Everything you need to know for military retirement ceremony

After 10 years of photographing military events and currently planning our own, I have some thoughts! Here is your survival guide to planning a military retirement ceremony, trust me, you need one.

Inject personality

This is my number one advice, don’t feel limited by the unspoken rules of retirement ceremonies, namely what everyone else does. Unless you are a 06 or higher, ( I read the official Marine Corps order) put your own personal spin on this special event. 20 plus years is a long time, a lot of stories, a lot of highs and lows, include all that, obviously with discretion. People are flying into your event to be apart of this special milestone so include them in personal ways with story telling and being unabashedly YOU. That said, this is the biggest chance to really pay honor and tribute to your family who held you together. DO make them the stars and spend a good amount of time honoring them in the ceremony. One way of doing this is through creative and unique gifts!


I’ve seen some really creative gifts giving at the ceremony. Here are some outside of the box ideas: Swiss army knives that are engraved, engraved jewelry, a special song with it’s record framed, framing all the places your family has lived, liquor that is as old as the time in service, special photos framed, anything you can put a special touch to and brings meaning to the person receiving the gift is a winner.

Where should we have the event?

Get creative with your venue and mind the lighting if you are going to have a photographer. Just because the venue may be popular doesn’t mean it has great lighting, I’m looking at you- Marine Corps museum chapel. I’ll do a post on best venues in the northern Virginia area and round them up! But don’t be afraid to think outside the box and get creative. Obviously convenience plays a part with people traveling but pick something meaningful! For example, if your husband was in aviation, check out airport museum or look into any of the historic landmarks in Washington D.C!

Should we hire a photographer?

Obviously I’m bias here, but here’s my rule of thumb- if you are spending time, money, and having people fly in for an event, it’s worth it to hire a photographer. It brings an ease of mind knowing you don’t have to be chained to your phone all day, but instead be fully present- also cell phone photos are not the same as high resolution edited images from a professional photographer. Photos will be the only thing you will have left of the event, it’s worth the investment. To see more of my retirement ceremony work, click here and here.

Let there be cake!

This is another opportunity to inject personality and story -telling! Get creative with this as it will be a great piece to photograph and creates its own memory!

After party ideas

You can go a variety of directions for the reception following the military retirement ceremony. From down -home options, like a big backyard bbq to a more formal receptions with appetizer buffets and fancy drinks or even a brewery. The sky is the limit. The biggest piece of advice I have here are people aren’t expecting to necessarily be fed a full meal, they are here for the ceremony part and a lot of people won’t stay on to the reception. So take the pressure off and do what makes sense budget wise and personality wise. I’ve seen full on meals, to appetizers, to just cake and drinks, so again no hard and fast rules on this one! This is supposed to be the fun part, so make decisions that are stress free and are most enjoyable.

The Invitation suite

Did I mention this can feel a bit like planning a wedding!? When I looked up the options for the invite (most people do an e-version) none of them were great. Insert the “meh” emoji here. I would recommend creating a fb event, posting your invitation there and via email. If you want to be fancy and spend more money you could also mail them- I’d save money here and put it into a higher quality paper for the program which you will need to print. Back to my problem with all the ugly invite options- I wanted aesthetic, modern, cool even- so I made some! I will attach some freebies for you too that you can fully customize with your info, just follow the link and sign up for the free Canva account. I will also add some to my shop which include the whole suite- invite, program, welcome sign, and thank you notes all coordinating because we care about design and I care about you! xo Maria

Free invite templates

To download and customize this template, click here.

To download and customize the Imo Jima design, click here.

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