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,


You Got Invited to a Military Ball!

It’s one of my favorite times of the year… Military Ball season! Between growing up in a military family and working in the field of event coordination and protocol for the military, I have had the pleasure of attending several military events. One of my favorite formals is the traditional “Birthday Ball” for the services in the Fall.

There are many pieces to a Military Ball/Formal so I am breaking this topic into a two-part post. Today, I am covering preparing to attend a Military Ball/Formal.

  1. Be Fashionable, Yet Tasteful
    • Think classy, sophisticated, timeless elegance. Your date will be in his/her most formal uniform with full ribbons and medals; therefore, you need to dress to that standard. Civilian women wear floor length gowns or very formal cocktail dresses and civilian men wear tuxedos.
      • What to Wear – Here are some beautiful examples!
        What to WearWhat to Wear
    • Military culture is traditional and on the rather conservative side. Avoid neon/fluorescent colors, side cut-outs, excessive displays of cleavage, extremely high leg slits, or backs that plunge so low you can almost see your bum. I am sure you can rock those styles and look dynamite, but this is not the place to do that.
    • Be cautious of too much glitter and/or sequins, tulle, and poofiness. Believe me, I am the first one to go for the glittery gown (see photo below), but you do not want to look like a mirrored disco ball or an overdone pageant queen.
      • What Not to Wear: While shopping, I found the gown pictured below. I think this gown is so fun and a glitzy show-stopper; however, it is definitely not the look for a military formal.
        Deep v-neck + high slit + low back + cut-outs = A big no, no.

        The low v-neck on this gown shows a lot of cleavage and the high leg slit is rather revealing. The low back with cut-outs also shows too much skin. While the sparkles and pink are fun, it’s too much for a formal setting.

        The low v-neck on this gown shows a lot of cleavage and the high leg slit is rather revealing. The low back with cut-outs also shows too much skin. While the sparkles and pink are fun, it’s too “in your face” for a formal setting.

    • Wear pretty, yet comfortable shoes!
      • There is almost always a cocktail hour before the Ball and mingling during the evening so you will be standing a lot.
      • There is dancing!
        • I highly recommend keeping your shoes on and not being the girl who flings them off at the table. It is much more proper to keep your shoes on and even if you have not, it may give the impression you drank too much and are not able to keep your balance in heels. If you truly cannot dance in heels, you may bring a pair of flats and discreetly put them on in the restroom before you start dancing.
  2. Makeup, Hair, and Accessories
    • Keep your make-up clean and elegant.
      • Simple and pretty fake eyelashes? Yes!
      • Red lips? Go for it! (Just be sure to do a more natural eye to avoid competing looks.)
      • Pure glitter or bright neon eye shadow? Not the best idea.
    • Style your hair how you like it: Straight, Curled, or Wavy – All Down, Half-Up/Half-Down, or an Up-do are all gorgeous, especially when they compliment the style of the top of your gown!
      • I advise against tiaras, large hairpieces/pins, and having a hair color that looks like it came from the rainbow.
      • Personal preference note: I tend to stay away from the low up-do. Females in the military always have to wear their hair in a low bun or braid to keep it off/above their collars. I figure my date sees that hairstyle a lot so, I like to change it up and do something different!
    • Get your nails done or do them yourself! You will be shaking a lot of hands and it looks so much better when you have nails that are clean and polished!
      • I suggest a nude color, pale pink, or a French manicure.
      • If you do choose to have colored nails, be sure it is suttle and matches your gown.
      • Stay away from overly long, bright, and decorated/bejeweled nails.
    • Jewelry – Keep it simple and make sure it compliments your gown.
      • I know I said simple, but girl, if you have big diamonds – Wear them! 😉
      • My personal fashion tips:
        • If you are wearing a one-shoulder gown, skip the necklace and go for drop earrings or a dazzling bracelet.
        • If your gown has beading/accents/etc. at the top, you may not need to wear a necklace. The accent in the gown may speak for itself and you do not want the necklace to take away from your gorgeous gown.
        • If your gown is plain and you are looking to sparkle it up a bit, add a broche or a statement necklace.
        • Avoid wearing a statement necklace and drop earrings together. The looks will compete and draw attention away from your gown and overall look.
        • Avoid gaudy pieces.
  3. Be Knowledgeable and Respectful of Military Culture and Tradition
    • Military Balls are FULL of tradition! From parading the colors (bringing in the American and Service flags) to the traditional cake cutting and so much in between, the evening involves an array of traditional elements. If you are unfamiliar with the traditions, ask your date to tell you about some of the important things to that branch of service and his/her specific Corps/specialty/MOS beforehand.
    • Military Rank. I highly recommend making yourself familiar with the rank structure. Here’s a great link to the rank structure and insignia.
    • Sir and Ma’am. Saying “Yes, Sir/Ma’am” and “No, Sir/Ma’am” is a BIG one in this setting! Any officer who is a higher rank than your date and all Flag/General Officers should be referred to as “Sir” or Ma’am.” Follow your dates lead on this!
    • History. Be sure you know the basic history behind and reason for the event you are attending. Your date and his/her fellow service members will appreciate it if you take the time to know the basics of their branch of service as well as why you are there that evening.
    • Current Events. Be up-to-date! Seeing as balls/formals are a social occasion, you will not be thrown into deep conversation and strategic talks about current events, but it is very important to know what is going on in the world. After all, it often dictates where these service members will be and what they do.
      • If you do not already read TheSkimm, I highly recommend it! It is a daily newsletter delivered to your inbox that summarizes the biggest stories and adds a little fun to your morning news report.

These tips are all meant to make you a successful and stunning date (fashion, etiquette, and knowledge wise)! You will be sure to “knock the socks off” your date while also impressing the host and other attendees with your poise and elegance! So, start getting ready because it will be time to attend a fabulous event in just a couple weeks!

Sparkle On,