushers are commissioned officers, they line up with the bridal party at the altar. After the blessing, the bride and groom turn, face the guests and remain there while the saber bearers get into position.
The senior saber bearer issues a quiet cue, and all saber bearers turn, proceed to the center aisle in pairs, facing the guests, and stop at a point just forward from the first pew line. With the command "Center Face" they pivot so that the officers are in two lines facing each other. At the "Arch Sabers" command, the saber is raised with the right hand until it touches the tip of the saber directly opposite. The cutting edge is up.
As the guests stand, the bride and groom start the recessional, passing beneath the arch.
After the newlyweds have walked through, the commands "Carry Sabers" "Rear Face" and "Forward March" will move the saber bears to the outside of the chapel to prepare for the second arch.
Only the bridal couple may pass under the arch. The recessional continues after the saber bearers have exited the chapel.
It is traditional, as the couple recess through the arch of swords, that the last two men to make up the arch lower their swords in front of the couple, detaining them momentarily, while the sword bearer on the right, with his sword, gives the bride a gentle "swat" on the rump and utters, "Welcome to the Army," or the appropriate branch of service. This step is omitted if the bride is in the military. Only commissioned servicemen and servicewomen may participate in the arch of swords or sabers.
The Arch of Swords
Navy & Marine Corps
The swordsmen, usually ushers, seat the guests, and after the mother of the bride has been escorted, will hook on their swords, wearing them until time to form the arch.
It is virtually the same as the Arch of Sabers except for the command "Officers, Draw Swords" when the swords are drawn from their scabbards in one continuous motion, rising gracefully to touch the tip of the opposite sword. Then, at "Invert Swords" there is a quick turning of the wrist so that the cutting edge is up.
The Arch of Sabres
The saber bearers cannot perform the function of ushers. The bearers head the processional lines, the chaplain waits at the top of the chancel and the saber bearers proceed until they form two lines directly in front of the chaplain, making sure that they leave enough room for the bride and groom to kneel. Upon reaching their positions, they pivot to face each other and pivot again to face the guests.
As the bride and groom pass each set, the saber bearers automatically face one another, and, as the bridal couple prepares to kneel, all saber bearers turn in unison to face the Bible on the altar.
When the blessing has been completed, all pause as the arch is formed before the couple leaves the chancel.
After passing through the arch, the bride and groom wait for a moment at the head of the chancel steps, and the command is issued to return the saber to the Badric (saber belt) or to carry sabers. The recessional is then commenced.
Departure from the Church
At a military wedding, the bride and groom usually leave the chapel or church under the traditional arch of sabers.
It is preferable that six ushers in uniform perform this ceremony, although many more may take part. Ushers may be in uniform of one or more services.
Rifles can be substituted for the sabers if there is difficulty in obtaining the needed amount. Most military chapels have them on hand, or the couple could check with the local military museum or with the various commanding officers to request the sabers.
The Wedding Reception
At the reception, if the groom is in uniform, protocol demands that he proceed the bride in the receiving line.
The national colors and distinguishing flags may be displayed, exactly centered, behind the receiving line, and if the reception room is large, the bridal couple may want an arch included at the reception instead of during the recessional.
Cutting of the Cake
On command, the saber bearers enter the reception room in formation lining up in front of the wedding cake, facing each other.
The bride and groom leave the receiving line, then pass beneath the arch. They may pause and kiss, before proceeding to cut the cake. The groom would then hand the bride his unsheathed saber and with his hands over hers, their first piece is cut.
There is no ornamentation to the saber. It must remain undecorated.