How to Enjoy a Military Ball

Steven and Stacey military ball

Military Balls. For him– its a chance to shine in his dress blues, engage in some traditional pomp and circumstance and network. For you– its a day at the hair and nail salon. It’s selecting the right floor-length gown and maneuvering around in heels you’d normally never wear while keeping the dry ass chicken from falling into your lap. Yup, it’s military ball season. I’ve been to a dozen of them in my 20+ years of marriage. I’ve seen it all– the good bad and the ugly. Here are my tips on how to enjoy a military ball.

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Military-Ball-in-Germany How to Enjoy a Military Ball

How to Enjoy a Military Ball

What is a military ball and why should you attend?

A military ball is a formal occasion hosted by a unit where both officers and enlisted service members attend in their dress or mess blues. Civilians can also attend. The evening is marked by a procession of tradition, symbolism, award presentations, and entertainment. It is a fun way to bond with co-workers and the greater military community.

1. Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into.

Most balls follow a general formula. For example, the program (found under my plate) for the III Corps Sustainment Ball is as follows:

6:00 – 7:00 pm Social Hour
6:30 – &:30pm Receiving Line
7:30 – 11:00pm Dinner & Events

2. Don’t Fight Tradition. 

Let’s face it, a military ball is not like your High School Prom. Anything goes is NOT the way you want to approach this occasion. But this ain’t your grandma’s party either. I read a few blogs and Internet guidelines that I’d say are out of date. My advice is to go with an elegant floor-length gown that is complimentary to your spouse’s uniform, and your own skin tone and body type. You can show your back, your curves, and a little cleavage— just keep it classy. My general rule about clothing is– wear it, don’t let it wear you. if you can’t walk a runaway in it live it at the store.

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3. Speaking of Traditions…

Military balls are full of traditions. And those traditions vary from branch to branch and even from post to post. There are tons of them at a military ball, but these are pretty standard:

Cocktail hour is when you get to mingle, have a drink, and take your picture with the photographer. The photo packages are about $30 and they take cash or credit. I like to take pictures as soon as I arrive while my makeup, my attitude, and my feet are still fresh. If not wait until later when the line thins out.

Bring cash for the bar and remember the lines are always long. But they remain open until after dinner. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see many service members drinking cocktails. My tip… buy two of whatever you’re drinking to save time.

Consider staying at one of the military lodges nearby so you can enjoy the ball well into the wee hours.

The receiving line takes place at the conclusion of the cocktail hour. Do not bring anything but your purse to the reception line because you will have to shake hands. Walk ahead of your service member (unless you are a female). You’ll be presented to the host (usually General So & So, his wife) and the guest of honor. There may be other notable people on the reception line. Keep your remarks brief and light natured.

Seating Chart. Seating is organized and assigned. A seating chart will be found at the entrance to the ballroom. Generally, offices/ departments are seated together.

Flags and Toasts

The Flag ceremony takes place before dinner. You are expected to stand and adjust your stance to “follow” the US Flag around the room. Afterward, the national anthem is performed. It is your decision whether you place your hand over your heart, but your soldier will stand at attention, so this may not be the right time to ask him/ her a question. Remember the flag is retrieved to mark the end of the evening too.

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The Ceremonial Toasts. This back and forth dialogue is fun and purposeful. With raised glasses, various service members loudly toast everything from the President to ladies. The toasts and responses are printed in the program.

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Symbolic Program

A Table for One
is a symbolic representation for fallen soldiers. The table is covered by a white table cloth. Atop the table is a candle, downturned wine glass, yellow ribbon, and a single red rose.

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The Cake Cutting & Punch Bowl Ceremony, The Grog is a very strong mixture of wine, whiskey, Champagne, bourbon, etc… Each unit contributes to the grog in a highly entertaining way.

One of my favorite traditions is the Army Song. The words are printed in the program.

4. Give Yourself Time.

Don’t schedule all your beauty services for the day of the military ball. For example, I screwed up. My beautician texted me last night to change my appointment to 11:30. I really wanted to be done by 11:30, but I really don’t have much choice do I?

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5. Wear Comfortable Shoes.

It’s really no fun if you can’t get up, socialize and dance. But be comforted, by the end of the night all the ladies will be barefoot or (like me) in a pair of flip-flops they carried in their purses. I literally had half a dozen ladies comment on how jealous they were of my flip-flops. Well, at least they know for the next military ball.

6. Eat a Light Snack Before You Go.

I can’t remember a meal I had at a military ball that I remember because I enjoyed it. They are mass-produced, so they are either bland or cold or both. Hopefully, the Sustainment Ball at Fort Hood will be different. But if it’s not, I won’t be too hangry– free to enjoy the night and the new friends I hope to make.

Fortunately, the III Corps Sustainment Ball had plenty of food and for once it was neither cold nor bland. Tonight’s dinner was a green salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing, filet mignon, stuffed chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, roll, and cupcake. Mine was chocolate, Steven’s was carrot cake. He was better.

III Corps Sustainment Ball, Fort Hood Texas

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7. Carry Only the Essentials.

A powder compact with a mirror, some gum, and your lipstick. Bring a wrap. You can bring your cell phone, but make sure you put it on vibrate.

8. Be a Great Guest.

know you got all dolled up and stuff, but the military ball is really, really not about YOU. This is his party and you are the wingman. So don’t try to make it about you and be on your best behavior. For example… don’t text while the guest of honor is speaking or whine about your feet, the food, or the temperature of the room.

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9. Have fun.

Military Balls are a great tradition and a lighthearted opportunity to meet all those cooky people your spouse fusses about when he gets home. Get up and talk to people. They don’t bite. Look for the souvenir on the table. Tonight it was pretty glass coasters. And when the guard retires the colors and the chaplain says Amen– get on the dance floor and cut loose.

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    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thank you Merline. I appreiate all your support over the years. Your input is invaluable to my blog.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      That’s a great idea. Have you selected your gown yet? I am writing an article for another website and I am curious how you selected it— price, style, color??

  1. Dawn Hester

    Great article. I guess after a few military balls you kind of got it down pack ?. One thing I love about the military – respect and pride. Glad you had a great time. Thanks for sharing.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks Dawn– so true. But they never get old because they differ in little ways and there are always new people to meet.

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