Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'
Now that we know what an invitation is and what we use them for: The "devil is in the details."
Types and Styles of Invitations
There are many different types of invitations -- from a formal engraved invitation to an informal phone call.
Formal invitations can be engraved or handwritten. For our purposes, the engraved invitation is the one we're most likely to use. You would use them for changes of command, retirements, dinners, receptions, garden parties, etc. They can be printed on card stock or a fold-over with the command emblem on the outside.
In the computer age, we're now seeing invitations that are computer-generated and are every bit as attractive and impressive as an invitation produced by a printer. Just keep the time and cost factors in mind when determining whether to "do them yourself" or send them to a printer.
You may be required to send out handwritten invitations if your commander so desires. These are written in black ink on card stock or notepaper (plain white or cream). If your commander is a general/flag officer, you would use the flag card stock or notepaper. For other hosts, you may use card stock or notepaper with the organizational emblem on the top. The semi-printed invitation should have the required information typed in; it should be handwritten.
Example of handwritten invitation
Semi-engraved invitations (again, in black ink) are used for functions with less guests invited.
Example of semi-engraved invitation with 'in honor of' above flag
NOTE: In reviewing several protocol/etiquette books, we discovered one reference that emphatically states not to use "ball-point pen" -- this is a first! We really see no problem with using ball-point pen as long as it is black! (If you do, make sure there's no "bleed through" from the imprint on other cards underneath.)
We have found letter invitations, especially to military people, to be very effective. All of the same information is included, but the letter is signed out (on behalf of the host) by the Director/Chief of Protocol and, for some unknown reason, responses are better! Letter invitations are also very useful when you have more than one function that you need to include, e.g., an icebreaker the first night, a reception and dinner the next night, and a ceremony the third day.
Example of letter invitation
Telephone invitations are also acceptable, but should be followed up with a "To remind" written invitation. When you're issuing a telephone invitation -- don't put the person "on the spot" with a question like "Is Colonel So-and-So free Thursday night?" Begin with "General Command is having a dinner Thursday night at his quarters, is Colonel So-and-So available?" Also, consider faxing a copy of the invitation to the individual, followed by a written "To remind." Telephone invitations are also useful in "blocking" schedules for planning purposes well in advance of functions for officials whose schedules are full.
Elements of an Invitation
Information that always needs to be included in any type of invitation:
Other elements that may or may not be necessary:
In honor of. An invitation will normally have an organizational emblem, star flag, or some type of symbol at the top or on the cover fold-over. If the invitation is "in honor of" or "honoring" someone, that information can be either at the top of the invitation written in above the star flag, as on the semi-engraved invitation, or in the body.
Host. The host's title or full name is always used:
If you have more than one host, include all of the names. If the function is at one of the host's quarters, that name should go first, or, if it is at the club or a restaurant, the name of the senior host goes first. If side-by-side, the senior host's name goes to the left:
Phrasing of the invitation.
request(s) the pleasure of your company
request(s) the honor of your presence
request(s) the pleasure of the company of
Colonel and Mrs. Mead
(no first names)
cordially invite(s) you to
cordially invite(s) Major and Mrs. Mead to
(again, more informal)
When you are not using "you" or "your" in the phrasing, conversational titles are used for all services except the U.S. Navy, e.g.,
Lieutenant Smith, Sergeant Smith, Chief Smith (USAF/USA/CF)
Vice Admiral Smith; Lieutenant Commander Smith (USN)
(NOT: Admiral Smith or Commander Smith)
Chaplains are addressed as Chaplain (Colonel) and Mrs. John Smith; however, doctors use their rank: Colonel and Mrs. John Smith.
Kind of invitation. lunch, dinner, tea, breakfast, brunch, cocktail-buffet -- don't capitalize the first letter, use lower case.
If you feel there may be a question as to whether the function is in the morning or evening, consider stating "half past seven o'clock in the evening." Usually the type of function should answer the question, but we have had it asked more than once!
