Monday, October 01, 2007
Marine Corps Ball Rules
The Marine Corps Ball is coming up soon and Lubbock Marine Parents has been invited. This advice is intended for wives and girlfriends of Marines, but some of it also goes for us parents. This was put together by a Marine wife.
The cardinal rules for a guest at the ball.
1. Don't dress like a skank. Most places, full length gowns
are the norm. Never go above the knee.
2. Don't wear a corsage or glitter. This is not your high
3. Don't get hammered. Your behavior and appearance
reflect on your Marine.
4. Stand whenever the wives at the head table stand during
5. Keep your mouth shut and LISTEN during the ceremony.
Whispering is rude, and there is a lot to be learned about the
Marine Corps culture during this important event.
Huge thanks to Anna for the following section!
One of the most frequently asked questions, aside from what
to wear, is what the Ball is all about. Why do they have it?
What is it about? Why are those guys standing up and why do
I have to stand up? So, before that wonderful date in
November, please read this and hopefully, it will help answer
a few of those questions.
Why Celebrate? History and Traditions and Semper Fi's
The Marine Corps Ball is a long held tradition with a single
purpose - to celebrate the birth of our beloved Corps way
back on November 10, 1775 in a bar known as Tun Tavern.
And while the official birthday of the Corps was not
recognized until 1921 (before then, it was celebrated without
honor in July), the emergence of a Marine Corps Birthday Ball
didn't start until 1925 at the insistence of Major Edwin
McClellan and wasn't formalized for many years to come.
It’s fairly obvious to the casual observer that the Birthday Ball
is an evening filled with wonderful uniforms, beautiful dresses
and the pomp and circumstance of an extremely formal event
(and, in most cases, lots of fun, camaraderie and liquor).
But for Marines, the Ball is only the icing on the cake.
For Marines, the Birthday is a time to reflect on those that
have worn the uniform, wear the uniform and will someday
be lucky enough to pin on an EGA. We remember those
Marines that paved the path for us and paid the ultimate
sacrifice for our beloved Country and Corps. This love and
reverence for our history is often seen during the Ball as
Marine's dress up in period uniforms and regale stories from
the battles we fought long ago. We listen to a speech - the
same speech, actually an Order, recited every year. This
order, written by Commandant John LeJeune (Marine Corps
Order Number 47), proclaims our heritage and proud
history. If you’re at the ball, you will hear this Order read in
It's also a time for us to look towards the future. Each year,
the Commandant releases his Birthday message. It is an
opportunity for him to reflect on the past year and the
accomplishment of his troops. It’s also an opportunity for him
to present his ideas and plans for the future, and to thank his
Marine’s for a job well done.
Marines always celebrate the date of November 10th. You
could be in Boot Camp as I was during my first Birthday, or in
the middle of a war zone as many of our Marines are today.
Regardless, this day does not pass without recognition of our
longstanding traditions and heritage.
I think an Air Force Sgt. Major summed it up best – “Why do
Marines feel so strongly about traditions, especially this
tradition? Marines are a "different breed!" Their perspective of
life is unique and filled with unbridled pride and commitment
to excellence. Marines believe that there is no public calling
higher than that of Marine.
They also believe that tasks are given to be accomplished
and that anything short of mission accomplishment is
unacceptable. And lastly, Marines believe in one another.
They are a "band of brothers" who realize esprit de corps is
not just a slogan; it's a way of life. Marines take care of one
another and believe emphatically ‘once a Marine, always a
The Ceremony (or Why I Hate These Shoes - Can I sit down
So enough history and on to what the Birthday Ball is all
Birthday Balls may be Enlisted, Officer or a combination of
both. Personally, I think segregation of the Balls is not
consistent with the Esprit de Corps of the Marine Corps.
