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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
Dancing
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.

Drinking
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.

Techiquette
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.

Bouncing
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.

Marine Corps Birthday: A History of the Celebration

USMC Birthday

Annually the United States Marine Corps has celebrated its birthday on November 10th. That particular date was chosen for the Marine Corps birthday because on that day in 1775, the Second Continental Congress resolved to raise two battalions of Continental Marines. Every year, Marines get dressed up, don their medals, and celebrate the Marine Corps birthday on Nov. 10, 1775.

During the American revolution, Marines had fought on land and sea, but at the close of the war the Marine Corps and the Navy were disbanded in 1783. But on July 11, 1798, President John Adams approved a bill that reestablished the Marine Corps, giving it the rebirth needed to recognize its birthday to 1775.

Prior to 1921, the Marine Corps birthday had been celebrated on July 11th to mark the date when the Corps was born again. Then in 1921, the 13th Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. John A. Lejeune, issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921, on Nov. 1, 1921 and it formalized the Marine Corps birthday as November 10th. 

Lejeune’s order stated:
“The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

"On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name 'Marine.' In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

"The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

"In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term 'Marine' has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

"This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.”

In 1923 the Marine Barracks at Ft. Mifflin, Pennsylvania staged a formal dance and Marines put on their medals and dress uniforms to celebrate the Marine Corps birthday. The Marines at the Washington Navy Yard arranged a mock battle on the parade ground.

The first formal Marine Corps birthday ball took place in Philadelphia in 1925. Guests included the commandant, the secretary of war and a host of statesmen and elected officials. Prior to the ball, Lejeune unveiled a memorial plaque at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Marine Corps. The tavern, which is no longer standing, is regarded as the location where the first Marines enlisted to serve with Samuel Nicholas, considered the first commandant of the Marine Corps.

In 1952, the Corps formalized the cake-cutting ceremony and other traditional observances and later the celebration’s protocols were included in the Marine Corps Drill Manual and approved in January 1956. Marine Corps policy mandates that the first piece of Marine Corps birthday 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, unless there is a guest of honor. Among the many such mandates is the reading of the commandant’s Marine Corps birthday message to the Corps.

The annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball is today a celebration of Marine Corps history and traditions. It represents where the Marine Corps started and where it is now; while giving a glimpse of the past, present and future.

However, Marines do not need to wear their dress blues and all of their medals to celebrate their birthday. No matter where they are, throughout the world on November 10th, Marines celebrate the Marine Corps birthday and their beloved Corps, even while at war and in austere conditions.