Summer Transitions: Military Ceremonies Edition

The summer is typically a very active time in the military community. Many service members are changing duty stations (Permanent Change of Station or “PCSing”) and it is also a very common time for Change of Commands to take place.

This year, the summer is a very exciting time for my family – Next week, my dad is retiring from the United States Navy after 30 years of service. To say I am proud of him is an understatement. I am extremely excited to attend his Change of Command and Retirement ceremony and am looking forward to witnessing all the military traditions which will take place during the ceremony. In honor of my dad’s retirement, this week my focus is on military protocol and proper etiquette while attending military ceremonies.

  1. Arriving at the Ceremony
    • There’s no such thing as being fashionably late in the military. The military is a punctual culture and to them, arriving on time is arriving late.
    • At most ceremonies, there will be a greeter and escorts. At formal ceremonies, there will be reserved seating (by name or by section) for distinguished guests. These guests will be personally escorted to their seats.
      • If you are attending the ceremony as the guest or date of a service member, he should escort you arm-in-arm. Service members are not allowed to hold hands in uniform.
  2. The Ceremony
    • Read the program! An overview of the ceremony and event’s history is typically included as well as the background of your host/officiating officer and guest of honor (their biographies will be in the program).
    • Parading the Colors: Stand while the American and service flag(s) are brought into the room and remain standing while they are present. The National Anthem will most likely be played as well. If so, face the flag with your hand over your heart. If the service’s song is played, you continue to stand, but you do not have to keep your hand over your heart. Do not sit until the colors are retired (paraded out of the room) and you are told to take your seat.
      • This is NOT the time to take photos. You should stand in respect of the flag and the playing of the National Anthem, not be snapping photos of the event while this is happening.
    • Invocation: The Chaplain will say a prayer to begin the ceremony.
    • Speeches and Reading of Orders: Depending on what type of ceremony you are attending, the “Order of Ceremony” can and ceremonial pieces included can vary; however, the Guest Speaker and the Host or Guest of Honor will make remarks. Additionally, if it is a Change of Command, Promotion, or Retirement ceremony, the official military orders will be read.
    • The Ceremonial Traditions (my favorite!):
      •  Side boys: When the official party enters and departs the ceremony, “Two to eight side boys, depending on the rank of the Officer, will form a passageway at the gangway. They salute on the first note of the pipe and finish together on the last note.” (Source: Naval Customs, Traditions, & Etiquette)
      • The Change of Command: The current/outgoing Commanding Officer will read his/her new set of orders followed by the incoming Commanding Officer (CO) reading his/her set of orders to take command. Together, they will approach the Officiating Officer, usually a General/Flag Officer, who will relieve the outgoing CO of his/her duties and confirm the new CO reporting for duty. These steps will be acknowledged by the service members rendering salutes.
      • The Passing of the Flag / “Old Glory”: This is a beautiful ceremony in which the American flag is passed hand-to-hand by individuals representing the ranks the retiree has held while in service. While the flag is being passed, “Olde Glory” is read. For a full (Navy) description, you click here.
      • Reading of “The Watch”: One of the last parts of a retirement ceremony is to read “The Watch.” A junior service member will recite it to symbolize relieving the retiree of his duties and the acceptance of that responsible by those who remain in military service. After this is read, in the Navy, the Sailor “goes ashore” for the last time. To read The Watch, click here.
  3. After the Ceremony
    • If there is a receiving line, be prepared to shake hands (potentially a lot of them) and always go through the receiving line before entering the reception.
      • The host is the first person you will meet followed by the co-host, if there is one, and then guest(s) of honor.
      • You should not have anything in your hands. Keeping your purse in your left hand is OK, but be sure to keep your right hand free and ready for lots of handshakes!
      • This is not the place for long conversation. Give a simple greeting and congratulations/thanks such as, “Congratulations, Sir/Ma’am! This is such an exciting/special day, thank you for including me.”
    • The Ceremonial Cake Cutting: If it is a service or Corps birthday, the youngest person and the oldest person serving at the command or who are members of that service cut the cake together using a traditional military sword. If it is a ceremony honoring someone (Change of Command, Promotion, Retirement), that individual will make the first cut in the cake using his/her sword.
    • The Reception
      • If you are attending on your own invitation, be sure to mingle with those you know, but also introduce yourself to new people. This can be a great networking opportunity.
      • If you are attending as someone’s date, take his/her lead on who you need to meet. He/she often has many officers or senior officials who are important to greet.
      • Again, be prepared to shake hands! Always leave your right hand free to shake hands by holding your drink/food (and purse if you have one) in your left hand.
        • A quick review on introductions! Extend your right hand, say “hello,” and introduce yourself using your first and last name.
      • Before leaving, always thank your host!