However, it depends upon the size of the Marine unit and the
whims of the senior staff. I’ve been to all types. Also, Balls
are dependent upon the funding of the unit. Have you seen
those base car washes? They're trying to get money for
the Ball. The price of the ticket depends on how much money
the unit has for their Ball funding. And some units have more
money than others which is why some Balls are incredible
and elaborate shows (CENTCOM) and others are very simple
The evening usually starts with a cocktail hour – a time to
mingle with your fellow Marines and their dates. Most often,
this is not paid for – expect to pay your own bar tab. Seating
at most Balls is assigned, so make sure you find the seating
chart and know what table you’re at. About 10 minutes before
the ceremony starts, the Narrator will announce people to
start seating. He’ll do this again at 5 minutes before so make
sure you’ve gone to the restroom because most often, the
doors lock (yes, they’ll make accommodations for you if you
can’t hold it for one or two hours).
After everyone is seated, the first thing that usually happens
is the reading of the Commandant’s message (or a video)
followed by a Chaplain’s prayer. Yes – everyone usually
hopes the Commandant is not long winded!
Now you have the Adjutants Call. The Colors are marched
forward along with the guest of honor and distinguished
Marine’s. You’re standing so make sure the shoes are comfy.
The band will play the National Anthem and the Colors will be
posted. Now you’ll hear the Marine Corps Hymn. Marines –
whether in uniform or not, are all at attention. They’ll roll the
cake out at this time, too, and finally, you can sit down.
Time for more speeches... This time, it’s General LeJeune’s
order and the guest of honor. Hopefully, you’ll have a really
engaging guest of honor. If your Ball can get Gen. Tommy
Franks, book him.
And finally, the last and most memorable part of the
ceremony – the cake cutting. By tradition, the first pieces of
cake go to three people: the first to the guest of honor, the
second to the oldest Marine, and the third to the youngest
Marine. It’s a very solemn moment because in many ways,
it’s a symbol of the old breed passing the traditions and love
of the Corps to the new breed.
Now, the same procession that entered the room leaves the
room and the dinner usually begins.
Each Ball will have its own flow – some have a traditional
uniform viewing during the Ceremony, or, as in the past few
years, a long video about the “State of the Corps,” that is
shown Marine Corps wide. It just depends. The Ceremony
usually lasts about one hour, but I've seen it go on for two
Can I Go Dance Now??
Now – a few things….
Dinner can be before the Ceremony or after. I’ve seen it both
ways. Also, the wine may or may not be paid for. Most
commands do their best to give each table at least two bottles
of wine. The food quality is really dependent upon where the
ball is. Most hotel balls seem to have decent food, but
honestly, the Birthday Dinner I had at 4th Battalion at PISC
was the finest. The sand fleas on the cake ruined dessert, but
we had lobster and filet mignon.
The stuff on the table? Yes – it’s shwag. Most commands will
give you a set of glasses or something else commemorating
the event. Some of the gifts are really great – like a statue of
Iwo Jima (the best one I’ve ever gotten), or not so great
(like a command coin). By the end of the evening, if it’s on
the table someone has probably already claimed it. Flowers,
flags, etc. all get scarfed up.
The entertainment varies. My favorite balls have been those
where the local base band has played. It is amazing how
talented our Marines are! Most can play much more than
just “Semper Fidelis.” Some units will hire a DJ. Overall, the
goal is to get you out on the floor dancing. And don’t worry if
you can’t dance. The idea is to have fun – not to look like
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
If you want to have your picture taken, my advice is to get
their early. Most photographers won’t stay much past 22:00
and the line usually forms well before the ceremony begins.
But also bring a camera and take pictures. You never know
what you’ll see…
As for the rest of the night, just have fun. You’re going to be
amazed at how nice people are and how beautiful everyone
looks. We all worry and fuss about our dresses before the
evening, but by 23:00, no one really cares (and you’re feet
hurt anyway). This is a glorious night for Marines and one that
gives us the opportunity to celebrate our title so enjoy it.
And finally - a word to the wise. Three years ago I went to a
wonderful ball where the local law enforcement was waiting
right outside the hotel like vultures as the Marines poured out.
The number of DUIs that evening was unprecedented
including an 18 year major crashing his car into a drainage
ditch and almost killing himself. If your Ball is at a hotel, get a
room there. If you're not able to stay in the same facility, get
a cab. Don't ruin the best night of the year.