Wendy Coulson Murray has the job I want. For the past four years she has been the JLo of the Outer Banks—a wedding planner at Sanderling Resort and Spa in Duck, North Carolina. Because of their proximity to so many Marine and Navy bases, Wendy has planned a lot of military weddings. (See more ways to save money on your military wedding here.) After the Salute To Love wedding, I asked if she had any other tips for military brides:
1. Look for an Elopement package. Weddings can cost a fortune, but some hotels and resorts offer an elopement package that includes the ceremony, dinner, décor, wedding cake, and breakfast the next morning. “We see a lot of people doing that who are getting ready to deploy,” said Wendy. “It is important to families that there should be a formal ceremony even if there isn’t time for the whole big event.”
2. Know that there is still time for a “real” wedding. At SpouseBuzz, we always say that a real wedding is the first time you say “I Do.” Wendy says that there are a lot of brides who still want the cake, the dress and grandma in the front row. Wendy recently planned a wedding for a military couple who had eloped before a deployment then had the big ceremony two years later. It’s a thought.
3. Wear the Uniform. Or Not. Some military members wear their uniform for the ceremony and some don’t. Wendy has seen grooms who wear the uniform for the ceremony and then change into a tux for the reception. For the Salute to Love ceremony, Wendy says that John wore the tux for the ceremony and the uniform to the reception.
4. Brides Still Wear White. In a recent military ceremony in which both the bride and groom were in the military, the bride wore a white gown. “I’ve never seen the female wear the uniform. Brides wear a white dress. That tradition hasn't’ gone by the wayside quite yet,” said Wendy. I'm still waiting to see an active duty bride in the camouflage gown.
5. Look Beyond Red White and Blue. Having a military wedding doesn’t mean you need a red, white and blue theme. “We’ve done a July 4th military wedding was red, white, and blue. The couple picked the date on purpose because it meant something to them,” said Wendy. Navy is always a timeless color for weddings, but Wendy has seen beautiful military weddings with Tiffany blue, persimmon, purple and yellow, and even lime green. The groomsmen at the Salute to Love ceremony all wore red, white and blue American flag socks.
6. Ask your officiant to contribute an idea. At the Salute to Love wedding, Reverend Jay Bowman brought both the military and the Olympians into the ceremony. Bowman said that a wedding made the couple a team of one with a whole team surrounding and supporting as the moved forward in their lives.
7. Sabre ceremony/Arch of Swords/Arch of Steel. Wendy says that a beach location means that a lot of traditional rules go out the window, but the military tradition people love is the Arch of Swords. Check regulations with your command as well as your church to make sure the ceremony is allowed. “If you are coming from a military family and all the groomsmen are dressed in whites or formal blues, there is nothing like it,” says Wendy. “It's a little awkward if half wedding party is NOT in military.” Consider having one group of guys in the wedding party and another group of service members perform the arch of swords.
8. Consider the cake cutting by sword. It is traditional for officers and NCOs to cut the wedding cake with the sword. It is a great photo op. “But I wouldn’t be pulling out a sword in a group of 175 people who have been drinking,” laughed Wendy.
9. Work with your location's wedding planner or coordinator. Every wedding requires some minor adjustments. In Wendy’s Outer Banks location, wind, tide, sand and beach traffic can be an issue. “If I have worked with the couple from the beginning, I know what is most meaningful to them,” said Wendy. “I don’t have to bother anybody if a game day decision has to be made.”
10. Include your military life…even if you aren’t having a uniformed ceremony. “Bring in some part of military to ceremony or reception because it is such a big part of what shaped you,” advises Wendy. At the Salute to Love wedding, the last song of the night was Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American.” The guests all gathered around the young couple to sing. “It was a really emotional tribute,” said Wendy. “As a young couple, there is a lot of commitment you make-- not just to each other but to your country,” said Wendy. “It is important to respect and honor and to recognize that your life is committed to the military as well.”