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Marine Corps Ball: 10 Etiquette Do's & Don'ts

Marine Corps Ball History
The Marine Corps Ball is an event Marines and their loved ones look forward to every year. Since 1921, the Corps has celebrated their birthday and honored the legacy of the U.S. Marine Corps at the Marine Corps Ball. November 10 is the official birthday of the Marine Corps and the date is marked with the celebration of the Marine Corps Ball.

Prior to 1921, the birthday was celebrated on another day, but it was Gen. John A. Lejeune who issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. In the order Lejeune summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Marine Corps. It further directed that the order be read to all Marines each year on 10 November to honor the founding of the Marine Corps. 

Marines follow orders and not long after LeJeune’s order was issued, commands began to recognize and celebrate the birthday. In 1923 the Marine Barracks in Pennsylvania held a dance. Washington Navy Yard Marines arranged a mock battle on the parade ground and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Marine baseball team played the Cuban team and won.

What to Expect at the Marine Corps Ball
Individuals who are new to the Marine Corps or Marine Corps culture should try to learn as much as they can about the Marine Corps Ball before the Marine Corps Ball. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test, but it helps to understand what is happening at the ball while it is happening.

The Marine Corps Ball is split into two parts. The first part of the Marine Corps Ball is the official ceremonial part. This is the part of the Marine Corps Ball where the official parties enter, the cake is cut, speeches are made, orders are read and the attendees learn about the legacy that is being celebrated. This part of the Marine Corps Ball last about an hour or so.

The second part of the Marine Corps Balls is the non-ceremonial part. This is when Marines and attendees get to eat, drink, dance and socialize. Some say that this is the “fun” part of the Marine Corps Ball, but the first part is so packed with history and tradition that it is hard to argue that the first part isn’t equally as appealing as the second.

Marine Corps Ball Do’s
Get Ready!
Not sure why this is, but it always seems like the Marine Corps Ball is a 1,000-meter target; something far away and not a threat. Then suddenly the Marine Corps Ball is just days away and a lack of preparedness sends people into a tailspin.

There are roughly 200,000 Marines in the active-duty force and in the reserve. Each year around the same time they all try to get their uniforms ready for the Marine Corps Ball so it is like a flock of locusts hitting a field of crops when it comes to uniform supplies. Clothing sales might be wiped out and lack what is needed to complete a uniform and other retailers might need ample time to assemble your order and ship it to you.

Do plan ahead and prepare for the Marine Corps Ball well in advance. This will not just save money and time it can help avoid stress and tension and not take the fun out of a really great event. Identify what ribbons or medals are needed for uniforms early on and buy locally or get it done professionally online with enough time so it can be produced and shipped with plenty of time.

Knowledge is Power
Marines will be instructed on uniform requirements for the Marine Corps Ball, but those who are guests of Marines might need help in preparing to attend the Marine Corps Ball.

Do offer your guest/date as much information as possible (like sharing this article) about the event. Help connect them with other men or women attending as guests who might have experience with what to wear and what to expect. Guests who know what to expect and prepare accordingly will be more comfortable and enjoy the event more.

Arrive on Time
Punctuality is paramount in the military and in the Marine Corps it is an expectation. Make arrangements to get to the Marine Corps Ball on time and take into account things like unexpected traffic and accidents. Some Marines choose to stay at hotels hosting the Marine Corps Ball to make arrival and departure easier, but a lot of money doesn’t need to be spent in order to make it to Marine Corps Ball on time.

Do be punctual.

Dress Accordingly
The Marine Corps Ball is a formal event. That means that women should be wearing full length gowns. Gown slits should be conservative. This isn’t an event for cocktail dresses and gown colors should complement the Marine’s uniform.

Men who are attending the Marine Corps Ball must wear tuxedos or a suit and tie. This isn’t a good place for business casual; collared shirt with a blazer, no tie. Save that for the tech company. This is a formal event.

Do wear formal attire to the Marine Corps Ball.

Show Respect
The Marine Corps Ball is all about recognizing and respecting the Marine Corps history, traditions and legacy. As previously mentioned, the first hour or so of the ball is dedicated to the ceremonial part of the ball. A guest of honor will likely speak and everyone is expected to pay attention and stay seated during the ceremonial portion of the ball.

At the table, be social and polite and avoid sitting there texting or posting on social media. There will be a time and place for that. Show respect for those at the table by interacting with them and become a part of the ball rather than focusing on capturing moments to share on social media.

Do show proper respect during the ceremonial part of the Marine Corps Ball and also show proper respect to other ball attendees. Use polite language like "please" and "thank you."

Marine Corps Ball Don’ts
After dinner and dessert, the dancing begins. Everyone loves to dance and when combined with a little liquid courage, things can get interesting quickly. Remember to keep the dancing clean.

