Retiring from the military can be considered a milestone achievement for veterans and their family members. For many, twenty years of service to their country is a great sacrifice because of the time spent away from family members and, in many cases, risking life and limb for the defense of the nation. As such, planning a retirement ceremony should consider traditional honors for military members and their families.

How to Plan a Military Retirement Ceremony

Gather the military member’s record of service to find what awards and decorations were given to him. These can come straight from the member or, with special permission from the commander, the unit's administrative staff. The presentation of these decorations is often a centerpiece of the retirement ceremony, so this should be the first priority. Take this list to the local base’s military clothing store. Most customer service workers can identify the corresponding medals and help you arrange them in the proper display order.

Take the medals and ribbons to the base arts and crafts store (or one near the base) and ask to have a shadow box designed for proper display. Ensure that it will be completed before the retirement ceremony date.

Pick a suitable venue for the retirement ceremony. Military members attending and performing are typically in service dress, and special civilian guests are often in their best clothes to witness the ceremony. Therefore, choose a venue that is clean and quiet.

Contact the member’s supervisors and commander to get a copy of the retirement orders and any special letters. Most retirement ceremonies involve a reading of the orders and a presentation of a thank-you letter signed by the president of the United States. Ensure these letters are ready.

Check with the Protocol Office to get a copy of the normal order of events during a retirement ceremony. You will have to design a script for an emcee based on this order. Most ceremonies begin with the honor guard presenting the American and Air Force flags, then the national anthem and the convocation. From there, various branches of service have different protocol as to when the presentation of the shadow box, the publishing of the orders, and other formalities are completed.

Make sure that all invited guests are given clear directions and times to the retirement location. Some guests are escorted to their seats first or given special roles in the ceremony, so these details are pertinent.

Ensure that the appetizers and drinks are on order and will be enough for the expected number of attendees.

Do a final check on all gifts, medals, and orders one day prior to the ceremony. Consider placing them in a special box in a secure location such as the commander’s office, especially if the ceremony is on base. Bring a tape of the National Anthem just in case the singer does not show up or is sick.

Update the script for any changes at no later than 30 minutes prior to the ceremony. Anticipate that changes will occur.

Items you will need

  • Shadow box and appropriate medals and ribbons

  • Military Record

  • Folded American flag

  • Public Address System (optional)

  • Pastor for commencement (optional)

  • National Anthem singer or recording

  • Honor Guard (optional)

  • Appropriate spacious venue

  • Light appetizers

  • Two large, comfortable chairs

  • Microphone (optional)

Tip

  • Go over the basic script with the member, presenting commander, and protocol office to ensure all pertinent details are covered. The member should have an opportunity to include any changes or special requests.