If you get invited to one of these ceremonies, I hope you take the opportunity to attend! Military ceremonies are beautiful, touching, and very patriotic. If you are attending as someone’s date, remember you are an extension and a reflection of your date – You will be meeting your date’s Chain of Command (his/her bosses) as well as the service members he/she leads and it is incredibly important to leave a positive impression on them. For all those attending, be polished, positive, and poised while also having a wonderful time and experiencing some great military traditions!

To conclude on a personal note, it’s been an amazing life growing up in a Navy family. I am incredibly proud of my dad and thankful for his service. With that, I would be remiss if I did not mention my mom in that same thought. I know my dad could not have succeeded as he did without her by his side. Dad and Mom, thank you both for your service. Wishing you “Fair Winds and Following Seas.” Go Navy! ⚓️

Sparkle On,


8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips

This week, I am covering dining etiquette! This is a vast topic and can be broken into many posts so today, I am highlighting what I think are the foundational pieces of dining etiquette. Even though “dining etiquette” may feel like a formal topic, a lot of these tips can be used in everyday circumstances such as client luncheons or dinners, going out for a date, dinner with a significant other’s family, and many other settings! Here are my 8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips:

  1. Arriving at the Table and Being Seated
    • Stand to the right of your seat and enter from that side.
    • When everyone arrives at your table, the Host/Hostess invites the table to sit. Allow the Guest of Honor (to the Host/Hostess’ right) to begin sitting first, then the rest of table follows.
    • If everyone has not arrived at your table, but it is time to sit down, allow the evening to proceed as it should.
      • If additional guests join your table, stand to introduce yourself.
    • Anytime a lady excuses herself from the table, the gentlemen should stand as well. The same applies for when she returns.
    • If you have a purse with you, place it under your seat or in your lap if it is small. A purse should not be placed on the table.
  2. Napkin Duty
    • Once seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, but do not unfold it.
    • With the napkin on your lap, unfold it so the main fold is towards you. This prevents crumbs from falling out onto you when you pick-up your napkin.
  3. B – M – W
    • Your Bread is to the left of your plate.
    • Your Meal is directly in front of you.
    • Your Water/Wine is to the right of your plate.
  4. Which piece of silverware do I use?!
    • Work your way from the outside, in.
    • The silverware at the top of your plate is for dessert; do not touch it during the earlier courses. The wait staff should adjust your place setting prior to dessert. If they do not, the fork goes to your left and the knife or spoon goes to your right.
  5. Ah, there are so many glasses!
    • 3 or 4 Course Meal: Work from the bottom, up. The glass(es) closest to you will be for wine during your meal, the next and largest glass is for water, and the small, skinny flute is typically for champagne for toasts and/or dessert drinks.
    • 6 Course Meal: Work diagonally (from right to left), up.
    • If you do not want to be served wine or you do not care for coffee with dessert, simply say “No, thank you.” and place your hand gently over the glass to signal to the waiter not to pour. Turning your glass/cup upside down is not appropriate.
  6. Dining American or European/Continental Style?
    This is actually an entire post of its own (look for another one coming soon!), but a few major points are:

    • American Style: You switch your fork and knife between hands to cut then take the food to your mouth with your fork in the dominant hand. Continental Style: You keep the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right, both facing down, with your wrists against the table.
    • American Style: hands do not touch the table. Continental Style: Wrists always remain on the edge of the table both when you are eating and when you are resting.
    • Both styles: Once finished, place your knife with the blade facing you and fork facing up (American)/down (Continental) in the 4 o’clock position on the plate. This signals to the server you are finished.
    • Both styles: Cut one bite of meat or food at a time. Put that piece in your mouth then cut the next.
  7. Need to leave the table?
    • Simply say, “Please excuse me for a moment.” No one needs to know you are going to use the restroom!
    • Place your napkin neatly on your seat.
    • Exit your chair on the right side and when you return to the table, enter your chair from the right.
  8. At the completion of the meal
    • Place your napkin neatly on the table to signal you are not returning.
    • Exit your seat on the right side.

I hope this breaks down dining etiquette into digestible bits and provides you with the foundational pieces! If you have questions about any of these tips or about another topic, please comment here or contact me. I love hearing from my readers and answering your questions.

Happy Dining!

Sparkle On,