Twerking, grinding, dry humping, butt-slapping and everything in between can be a lot of fun, but fun can still happen without it. Be respectful of the fact that unit leaders will be attending as well as a guest of honor. There might even be kids there.

This is a formal event and not some bonfire keg party or spring break trip to the coast. There is no need to learn ballroom dancing, and guests can dance to modern music, but keep it clean.

Don’t dance in ways that will raise eyebrows.

Alcohol is served at most Marine Corps Balls because guests are expected to behave like adults. That means drinking socially and responsibly and knowing when to stop drinking. That does not mean drinking to the point of intoxication; staggering with slurred speech.

If there is a toast, that does not mean chugging the contents of a glass until it is empty. It also does not mean sitting up at the bar doing shots. Drawing attention by drinking too much can be a bad thing.

Don’t drink too much.

Simply put, dump the tech toys. While it is important to capture some images from the Marine Corps Ball, it is even more important to experience it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a few pics at the event with your friends, date, leaders and guest of honor, but texting and posting on social media should be avoided. Posting, sharing, texting can always be done after the ball or the next day. It is better to live the experience than document it.

Don’t spend the majority of the time at the Marine Corps Ball facedown into a phone screen.

It is important to want to be a part of this event. Some people do not like formal events and they are uncomfortable attending them. Maybe they are socially awkward or simply do not like the formality of it all, but this event happens only once per year and it is important to show respect for the Corps and fellow Marines.

Attend the entire Marine Corps Ball and once the greenlight is given signaling to attendees that they can leave, then it is appropriate to say “goodnight” and depart. Avoid sneaking out. A few hours socializing is worth it.

Don’t leave until given a greenlight, which is normally once the dancing is underway. Ensure you announce your departure and make the rounds.

Discredit to the Corps
It is important to remember that the Marine Corps Ball is an event that honors the traditions and legacy of the Marine Corps. Marines are the stewards of the Corps reputation and brand.

Posting and circulating inappropriate pics or videos online via social media, or performing behavior that does not align with Marine Corps standards and values harms the Corps.

Don’t discredit the Corps.

The Marine Corps Ball is a wonderful event that occurs each year and that rededicates Marines to the Corps, but also embraces Marine Corps family members, friends and guests and shows them a glimpse of the loyalty and honor known to Marines.

Be proud to be a Marine. Be proud to have earned the title. Be proud of sharing this special event with those in attendance.

When Is The Marine Corps Ball? 9 Facts You Should Know

Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominiqu

On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress ordered the creation of two battalions of Marines. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned as a captain of the nascent force of Continental Marines and at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Nicholas mustered two battalions of Marines and thus began the U.S. Marine Corps.

In 1921, the 13th Commandant, General John A. Lejeune, issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. General Lejeune's order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps. It further directed that the order be read to all Marines each year on 10 November to honor the founding of the Marine Corps.

Soon after, Marine commands began to not only honor the birthday, but celebrate it. In 1923 the Marine Barracks at Ft. Mifflin, Pennsylvania staged a formal dance. The Marines at the Washington Navy Yard arranged a mock battle on the parade ground. At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Marine baseball team played a Cuban team and won with a score of 9 to 8, but this was only the beginning.

The founding of the Marine Corps has been celebrated with a birthday ball every year since 1925. The first formal birthday ball took place in Philadelphia in 1925. Guests included the commandant, the secretary of war (known today as the secretary of defense), and a host of statesmen and elected officials.  Prior to the ball, Gen. Lejeune unveiled a memorial plaque at Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Marine Corps. Then the entourage headed for the Benjamin Franklin Hotel for an evening of celebration.

Over the years the annual Birthday Ball grew, taking on a life of its own. In 1952, Commandant Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr. formalized the cake-cutting ceremony and other traditional observances. Current Marine Corps policy mandates that the first piece of cake must be presented to the oldest U.S. Marine present and passed to the youngest Marine representing the passing of tradition from generation to generation. The birthday cake is traditionally cut with the Mameluke sword. The first piece of cake is given to the guest of honor.

Traditionally, the second piece is given to the oldest Marine, then handing the third piece to the youngest Marine signifying the passing of experience and knowledge from the old to the young of the Corps. Among the many such mandates is the reading of the commandant’s birthday message to the Corps. Like the U.S. Marine Corps itself, the annual birthday ball has evolved from modest origins to the dignified function it is today. On 10 November, regardless of where Marines are stationed or deployed, they will always hear “Happy Birthday Marine.”


When is the Marine Corps Ball?
November 10 is the official Marine Corps birthday, and the Marine Corps ball is ordinarily held on that day. However, circumstances vary, and given that Marines are all over the world, celebration dates might vary.

When is the Marine Corps Ball Celebrated by Units?
When in doubt, a Marine’s chain of command is the best source to answer this question. Marine Corps units effectively spread the word about the Marine Corps Ball, so it should be known well in advance that the ball is coming.

