I don’t quite remember how it all came about, but somehow I became a ball committee member for my husband’s first battalion ball. His unit didn’t have an FRG, so several other spouses and I met with the battalion commander, company commanders, and company executive officers over the course of a few months to plan the ball. Our committee designed the programs, the menu, the centerpieces, and the mugs which each guest would take home, among other things. During the ball awards presentation, we were surprised with a Certificate of Appreciation for our support and assistance. I learned a lot from this experience, and it definitely helped me understand the traditions and etiquette of Army formal events, especially since it was the first military ball I had ever attended.
Military balls are exciting events, steeped in tradition and rituals. It can be especially daunting for the spouse or date of a service member to know what and what not to do! Here’s a break-down of the most important things to remember when planning to attend a military ball:
Get Your Tickets
Military balls are hosted by individual units, in commemoration of a unit anniversary or for other special events, such as a return from deployment. They may be held on or off-base, usually in a conference center or hotel. Transportation to and from the ball may be provided through your unit, check with them to see what’s available. Most unit balls are not free, but units will sell tickets. Make sure your service member buys tickets for both of you if you are planning on attending, and marks your meal preference!
Find A Sitter
It’s not kid-friendly. Bringing children to the ball is not appropriate, and you’ll need to plan accordingly and get a babysitter. Some units will provide childcare for the event, check with your unit to see if it that is an option. Think of this as an Army-sponsored date night rather than a family event.
What to Wear
It’s a formal event. Your service member will be in their dress uniform, and you will need to dress in complementary, formal attire as well. This means floor length dresses for ladies, dark suits with ties or tuxedos for men. Short and cocktail dresses are not traditionally acceptable for a military ball. For ladies, remember this is not your high school prom, nor is it a night at the club. Channel your inner Grace Kelly, not Kim K. Classy, not flashy and trashy, is the motto here. Cover your B’s (Boobs, Bare legs, and Back), and wear a dress that complements, not clashes with the military uniform. Colors that always look great with the military uniform are: navy blue, black, red, silver and gold. You may or may not choose to get your make-up, hair or nails done, but a military ball is a great excuse to pamper yourself!
It’s a work function. There will be alcohol present, but this is not the time to get drunk. Enjoy yourself, but limit your consumption, you don’t want to embarrass your soldier or yourself in front of the entire unit. Your soldier will be expected to conduct himself/herself professionally, as he/she will be in uniform.
Schedule of Events
The Social Hour:
The ball kicks off with a cocktail/social hour where soldiers and guests can drink and mingle. The bar may be a cash bar, so plan accordingly, and make sure you have your ID. There may also be a professional photographer available for formal photos. Take some time to locate the seating chart and find where you will be sitting.
The Receiving Line:
You and your service member should go through the receiving line during the social hour before the call to dinner. The receiving line will include guests of honor, guest speakers, commanding officers, commanding NCO’s, and their spouses. Before you head through the receiving line, leave all drinks, food, cell phones, etc. at your table so your hands are free. If you are wearing gloves, remove the glove from your right hand and hold it in your left hand to go down the receiving line. Women go before men in an Army receiving line. The first person in the receiving line is the announcer. Your service member will introduce you to the announcer, but you do not need to shake his/her hand. After you are introduced to the announcer, you will continue down the receiving line as you are introduced to the others, shaking hands with each person and making simple greetings such as “Good evening,” or “It’s nice to meet you.”
Call to Mess:
Dinner will be announced at the appointed time. Once you’ve found your seat, do not automatically sit down. Check to see what the ladies at the head table are doing, and follow their lead. Gentlemen do not sit until all the ladies at the table are seated. If there is a printed program, take a moment to look at the schedule of events.
Presentation of Colors, National Anthem, & Invocation:
The color guard will march in bearing the American flag and unit colors. Soldiers will stand at attention, and you can stand with your arms at your sides, turning your body slightly to follow the American flag. The National Anthem may be played after the presentation of colors. During the National Anthem, soldiers stand at attention. You can either stand with your arms at your sides or with your hand over your heart. Following the posting of the colors, the chaplain may give a short invocation, and the master of ceremonies will do the introduction.
After the flags are posted, you may be instructed to “charge your glasses.” Pour whatever you want to drink into your glass to prepare for the toasts. Your program may have a list of toasts, but you will toast to the United States, the Commander in Chief, the Army, the Division, the Brigade, and the Battalion. The second-to-last toast is to honor our fallen comrades. There is no response to this toast, instead there is a moment of silence. The final toast is usually a toast to the ladies, or to honored guests. Remember never to drink a toast to yourself, and if a toast is to you, you should be seated. Often the toastmaster will instruct the gentlemen to seat the ladies, indicating a toast to the ladies is about to be offered.
The punch bowl ceremony, or grog ceremony, recalls and celebrates the unit’s history. The punch bowl is brought out, and service members come forward with various alcoholic drinks and other additions and tell what their addition symbolizes, adding it to the punch bowl as they do so. The mixture creates a frightening concoction called the “grog.” They may drink the grog from a glass, or in some cases, a boot. Ah, tradition.
Dinner and Guest Speaker:
Dinner is served in several courses, and common etiquette applies. Once seated, place your napkin on your lap, and always take silverware from the outside in. Keep your elbows off the table, and when finished place your silverware on the upper corner of the plate. The guest speaker will give a speech after dinner, keep off your cell phones and be quiet and respectful during the speeches.
After the speeches and awards, the master of ceremonies will ask everyone to join in singing the Army Song. The song may be printed in the program, but it’s a song you may as well learn since you’ll have occasion to sing it many times during your spouse’s Army career.
Retiring the Colors:
The color guard will march in and retire the colors, you are expected to stand for the retiring of the colors, and turn towards the American flag as you did when the colors were presented.
Dance Floor Opens:
Following the dinner and ceremonies, the dance floor will open to everyone. Remember this is not a club, bumping and grinding is not appropriate, but have fun dancing. Mingle with other guests, take pictures, and have a good time, and ensure you have a ride home if you’ve been drinking.