Let’s imagine you’ve been invited to attend the 2018 Marine Corps Birthday Ball— and it will be your first one.
First things first, if you were invited your answer should be “yes” unless you’ve already got plans to be out of the country on that day (and if so you may want to consider changing those plans).
It’s a big honor to be invited to a Ball and they’re usually fun, memorable experiences as I discussed here in my recap of my most memorable Birthday Balls— plus it’s one of the few ways for an outsider to get a glimpse into the traditions and culture of the Marine Corps. Whoever invited you would likely be disappointed if you said no.
Attending a Marine Corps Birthday Ball is an exciting honor for Belleau Woodsmen and guests who aren’t first-timers, but if you’re new to this you’re probably worrying about what to expect.
This blog post will answer whatever questions you have in advance of attending your first USMC Birthday Ball.
While the event is heavy on tradition, most protocol rules are reserved for service members. There are no firm etiquette rules for military spouses and dates other than general politeness and common sense. Still, there are a few things you should know before attending the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.
Sequence of Events
Birthday Balls will generally follow a sequence similar to what you see in the following list:
- The cocktail hour
- The ceremony
- Opening the dance floor
- Storming local establishments
What To Wear To A Military Ball
Military balls are formal events, which means your Marine will be wearing his or her dress blues. Female spouses and dates should wear formal dresses that are either floor length or fall just below the knee.
Remember to keep it classy. Don’t show too much skin or wear completely sheer fabrics, and apply good judgment to hair and makeup choices as well. Male spouses and dates should wear a dressy suit and tie— a tuxedo is not required, but guests are free to wear one if preferred.
How To Handle A Receiving Line
This tradition is more of an “in olden times” practice these days — I can’t recall going through a receiving line at any Marine Corps Birthday Balls that I attended.
The fact that every Ball I attended had at least 500 guests probably has something to do with the omission of receiving lines…there’s no way a guest of honor wants to shake 500 hands or spend two hours standing around doing so when he/she would rather be swapping war stories over beers or glasses of whiskey.
But in case there is one — maybe at a smaller Ball hosted by a Marine Security Guard Detachment or similar command — here’s a rundown of what you’ll need to know.
Before the ceremony, dinner and dancing, guests usually visit the receiving line for formal introductions. Fortunately, your Marine will take the lead, introducing you to the first person in line.
That person will then introduce you to the next person in line, who is usually the guest of honor.
Shake their hand and offer a polite greeting. Then continue down the line, allowing your Marine to introduce you to high‐ranking officers and their guests.
Don’t carry a drink with you in the receiving line, and if you’re wearing gloves, remove the right glove for shaking hands.
Handling The Cocktail Hour
Birthday Balls are normally held at hotels or convention centers, so the general rule is to have either a formal or informal cocktail hour before the Ball begins…and those are usually preceded by informal get-togethers and drink-ups in the hotel room of a friend who’s staying at the Ball location.
If you’re at a large hotel the cocktail hour will usually be held either at an on-site bar or in the lobby/common areas between the ballrooms, where you should be able to find a few portable bars set up and serving beer, wine, and mixed drinks.
Prices at the cash bar will be better than what you could find out in town, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never showed up to a cocktail hour with my dress blue trouser pockets bulging from tallboy cans in my efforts to keep Ball costs under control.
While that sort of behavior is probably frowned upon by leadership of most units — and by decent human beings in general — the worst that is likely to happen if you get caught would be for hotel staff to ask you to get rid of your BYO stash.
But the most important things about the cocktail hour are to ensure that (a) you get a refill on your drink when they make the first call to take your seats for the ceremony and (b) you make a last-minute bathroom trip before heading to your table.
I cannot emphasize (b) enough, particularly if you’ve been maintaining a vigorous pace during the cocktail hour.
The ceremony will likely go on for nearly an hour, and you do NOT want to be the guest trying to sneak out of the ballroom for an emergency sprint to the bathroom during one of the formal parts of the ceremony. I’ve been to Balls where they just plain didn’t allow guests to leave the ballroom once the ceremony started.
What To Do During The Ceremony
Continue reading at Things To Know Before Attending the 2018 Marine Corps Birthday Ball on GroomsMenCentral.
Photo Credit LCpl Jack Rigsby
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Thank you to Eric from Bullets2Bandages for sharing this guest post!