FACT: Most Marines are given plenty of notice by their units to get themselves ready and presentable for the ball. Remember, if a ribbon or medal refresh is in order, order well enough in advance to ensure they arrive on time. Notifying your date or spouse of the event in advance will also help them find something to wear in plenty of time. The more lead time, the better.

Photo by USMC Cpl. Gabrielle Quire

When is the Marine Corps Ball for the Marine Corps Reserve?
U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve units are similar to other Marine units except they are comprised of part-time Marines. Given many of the members have civilian job requirements and Marine Forces Reserve training requirements, Marine Corps Balls for the Marine Forces Reserve are held at the discretion of the unit.

FACT: This is a formal event, so guests/dates/spouses must wear formal, full length dresses for women, and tuxedos or suits for men. Marine Corps affiliated organizations recommend less cleavage and lower dress slits. Dresses should not be cocktail dresses. Men should wear suits or tuxedos. In both cases, the color and the outfit should complement the Marine’s uniform. Remember to keep it comfortable.

U.S. Embassy Guyana photo

When is the Marine Corps Ball if Stationed at a U.S. Embassy?
There are nine Marine Corps Embassy Security Regions around the world and believe it or not, the Marine Corps celebrates birthdays with a birthday ball at those remote locations. Ordinarily, the ambassador is the president of the ball, and the guest of honor is a dignitary from the host nation. The celebrations aren’t large, but they are still fun and meaningful.

FACT: Traditions are an important part of Marine Corps culture. It is important to adhere to those traditions and guests, newcomers or veterans to the Corps, must be respectful of tradition. The ceremony, which lasts about an hour, is the highlight of the evening. A cake will be cut, speeches will be delivered, and then there will be a reading of Gen. John A. Lejeune’s birthday message, and the birthday message from the current commandant. Nobody should standup during this time or leave their table for bathroom breaks.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert

When is the Marine Corps Ball if in training?
Marines in training will still celebrate, or at least pause to recognize, the Marine Corps birthday. Much is dependent on what training course the Marines are attending, but at the very least, a happy birthday greeting will be rendered.

FACT: The Marine Corps Ball is a social event, but don’t make it about social media. In many cases, there will be assigned seating which will require attendees to possibly speak to strangers or people they do not know. It’s okay to have another attendee take a photo but sitting at a table with a craned neck glued to a screen isn’t a good look. Be social, interact with other guests and take in the event. 

Photo by D. Myles Cullen

When is the Marine Corps Ball if I’m deployed?
As mentioned, most Marine Corps units do something to recognize the birthday. At Camp Fallujah in 2004, during combat operations, Marines were seen and heard singing Happy Birthday in the showers. Later, they congregated for a austerely baked cake and did a ceremony as best they could with what they had on hand.

FACT: While alcoholic beverages are a part of most birthday balls (unless restricted due to general order restrictions overseas), there is no need or requirement to drink. If a Marine and their date imbibe, keep it within reason. Understand that the point of the ball is to recognize and honor the traditions of the Corps. Getting drunk is not a good optic.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ryan Young

When is the Marine Corps Ball if A Marine is Afloat?
Much like the circumstances faced when a Marine is deployed, being afloat might cause a modification in the celebration. This is a great time to be Semper Gumby. Remember, if on a ship, Marines are doing the work they’ve always done. Any celebration will be meaningful.

FACT: Conversations over dinner should not include topics like politics, religion, controversial issues, or any shop talk. This is a great opportunity to ask questions about those at the table. Where they are from? How long have they been associated with the Corps? Ask questions about their families, etc.
When is the Marine Corps Ball if Home on Leave?
Marines home on leave can celebrate the Corps’ birthday on their own, or find a local unit and see if they can attend that birthday celebration.

FACT: Toasts are a part of military balls. If a Marine or the Marine’s date are not alcoholic beverage drinkers, they should not refuse the toast. Not toasting is poor taste. Marines and their guests should use beverages suitable to their values and raise those glasses for the toast. For those who do drink alcohol, take small sips when responding to toasts. Do not chug or drink the entire glass. This is in poor taste.

When is the Marine Corps Ball for Marine Veterans?
Everyone knows, there are no such things as former Marines. Once a Marine, always a Marine. That said, Marine veterans if interested in attending a Marine birthday ball should reach out to local Marine units and inquire about attendance. If there are no local units or if Marine units restrict attendance to only unit members, then Marine veterans can explore veteran organizations nearby which likely will have an event recognizing the birthday.

FACT: The Nation until recently has been at war for more than 20 years. Without a doubt, the birthday ball will honor fallen Marines. Being ready for this emotional part of the night is important. Remember that this is a birthday celebration of Marines, past and present.

Marines know when the Marine Corps birthday ball is, so when they are heard asking “When is the Marine Corps Ball?” it is more an acknowledgment that they know it is approaching, that they need to prepare, and that they are ready to recognize the birth of their beloved Corps. Semper Fi.