Have you ever wished some magical handbook existed to help you navigate this crazy, yet wonderful, military life?
I sure have. Like most of you, I was indoctrinated into military life through baptism by fire. (Sound familiar?) I do remember receiving a copy of “Roses and Thorns” when I was a young Marine spouse (like age 19), but I had NO idea how to apply that content into real everyday modern military life….especially since its last update was in 1990!
Look, we’re all gonna flub up in our journey through military life and on occasion we’ll even have some pretty interesting stories to tell as a result. But when it comes to military protocol, I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I (and many others before us) made.
That’s why we came up with this quick cheat sheet to help you avoid some of the most common faux pas so far. Even if you’re a “seasoned spouse” (I HATE that term btw), we could always use a refresher on the do’s and don’ts of our role in military protocol and etiquette.
If you’ve ever lived on base, or find yourself there in the early mornings or in the early evenings, you may have heard bugle calls coming from the loudspeakers aboard the installation. These are called morning and evening “Colors” and is associated with the lowering and raising of the flags on post. When you hear this music playing, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. If you’re in your car, hit the brakes. If you’re walking the dog, stop and stand still. If you’re at the playground, stop talking and make sure the kids do as well (as best you can anyway). Most MilKids who live on base already know the drill and will probably be standing at attention themselves. It’s also customary to either face the nearest flag or at least stand and face the direction the music is coming from. The point is, if you’re anywhere outdoors and within earshot of these bugle calls, follow this protocol.
If you aren’t familiar with the sound of colors, check out this video of evening colors so you’ll be prepared to stop the next time you hear them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen other military spouses have this knee-jerk reaction to salute when they’re around someone who is being saluted. I usually see this from newer officer spouses when going through the base gates in their vehicles. I’ve mostly witnessed this aboard Marine Corps bases, as officer and enlisted personnel have different decals on their vehicles. When the gate guard sees the officer decal, they automatically salute, regardless of who is driving the car. But the bottom line is, we DO NOT SALUTE BACK! (here’s what you can call them, too) It’s no big deal if you do, but just in case you didn’t know before….now you know. Speaking of saluting…
3. Left is Always Best
If you’re walking with your service member while in uniform, walk on his left side. Why? Because in the event a senior officer crosses your path, he’s gonna need to salute STAT. I’ve been accidentally wacked in the head few times because I forgot this bit of protocol. If you get confused (as I often did), just start singing some Beyoncé (“To the left, to the left…”)
Here’s the thing about attire…it is totally confusing sometimes! I learned the hard way that my version of “casual” and the military version of casual are two TOTALLY different things. Case in point, MY casual was (and still sometimes is) a pair of ripped jeans and a t-shirt. (See where this is going?) YEP. I was THAT chick. Bottom line: Don’t wear gym clothes unless you’re headed to the gym, don’t run into the c-store in a bathing suit after a trip to the pool (EVER), and ALWAYS keep a sweater/hoodie in your car. Why? Because not every installation commissary or exchange will enforce the same rules so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I (again) learned this the hard way two days after moving to Hawaii. I’d walked into the exchange in a halter top and was immediately stopped at the door. While my…ahem…’girls’ weren’t hanging out or anything, this particular installation didn’t make exceptions for anything and halters were on the list of unacceptable attire. Lesson Learned.
5. Military Ball
There’s a whole HOST of protocol associated with Military Ball season, from clothing to behavior. I’ll touch on two that I have seen more people flub up throughout history.
The first is the attire. Military balls are formal events, so for the male military spouses reading this, you’re pretty much off the hook on this one. Just put on a tux and call it a day.
For my fellow female military spouses, we want to wear floor length gowns…but the attire etiquette doesn’t end there. The world of fashion has evolved over the years and there are some pretty interesting (and sometimes tricky) dresses available out there that may not be appropriate for military balls. Here’s an example of what you DON’T want to wear to one of these shin-digs:
That’s right. No whale tale….no “Leave it to Cleavage.” Keep it tasteful and when in doubt, ask one of those “seasoned” (yes, I still hate that term) milspouses for their opinion.
The second thing I want to quickly touch on is alcohol consumption. 9 out of 10, there will be booze available at a military ball, but if you’re a light weight, I’d probably limit your intake until it’s time to hit the dance floor. You’ll be surrounded by your service member’s peers…the same peers they have to face the next day at work. The last thing you want them talking about is how so and so’s spouse can’t hold their liquor and barfed all over the commander’s shoes. When in doubt, save it for the after party.