A Break Down of Military Formals

The very first military formal I ever attended was in Nashville. I wasn’t a spouse; I was a girlfriend and I didn’t have a clue.

I’m sure I embarrassed myself (for the life of me I can’t remember) by doing something completely wrong while shaking hands with the distinguished guests. I’ve probably blocked it out. It wasn’t C who explained the toasts to me and what to do, it was the wife of his best friend. She guided me with simple gestures and mouthing words, reacting quickly to every confused face I made in her direction.

Three years later, in the same city but different location, and this time as a wife, I was one of a handful of civilians and green-suiters who planned one pretty incredible Brigade formal. I spent hours reading protocol, sitting in meetings, looking at budgets, negotiating rates, promoting the event. For half a year, we put our hearts and souls into this event and the finished product was something I am beyond proud of.

The first formal I attended seems like a lifetime ago. I had no idea what the receiving line was all about, how the toasts worked, what to do when the colors came forward. I didn’t understand the Grog, the words, anything. It is incredible what you learn in three years, how much what you “know” and “don’t know” changes.

If your first Military Formal is coming up, take a deep breath and at the end of this ask whatever questions haven’t been answered and we’ll address them in the next post.

Let me break down a typical Army Formal:

  • Social Hour
  • Receiving Line
  • Call to Mess
  • Presentation of the Colors
  • Honors to the Nation
  • Invocation
  • Toasts
  • Fallen Comrade Table
  • Grog Bowl
  • Dinner
  • Brigade Commander comments
  • Guest Speaker
  • Awards
  • Benediction
  • Retirement of the Colors
  • Close the Mess
  • Dancing

In this post I will take you from Social Hour through the Toasts:

Social Hour allows you time to “get there”. This is a good time to socialize, take photos, have a drink ( I would HIGHLY encourage you to only drink ONE), and be ready for the receiving line.

The Receiving Line should not be skipped! This is the opportunity for distinguished guest to thank you for attending. The woman precedes the man (EXCEPT at Air Force or White House Functions). The service member gives his/her name as well as his/her date’s to the Adjutant. I can tell you from my own mistake, do NOT shake the Adjutant’s hand. Often times they keep their hands behind their backs or wear gloves to avoid that awkward moment when a girlfriend tries to shake their hand not knowing any better. The receiving line is quick. It is not the time for long conversations or connecting with friends. There are many people who need to get through. Also, you cannot go through the line with anything in your hands – no drinks, gloves, bags, etc. Your hands must be free. It is not considered rude to correct a mispronounced name. When you leave the receiving line and enter the ballroom you stand behind your chair until the members of the head table are seated.

At the Presentation of the Colors, it is customary but not required to place your hand over your heart. Your service member will stand at attention and you will notice his/her small steps as he/she turns their body slowly and slightly to follow the flag. You also, should turn slowly and quietly so that your “heart follows the flag.”

The Honors to the Nation are rendered to the Nation, certain individuals, or to the uniformed service. Remain at attention until their completion. The Nation Anthem is usually next. You remain standing at attention again until it’s completion. Almost immediately following will be the Invocation by the Chaplain.

I cannot tell you how thankful I was to the Army Wife that quickly and quietly explained the toasts to me at my first formal. Just before the Toasts the host will ask all to “Charge” their glasses. Selected service members will give each toast around the room. They often include:

  • To the United Stated of America
  • To the President
  • To the Army
  • To the Division/Brigade/Battalion/etc
  • To Fallen Comrades

(More to come on this in the next article)

  • To the Ladies

(The host will say: “Gentlemen, seat your ladies.” All women are seated – whether civilian or military. You do not toast yourself)

It is important to note that a toast is only offered to an office or an institution and never to an individual.

Everything referenced here is based on the Army’s Formals. So much of it crosses between different branches. Any questions you may have I will address in the posts to come about Military Formals, so ask away!


2 thoughts on “A Break Down of Military Formals”

  1. Great article!
    I was nervous my first go around, too, but it ended up being formal, yet comfortable. No one went out of there way to check mistakes at the door–so to speak. ha. Most people were kind.

  2. This is some good information… Glad I ran across it, considering I’m in the process of putting together a formal for one of my BDE’s upcoming events. I’ve printed a copy of the post and will use it to put together our event. Thanks!!!

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