Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'

"To invite is to ask to come to some (supposedly agreeable) place or to engage in some (presumable attractive) proceeding."
Webster's 1956

"Invitation: Act of inviting; solicitation; the requesting of a person's company; also the expression, written, printed, or spoken by which one is invited."
Webster's 1956

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:
WHO Host
WHAT KINDLunch, Dinner, Reception, Ceremony
WHENDate and day of the week
DRESS Service Dress; Sports Coat and Tie; Business Suit
RSVPRSVP Information

Other elements that may or may not be necessary:
  • Who the function is "in honor of"
  • Any other special instructions you need to convey -- cost, etc.
Now let's discuss some of the elements in more detail.

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:
The Commander, 56th Fighter Wing
Mrs. John L. Barry
General and Mrs. John L. Barry
Brigadier General John L. Barry
Commander, 56th Fighter Wing
and Mrs. Barry

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:
General Lloyd W. "Fig" Newton, Brigadier General John L. Barry

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
(more informal)

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.
Thursday, the thirty-first of January
at half past seven o'clock (FORMAL)
at half after seven o'clock (FORMAL)
from half past six o'clock to nine o'clock (FORMAL)
at seven-thirty o'clock (LESS FORMAL)

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!

Luke Air Force Base Officers' Club
Luke Air Force Base, Arizona
123 Smith St
Phoenix, Arizona

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:
RSVP by (or NLT) 1 March
(937) 257-4451
RSVP with enclosed card
by 1 March
Phrases such as "Regrets Only" or "Acceptances Only" don't work, so it's better not to use them. If you prefer something besides RSVP/R.S.V.P./R.s.v.p., you can use "Please reply by."

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:
Dress - Service Dress
Sports Coat and Tie
This can be confusing for military people -- they can read it as "either/or" when you intended sports coat and tie for civilians:
Dress: Military - Service Dress
Civilian - Sports Coat and Tie
For more information on dress, see Dress and Appearance.

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

Stuffing Envelopes:

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.


RSVP Worksheet

Mailing/Distributing Invitations:

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:
is scheduled for 28-30 April
Luke Air Force Base, Arizona
Details to follow
Name Tags:

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:
Brigadier General and Mrs. John L. Barry
that due to the illness of Mrs. Jones
they are obligated to recall their invitation
for Monday, the sixth of August

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.
"A good invitation communicates every important aspect of an event and makes an affirmative public relations statement for the host. Whether or not it will be accepted, it has the power to create in the recipient feelings of goodwill toward the host company."
Letitia Baldrige