RSVP. The RSVP information goes in the left-hand corner, whether it's a phone number or refers to an RSVP card/sheet. When you use a phone number and invitations are going off-base to other military installations or civilian locations, use both the area code and the DSN, e.g., (937) 257-4451, DSN 787-4451. Although you don't see "RSVP by" dates in many books, we use them just by simply adding the date:
Example of RSVP card
Dress. Be as specific as possible. Service Dress, Open Neck Short Sleeve Uniform; Long Sleeve Shirt with Tie; Business Casual; Business Suit. Make sure you don't just put:
Other. Additional specific instructions can be included below the dress information, e.g., Cost per person: $15.00; No-host cocktails; Pay-as-you-go bar. You may also include information such as "Reception follows immediately after the ceremony in the Building One Atrium" or "Entertainment provided by SYSTEMS GO beginning at nine o'clock." This type of information is normally centered at the bottom of the invitation.
Examples of Invitations
We've talked about the elements, now let's look at several more examples where we put the elements together. Obviously, we haven't captured every possibility, but have tried to give you a flavor of how to put the elements together to fit your specific needs. As in all things, follow the rules described above and exercise good common sense and judgment.
Example of a formal invitation showing host's full name; - informal 'cordially invites' (host only - no spouse); lower case 'military ceremony'; 'honoring' in body of invitation' inclusion of 'in the morning' after time; commercial & DSN telephone numbers; dress for military & civilian; specific instructions centered at the bottom
Example of formal invitation honoring DV for dinner, - 'RSVP by' with telephone number only; cost specific instructions below dress
Example of official invitation to reception using title vice name of host; - 'in honor of' in body of invitation; cost and cash bar specific instructions below dress
Example of multiple hosts; - request the honor of your presence; 'from' 'to' time; 'half after'; RSVP NLT date, and specific instructions on cost
Example of commercially printed fold-over invitation (FRONT)
Example of inside of commercially printed fold-over invitation - (lower half -- upper is blank)
Example of a 'To remind' invitation
Working Invitations from Start to Finish
Set up an assembly line and have everything laid out in order to go in the envelope. If the invitation is on notepaper, fold the sheet in half, printed side out, and insert it in the envelope facing you, right side up. The inserts can be placed inside the fold. Make sure each "stuffed" envelope is checked off against a master invitation list to ensure you haven't missed someone. Also, we recommend sorting the invitations for on- and off-base to expedite the distribution/mailing process.
Invitations should be sent out a month in advance for official functions, ceremonies, large dinners, etc. Two or three weeks in advance used to be acceptable, but now schedules are so busy it's good to get invitations out as early as possible.
"Hold the date" or "Reserve the date" cards can be used if you have a date for a functions but do not have all the details yet. They can be sent out as much as six months in advance so invitees can block their calendars and make tentative travel/hotel arrangements. Sample wording:
You also need to start planning for your name tags. Here again, the computer has saved the day! We now print name tag names out on clear labels instead of handwriting in black ink.
There are no set rules for name tags, but we recommend rank, first name (go-by name), and last name in large, legible print: Maj Gen Dan Porter (for USAF); MG Dan Porter (for U.S. Army); VADM Dan Porter (for USN); and Gen Jack Low (Ret) (for USAF). If you wish, you can spell the rank out also. Just be sure to select an easily readable font to print out your names -- there is a variety available.
Postponing and Recalling Invitations
If time permits, send out a written explanation of the postponement/cancellation of the function. If there is not time to send out a written cancellation, you will need to set up a telephone committee to notify everyone. Here is an example of the wording:
Requests for Invitations
You will probably at some time in your protocol career get calls from individuals wondering why they didn't receive an invitation to a particular function. (This is a "no-no" -- but they do it. The best way for an individual to find out if they were accidentally left off is to have someone who DID get invited call and check.) If you know the answer, explain as politely as possible. If you don't know, tell them you'll check it out and let them know. For functions such as changes of command, we compile a list of "self-invitees" and submit it to the host/honoree for approval of the additional invitees.