Military Promotion Ceremonies: Expectation vs. Reality

My husband was promoted to Captain this past week. I could not have been more proud:

What’s interesting is that our promotions actually happened around the same time. In fact, mine came about a week before his. Although I’m sharing this information with you now, dear reader, I have yet to share news of my own promotion publicly. There’s a reason for this, and I promise to delve further into that in a future post.

But for now, I want to touch on the military promotion ceremony from the new military spouse’s perspective, plus how to prepare and our expectations vs. the reality of it.

Above and below are my husband’s promotion gifts from me: A “Stratcoin” (Stratcom) challenge coin holder ($29.97 currently (I paid more), coins not included) and a $14.99 suspension holder with an “Armor of God” challenge coin. Purchase all three on Amazon.

My husband, being surprise averse (as in he doesn’t even want his gifts to be gift wrapped), insisted we not make a big deal about this super big deal thing (eloquent sentence, I know). It’s especially significant because chaplains promote at a much slower rate than other professions (he’ll be captain for another 8-10 years before he’s eligible for another promotion), so I’d pretty much decided to go all out anyway. 😂 Twist: My planned defiance didn’t happen as I envisioned, and I’m so glad it didn’t.

First, location:

Because promotion ceremonies mostly (if not always) occur during working hours, they are held in a location on base convenient to the members of the promotee’s unit. My husband’s was held in the assembly hall of the base clinic. Another chaplain’s was held in an airplane hangar (he services the maintenance group).


I had no hand in this. The wing chaplain and my husband sent out a secure invite and requested rsvps. However, rsvps were not required and thus it was impossible to know how many attendees there would be. 100 was a safe estimate, but since the ceremony was during the work day, this number fluctuated as people floated in and out.


Note that my outfit was dictated by what my husband wore. I utilized Stitch Fix for the skirt, btw. The stylists there are great at sending customized boxes in accordance with your requests. It was made of super comfy material and I loved the pattern contrast with my top.


The ceremony lasted just shy of 30 minutes. We (family) were seated on the front row and my husband was escorted in. We saluted the flag and sang the anthem. A few words were said about my husband, myself, his brother and god father (the people who would be pinning him). The speaker spoke the perfect tone for my husband – inserting a little humor and roasting into her remarks. Her speech, and the pinning ceremony, gave us a light hearted few moments (make sure your service member shows you how to pin his rank on the night before and, note that both his hat and jacket will be pinned). My husband then presented gifts to his family and said a few words of his own before we were dismissed to the reception receiving line, where we shook attendees hands and took photos.


The official ceremony is followed by a casual reception. Before I go on, I’ll make it known that I pride myself on being the queen of making something out of nothing. In my previous life as an attorney AND studio owner, I often threw entire events spending no more than $100 or so and accommodating 50+ people. I can tell this is a skill that the military will help me refine.

Anyway – minimal, tasteful decorations will do in a pinch at the promotion reception. I bought a table cloth, a couple of sprays and members of the unit that I’m friendly with had a garland leftover from previous events that they added to the mix. I bought some small fake crystal tasting plates and matching silverware. That was it.


I was also very much prepared to serve a catered lunch, as I’d read elsewhere that this was expected. Instead, my husband requested a very simple cake and punch reception and, indeed, we found out this was pretty much the norm for the unit (Med group).

I found the military spouse (at least for this promotion level) has very little to do with the planning process. Often, the unit handles set up and, in our case, they pitched in for a HUGE cake featuring my husband’s new rank. The sergeant in charge advised my husband that I should “save my money” as few people would be expecting anything big in terms of food. My brother-in-law and I ended up added a few extra items – a veggie tray, chips and dip, cookies – anyway, aaannnnd a lot of it was left uneaten. Word of warning – consult someone in the unit about what’s expected and then listen 😂😂😂.We ended up leaving what remained in the break room.

I found a four ingredient recipe for party punch that was a hit – Hawaiian Punch, ginger ale, pineapple juice and a cup of sugar (adding the sugar is important). I’ve added this super easy recipe to my hostess bag of tricks.

El fin:

All-in-all, it was a beautiful ceremony and I’m so glad it’s over!

Have you been to a promotion ceremony? What has your experience been? Share with us!

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