Attending Events, Military Functions

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,



2 thoughts on “Summer Transitions: Military Ceremonies Edition”

  1. Dear Alexandra:

    Thank you for this post and please thank your father on my behalf for his service. I never knew all the details involved in such a ceremony; I really felt I was there with you while reading it!


    1. Mr. Trapasso,

      Thank you for following my blog and for your kind words! I am glad you enjoyed my article and were able to learn about the wonderful military traditions that take place. If you ever have protocol or etiquette questions or suggestions for a post, please let me know. Thank you again!

      All the Best,



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