Here’s everything milspouses should know about promotion ceremonies


By Rebecca Alwine

(Photo: DVIDS)

Few things in the military are celebrated with as much excitement as promotions. Each and every promotion is a big deal and a special day for the service member and their family. As rank increases, so do responsibilities and expectations. What exactly are the expectations placed on the spouse in regards to a promotion ceremony?

Attendance at your spouse’s promotion ceremony is not mandatory, but we can’t think of a reason not to go. If the timing is inconvenient, remember that it is for your spouse, and they should be able to request another day or time, or even location. The change in rank and pay will be on a predetermined day, but if your service member wants their parents there, it does not have to occur on the first of the month.

Talk about who is “pinning” your spouse when the time comes. Don’t let a difference in expectations make for an argument. If your service member wants you to do it, practice a few times. I remember one of my friends was so excited to pin her husband that she put the rank on upside down. Also consider that younger children may be shy and not want to be in the limelight. Most of all, put your service member’s feelings about it front and center. It is their day.

You should wear something comfortable and appropriate for the occasion. My rule of thumb on attire is always dictated by what my husband is wearing. If he’s attending in his regular, every day work clothes, than I go business casual. If he’s wearing his service uniform, I dress up more. Black dress pants and a colorful top or sweater is a safe bet for almost any military ceremony.

Junior enlisted promotions are often done in a group, as service members hit the next rank after a specific number of months or years in the military. These are less formal events and are not generally accompanied by a reception of any kind. Once a service member reaches a more senior rank, there are definitely some expectations.

The simplest of these expectations is a sheet cake and water or punch. And yes, the cake will be eaten, even if the promotion is at 8 AM. Similar to the change of command reception, a simple snack to celebrate is enough. There’s no need to spend a ton of money. Traditionally the amount spent on a reception was equal to the increase in pay for that first month but that “rule” has gone by the wayside. In 10 years of attending promotions ranging from E5 to CW5 to Brigadier General, I only saw one reception that had more than just cake.

Alexandra, a newly promoted Major’s wife, shared her thoughts and experiences on Army officer promotions: “From a purely traditional perspective, a promotion ceremony should be an occasion of celebration and precision.” She adds that after the newly promoted service member shares some remarks, they usually invite the attendees to a reception. “The reception is a wonderful way to extend hospitality to those who have shared in the service member’s professional development to that point.”

Cake may be the tradition for immediately after the ceremony or even lunch if that’s when the ceremony is scheduled, but the promotion party is where individuality can be expressed. Later on–usually that evening or weekend–there is an invite-only celebration. There are big blow-outs, catered affairs, and casual dinner parties. They are truly a celebration with friends, family, and colleagues where often-confining military traditions and rank can be put aside for true friendship and camaraderie.

If you’re at a crossroads, consult others in that unit who have promoted. Getting a feel for what is the norm will help in planning. “Some units are more formal and some are hot dogs in a crockpot and bottles of water!” says Army spouse Amy Trimble.

Gifts at the official promotion ceremony are frowned upon. There is no expectation of a gift from each person who attends the ceremony. Gifts are for those invited to the reception or party afterward and can range from a nice card to something more personal, depending on the relationship.

That being said, it is up to you. Trimble adds, “It is about your service member, their dedication and achievements, and their family. What you eat afterward is not as important.”

Discuss these things with your service member and consider your options. Going all out too early in a career may make people feel uncomfortable. You may also spend a lot of money on food and not have it eaten because no one was expecting it. As with all traditions, these things are going to vary from branch to branch and possibly even from duty station to duty station.