Military Weddings and Honeymoons

Throughout the United States, thoughts of war occupy many people. For those in the military, they are an even greater concern. Recent news articles have reported a dramatic upsurge in the number of military weddings. 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, Honeymoons/Romantic Getaways Expert, Susan Breslow Sardone and I have prepared this Q&A.

Q: What do you need to know about marrying 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 marriage. 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 marrying 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 marriage. 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 get married, 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), get married, 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 to get married, you're on your own, when it comes to moving expenses for the spouse.

Q: Can you get married on 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 get married in a base chapel, just as one can get married in a church off-base. Base chaplains offer a complete variety of marriage 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 military-formal weddings?

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 formal or informal weddings. A female military member (officer or enlisted) may wear a traditional bridal gown, or she may be married in uniform. A boutonniere is never worn with uniform.

Q: What about those impressive military weddings where the bride and groom duck under a canopy of swords held by formally dressed personnel?

The "Arch of Sabres" is usually part of a military formal wedding. 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. White gloves are a necessity for all saber (sword) bearers.

Q: Is there anything different about marrying someone in the military than marrying a civilian?

A: There's one primary difference, and that's in the area of housing benefits allowed after the marriage, rather than actual marriage procedures.

There are two basic types of housing allowance (monetary allowance paid to military members who live off base): Single allowance, and "with dependent" allowance. Usually, single (non-married) military members who are allowed to live off base receive the single allowance. Those who have dependents (civilian spouse and/or children) receive a larger allowance called the "with dependent" allowance.

If two military members marry (assuming there are no children), each receive the single allowance. The total of both of these single allowances is always more than the "with dependent" allowance. For example, a military member in the rank of E-4, stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama, who married a civilian, would receive $525 per month for a housing allowance. If a military member married another military member, they would EACH receive the single rate, which would be $424 per month.

If a military member marries another military member and they have children, one member will receive the "with dependent" rate, and the other member will receive the "single" rate. Usually, the member with the most rank receives the "with dependent" rate, because it means more money each month.

Q: Can married military couples request postings together?

A: Each of the services have a program, called "Join-Spouse" in which the services try as hard as they can to station spouses together, or at least within 100 miles of each other. However, there is absolutely no guarantee. In order for spouses to be stationed together, there have to be "slots" (job positions) available to assign them to.

For example, let's say that an Air Force B-1 aircraft mechanic married a Navy F-14 aircraft mechanic. Because the B-1 bomber is only stationed at certain Air Force bases, and because the F-14 Tomcat Fighter Aircraft is only stationed at certain Navy Bases, this couple is probably never going to be stationed together. The best the services could do would be to try and find a B-1 base as close as possible to an F-14 base (and, if this case, that would be at least 1,000 miles away).

If a military person marries a person in their same service, the chances of getting stationed together are better. Each of the services brag about a 85 percent success rate with in-service Join-Spouse (That sounds pretty good until you realize that there are 15 out of 100 military couples in each service who are not stationed together).

When one marries someone in a different service, it becomes more complicated and the success rate of "Join-Spouse" goes down dramatically to somewhere around 50 percent.

Q: Can engaged couples in the military get time off a honeymoon?

A. Most military members get two weeks or more notice before actually leaving on a deployment. So, it's possible that a commander would grant a couple of days leave during that two weeks. However, not much leave, as there is much to do before a unit can deploy.

Otherwise, there are two primary ways to get "time off" in the military. The first is called a "pass," which is basically normal time off (like holidays and weekends), and special time-off that might be granted by a commander or supervisor (up to 72 hours). The second way is leave (vacation) time. Every military member gets 30 days of leave per year, earned at the rate of 2.5 days per month.

A commander and/or supervisor could grant a pass (up to 3 days) for a member to get married and/or honeymoon, or the military member could take up to 30 days leave (assuming he/she had that much leave "saved up," and the unit could afford to lose him/her for that long of a period).

Q: Is there any general advice you have for honeymooning military couples?

Make the most of your time. Spend as little of it traveling as possible; save the far-off journeys for when you can spare the days. Also, if you can afford to, splurge on one night in a great hotel rather than two in a mediocre one. And let the world (or at least the reservations clerk) know that you're on your honeymoon. It's true that all the world loves a lover, and you never know what goodies or upgrades may come to you gratis.

Q: What about couples who have a bit more time?

Whether on a honeymoon or not, military members can travel "space available" for free on military aircraft to locations around the world. If available leave time is a factor, Space-A travel might not be viable. To travel Space-A, a military member must already be on leave. Sometimes it can take several days for a flight with space available on it to be going in your direction. Also, one wants to make sure he or she has adequate funds to buy a return ticket, in case the passenger can't find a Space A flight available going back to the originating base.

Q: Are there any honeymoon deals military couples should know about?

A: Yes. Check out the Armed Forces Vacation Club. This program allows military members to rent luxury condos around the world for $249 per week. In addition, many hotels and resorts offer military discounts; it always pays to ask.

Q: What if we're low on cash?

A military couple could stay in billeting on any military base, for about $16 to $20 per night -- if you don't mind spending your honeymoon on a military base.

Q: Anything else?

Consider the tradition of giving a wedding night gift to your new spouse. It doesn't have to be large or expensive (you can even make it yourself), just some object that can serve as a sentimental reminder of your first night together as a married couple. Then, if orders come through and you're separated for a time, you'll have something wonderful to hold onto until you're reunited.

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